Saudi king reshuffles leaderships of religious body, other institutions

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - King Salman ordered a “reformation” of the Council of Senior Scholars to be headed by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, and appointed a new Supreme Court chief, Khaled bin Abdullah al-Luhaidan. The orders also included the appointment of a new speaker and two deputies for the Shura Council.

Monday 19/10/2020

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud chairs a cabinet virtual session, October 13. (spa)

RIYADH – Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saudi issued a series of orders on Sunday restructuring the kingdom’s advisory Shura Council, the Supreme Court and the highest religious body.

The orders, carried on state media, included the appointment of a new speaker and two deputies for the Shura Council, an influential advisory body which is due to start a new term this week. One of the deputies is a woman.

Khaled bin Abdullah al-Luhaidan (twitter)
Khaled bin Abdullah al-Luhaidan (twitter)

The king also named Ghayhab Mohammed al-Ghayhab as a senior adviser to the royal court.

He also ordered a “reformation” of the Council of Senior Scholars to be headed by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, and appointed a new Supreme Court chief, Khaled bin Abdullah al-Luhaidan.

The current Saudi leadership has taken a different approach to reforming the kingdom than previous administrations.

Over the last few years, the Saudi king and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz addressed the challenges facing the country head on, through curbing the power of religious elites and eliminating the power of the formidable mutawwa’een, or the religious police.

A general view of the Shura council, a top advisory body, ahead of a speech by King Salman bin Abdulaziz in the capital Riyadh. (AFP)
A general view of the Shura council, a top advisory body, ahead of a speech by King Salman bin Abdulaziz in the capital Riyadh. (AFP)

Since then, the influence and visibility of the religious police, in society and on campus, has waned considerably.

Diminishing the role of the religious institutions has helped eliminate many of the extreme practices in the kingdom and heralded a new era of reform and development.

After reining in the religious police, Saudi Arabia began in 2017 a sweeping crackdown on clerics allegedly tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The clampdown extended into the education sector, with the government banning 80 Brotherhood publications from school libraries. Teachers linked to the transnational group were also sacked.

Riyadh has also chosen to revise the content of many key extremist religious texts to contextualise and explain controversial subjects – such as takfir, or declaring another Muslim an apostate – to prevent teachers from twisting religious concepts to serve political ends.

Saudi movie viewers wear face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, as they buy refreshments at VOX Cinema hall in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. (AP)
Saudi movie viewers wear face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, as they buy refreshments at VOX Cinema hall in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. (AP)

Such moves and more introduced multiple economic and social changes in the kingdom, where public life was once severely curtailed by uncompromising clerics.

Under the reform drive, women are now allowed to take the wheel of cars after a decades-old driving ban was scrapped, and permitted to go to stadiums to watch sports and concerts.

Cinemas were reopened after many years of closures, noisy parties are permitted and authorities turn a blind eye as shops remain open during prayers times — a grave offence in the past.

The metamorphosis has so far been widely welcomed in a country with a large youth population, and endorsed by religious figures perceived to be moderate.

 

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