The CSS Blog Network

King Salman and the Saudi Ulama

Quran pages, courtesy WBEZ/Flickr

This article was originally published by the World Policy Institute on 18 May 2016.

For Middle East watchers, all eyes are on Saudi Arabia these days, particularly on the transformative Saudi Vision 2030 plan recently introduced by the young Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The plan envisions a Saudi Arabia with reinvigorated development, a diversified economy, and peace and security. It is a plan decidedly aimed at young Saudis, upon whom the future of the state rests. To assess its chances of success, however, observers would do well to watch the reaction of the ulama, the religious clerics who have an enormous impact on daily life in Saudi Arabia and whose alliance with the House of Saud is the bedrock upon which the modern Saudi state is built. Despite the Kingdom’s progressive plan, the clerics seem to be backsliding, and the internal dynamics between its leading members are shifting considerably.

In the 2000s, under the late King Abdullah, the clerical universe consisted of four broad categories: the Sahwa (or Islamic Awakening, a group of former oppositionist clerics that have come to fall in line behind the Saudi monarchy), the Islamic Liberals (including Shiite clerics), the Salafi-jihadists, and the establishment clerics. The bulk of these clerical classes were co-opted by the Saudi leadership to contribute to the fight against al-Qaida and as a means of diminishing Iran’s influence over the Saudi Shiite population. By 2009, a new group arose within the ulama; younger and more liberal than their contemporaries, these “Young Turks” had not yet been co-opted by the regime in the fight against extremism. A key figure in the rise of this group was Prince Khalid al-Faisal, currently the Saudi Minister of Education, who was formerly the governor of Mecca and, before that, Asir province.

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The Future of Political Demography and Its Impact on Policy

Arab Spring protests in Egypt. Image: AK Rockefeller/Flickr

This article was originally published by New Security Beat, the blog of the Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) at the Wilson Center.

“Political demography is a discipline whose time has come,” said Rob Odell of the National Intelligence Council at a gathering of demographers and researchers in New Orleans. “You can sense this inherent dissatisfaction” with a lot of analytical and predictive tools in international relations, he said, and “political demography provides policymakers a way to think about long-term trends.”

The study of population dynamics’ effects on political affairs, from the stability of states and conflict to regime types, economics, and state behavior, is relatively new. The International Studies Association (ISA), a professional group founded in 1959 with over 6,500 scholars and political scientists today, only added a sub-group for political demography in 2011. » More

Will Iran’s New Support of Human Rights Go Deeper Than Rhetoric?

Weekly vigil in Trafalgar Square against human rights violations and political executions in Iran.

Weekly vigil in Trafalgar Square against human rights violations and political executions in Iran. Photo: helen.2006/flickr.

It is no secret that Iran has an image problem in the international arena. As part of a comprehensive campaign to regain credibility and improve its reputation on the world stage, the country is adopting a new approach to diplomacy that seems to extend well beyond the nuclear dossier. But President Rouhani’s attempts to remake the country’s foreign policy since his election last June have met with much suspicion, as many outside Iran fear that this leopard can’t change its spots.

Delegates in the UN General Assembly have been noticing a turnaround in the way that the country’s representatives engage with social, humanitarian, and human rights issues. In October, observers were taken aback by the palpable softening of Iran’s tone1 in the delegate’s reaction to the latest report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran. In its statement, the Iranian representative to the Third Committee sounded conciliatory as she declared that “Iran emphasizes the need to use the momentum engendered by this election [of President Rouhani] to adopt a new and constructive approach by all relevant parties towards cooperation and dialogue for the promotion and protection of all human rights” adding that the “government does not claim that the situation of human rights within the country is perfect.” » More

Andreas Falke on the 2012 US Presidential and Congressional Elections

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in the first presidential debate. Photo: VOA/Wikimedia Commons

On 8 November, our parent organization – the Center for Security Studies – hosted a colloquium on the recently completed Presidential and Congressional elections in the United States. The guest speaker, Professor Andreas Falke, not only analyzed the election data for his audience, he also speculated on how the election’s outcomes might impact US domestic and foreign policies over the next four years, to include its influence on transatlantic relations.

Hosting Professor Falke also provided us with the opportunity to put some questions of our own to this keen observer of American politics. In the following podcast, we ask him whether he thought there was anything surprising about the election results, what the future holds for the US Republican Party, and what else we might expect from President Obama in his second term.

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Vietnam: New Thinking, New Risks, New Opportunities

Vietnam, Image: flydime/flickr

The Vietnam “story” has changed over time. First, it was a war story; then Vietnam became “a country” in the run-up to the normalization of US-Vietnam relations in 1995. Now the country is moving forward with a new narrative, a strategy of active and proactive international integration.

The country’s top foreign policy makers have decided it is time for Vietnam to fully launch itself into the international arena. In a conversation with the Council on Foreign Relations last year, Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said, “This was a turning point in our foreign policy, because before we focused on economic integration, but now we also integrate in all areas such as not only economic but politics, diplomacy, security, defense, culture and social effects.” » More