The Blog

Shaping Up Saudi Arabia

King Abdullah implements new reforms.

11:00 PM, Feb 17, 2009 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI and STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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As a ruler Abdullah has experienced consistent pressure from his subjects to lead Saudi Arabia away from its global reputation as a redoubt of Muslim backwardness. Visitors to the country have reported numerous signs of this broad sentiment. At the same time, the Saudi realm has felt the effects of the global financial crisis, with complaints of inflated prices during the Ramadan fasting and festivals last year, and calls in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states for limitation on immigration of foreign workers--followed in Kuwait by protests in defense of the migrants' rights. Shia visitors to the country report that their coreligionists in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia express gratitude to King Abdullah for improving respect for Shia minority rights.

King Abdullah's reform measures are laudable. We will now see if he can accomplish the main challenges that have faced him since he took the throne in 2005. These appear separate but represent the same necessary task: to compel the Wahhabi fanatics to genuinely and irrevocably end their contribution to the financing of international radical Islamic terrorism, and to completely abolish their domestic monopoly on religious life. Abdullah is now 84, and though he appears youthful, time is short, for him and for the security of the world.

Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD. London-based Irfan Al-Alawi is a close observer of events in Saudi Arabia .