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(L-R) Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi King Salman, and Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stand together after Saudi Arabia's cabinet agrees to implement a broad reform plan known as Vision 2030 in Riyadh, April 25, 2016.
REUTERS/Saudi Press Agency/Handout via Reuters The Al Saud have always stepped warily with the clergy, aware that the most dangerous challenges to their rule in the kingdom’s 70-year history have come from aggrieved religious conservatives.
Over the centuries, however, the definition of where each of those spheres of influence begins and ends has shifted, often marking the boundary of cultural battlegrounds.
In recent years changes to education, which is shifting from the domain of the clergy to that of government, to law, in which proposed reforms have encroached on clerical prerogatives, and to the public role of women, have dominated internal disputes. Reform in Saudi Arabia always has a precondition: it has to come from inside, it has to be gradual and it has to take into account what people believe is right,” said Abdulaziz al-Sager, head of the Gulf Research Centre based in Jeddah and Geneva.
So when Prince Mohammed promises land for cultural and entertainment projects, and support for “talented writers, authors and directors”, he seems to point toward a reversal of the ban on cinemas, but without explicitly doing so.
But potentially most explosive of all is the renewed commitment to reform education, a process started under King Abdullah who died last year.
As a result, Abu Sin shot to fame on the livestreaming site You Now, receiving nearly 6.5 million views of his videos.
The pre-Islamic era is dismissed as the age of ignorance, its relics deemed ungodly, and some clerics even see patriotism as tantamount to idolatry.
“When he talked about quality of life, about entertainment, he is aware of the changes in our culture and that’s what people understood him to be talking about.
Prince Mohammed has sworn to create “an education system aligned with market needs”, a far cry from schooling that still draws heavily on Koranic teachings.
Traditionally, one way the Al Saud had of persuading the clergy to accept change was to spend money on a big religious projects, thereby demonstrating their continued support for Islam in Saudi Arabia.
Seemingly anodyne promises to invest in cultural events and entertainment facilities, to encourage sports and promote ancient heritage and Saudi national identity, are highly controversial among conservatives.