When it comes to ikhwan (brotherhood), generally, the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood organization comes to mind. Yet, there was another brotherhood in the recent history of the Middle East, which was quite different from its namesake group in terms of methods and goals. Let us first remember the historical journey of this brotherhood that played a critical role in Saudi Arabia’s establishment process, then let’s make some notes on the present time and the future.
It is considered that the Brotherhood, a striking power used by Saudi Arabia’s founding King Abdulaziz bin Abdurrahman Al Saud to strengthen his power in the Arabian Peninsula, took to the stage in around 1902. The Brotherhood forces that were founded aimed at the purpose of taking tribes under control, following the clashes they joined in the name of King Abdulaziz, rapidly became an independent political center. Sultan ibn Bajad al Otaibi and Faisal bin Sultan ad-Duwaysh, the leaders of the Otaiba and Mutayr tribes – the backbone of the Brotherhood – had gained enough prominence to challenge the king’s authority.
Members of the Brotherhood, whose Salafi ideology and religious feelings could be partially tamed, were known particularly for their strict and uncompromising attitude and, with their bloody raids, they were creating fear in all corners of Arabia. King Abdulaziz’s efforts to modernize the country (and especially entering dialogue with the British in this context) greatly angered the Brotherhood. Tensions that turned in to physical clashes with Hejaz entering Abdulaziz’s control in 1924, also turned in to a regional problem with the raids the Brotherhood forces organized on Jordan and Kuwait territory. British war planes bombed the Brotherhood forces numerous times during these raids and thousands of people lost their lives.
Just as King Abdulaziz, who gathered with Brotherhood leaders in 1926 failed to eliminate the disputes, the Brotherhood forces carried out another raid on Kuwait. The operation that faced harsher intervention by the British this time was also the last straw that made the kind lose patience. With quick military preparation, a crowded army was put together from all the tribes in Arabia. The units under Kind Abdulaziz’s youngest son Prince Faisal command defeated the Brotherhood on March 29, 1929.
King Abdulaziz, who thus staved off the armed organization that played a major role in the spread of its political power in the Arabian Peninsula, integrated the remaining elements of the Brotherhood to the modern army. The Brotherhood, whose extremism was rehabilitated through a strict program, formed the foundation and backbone of the Royal Guard Regiment.
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The Brotherhood, mentioned today in many sources as “The first example of Daesh in recent history,” roughly, represented the most extreme form of world view called “Wahhabism.” Even though the Brotherhood was nowhere to be seen with the establishment of the Saudi Arabian Kingdom in 1932, Juhaiman Otaibi and his friends who conducted the famous Kaaba raid in 1979, would once again correlate themselves to the Brotherhood. In this sense, the Brotherhood represented a mindset and it seemed impossible to completely eliminate it.
Whether it be due to tribe organization or the education system, it was revealed later with Osama bin Laden and the line he took that there is always the potential for such a revolt in Saudi Arabia. The majority of those who conducted the September 11 attacks being of Saudi origin was, in this sense, no coincidence. Saudi Arabia continues to face accusations in relation to its role in these attacks.
Saudi Arabia, which has, for the time being, warded off the accusations from itself by presenting its neighbor Qatar as a “supporter of terrorism,” will, in the near future, be driven to the point of making a choice on its own “ideological nature.” All the signals received from the country, show that Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who is preparing to ascend to the throne after his father, is determined to take Saudi Arabia out of the “strict Wahhabism” direction. A Saudi Arabia where the role of religious leaders is minimized, the “extremisms in the language of religion” are smoothed out, that is more open to the world, where women can drive, A Saudi Arabia that is loyal to its traditions but is freed from the shackles of traditions. This is the dream of the new candidates of the Saudi throne.
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Transforming a country like Saudi Arabia in a short time is quite difficult. Even though today, the ulema class is largely connected to the political power and has become dependent on it, the ulema has serious influence in areas under its power. The ulema class, which take care to see eye-to-eye with administrators in fields such as foreign politics and the economy, have, in exchange, monopoly over the spiritual authority in the country.
“Modernizing Saudi Arabia,” before all else, depends on eliminating the authority of the ulema class. Since it is not possible to campaign against important figures respected by the masses, the method used today to weaken the authority of the ulema class, is to start a counterattack via the media. Channels like El Arabiya, Sky News Arabia and MBC, which broadcast from the Gulf, are platforms on which religious topics are opened to discussion without restrictions. In the medium term, these debates are going to lead to the weakening of the ulema’s authority. The tone used in broadcasts are also clearly indicative of this aim.
There is one example country in the Arab world of the evaporation of the religious authority of the ulema: Egypt. A project aimed at turning the Gulf in to Egypt in this sense is in the works. There is benefit in viewing Yousef al-Qaradawi’s inclusion on the list of terrorists from this aspect as well.
The topic is long and important. Let’s continue in the following article through concrete examples.