The Saudi kingdom opens up to yoga, fast-tracking of foreign publications and deletes references to non-Muslims as pigs and monkeys from school texts. Bin Salman's nation rebuilt from "foundations" based on money, safeguarding Islam. Government consultant says opening of a church on the "to do list".
Riyadh (AsiaNews) – Yoga classes; preferential channels for the approval of publications imported from abroad; revision of school texts, to remove disparaging references to non-Muslims: There is a silent revolution underway in the Wahhabi kingdom.
The reforms, wanted by the crown prince Mohammad bin Salman (Mbs), aim to free religion from a radical vision and open the country to the international economy. But not without a price.
If, on the one hand, Riyadh requires mosques and muezzins to turn down the volume of the loudspeakers, on the other hand it arms the hand of the executioner by executing people who were minors at the time of the crime.
On 21 June last, to coincide with the international day, the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Saudi Arabia and India, aimed at promoting yoga in the kingdom. An agreement that provides for the collaboration between the Saudi Ministry of Sport and the Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga, affiliated with the Indian department of Ayush (dedicated to medicine and traditional practices, from Ayurveda to yoga, from naturopathy to Siddha). Among the objectives, to strengthen the awareness of the physical and mental benefits related to the practice of the discipline born in India.
Meanwhile, the head of the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (Gcam) has streamlined the operations necessary for the approval of foreign publications, cutting time by up to 30 days compared to the past. This measure, executives explain, will also serve to combat fraud or the under-the-counter distribution of pirated copies. It will also guarantee the go-ahead for the marketing, within the year, of at least 300,000 new titles and will give a new impetus to sales that have so far suffered from unfair competition from other Arab publishing houses.
Finally, the progressive erosion of the power of Islamic leaders - and of the feared religious police who do not disdain violence to enforce the precepts of the faith - is seen in the choice to review school texts, the basis on which to build respect and coexistence from an early age.
Activists and movements in defense of minority rights applaud the decision to ban derogatory terms such as monkeys and pigs to indicate believers of other religions.
In freeing the country from dependence on oil, one of the foundations of the "Vision 2030" program, bin Salman is attempting - albeit very carefully – to counter the radical implantation of the Muslim faith. Reforms introduced over the last two years by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) have brought some changes to social life and civil rights; for example, women are now allowed to drive cars and can attend reserved sections in sport stadiums.
Some reforms have also touched the religious sphere. However, this has not prevented the authorities from cracking down on top government officials, business leaders, activists and other critics, not to mention the Khashoggi affair, which cast a broad shadow over the reform process.
Aziz Alghashian, an expert on Islam at the University of Essex, points out that "the nation is rebuilding itself from its foundations" and is increasingly oriented towards "economics" and profit, rather than the religious sphere, "in an attempt to appear more attractive for investors ". Or “less intimidating”, while still being far from the Dubai model. Despite this, the change is real, just think that today some shops and shopping centers remain open during the five moments of Islamic prayer. An unthinkable event in the past, with the teams of the "vice habit" that with blows of the stick imposed the closures.
Some timid glimmers also seem to emerge in terms of religious freedom: if the practice of a faith other than Islam remains prohibited, government consultant Ali Shihabi told the US media Insider that allowing the construction of at least one church is "on the list of things to do ”of the Saudi leadership. And even on the subject of alcohol, although the authorities categorically exclude a green light for consumption, it is equally true that behind closed doors "this happens" with the approval of the authorities. "It is not an exaggeration to say - Kristin Diwan of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington told AFP - that Saudi Arabia has entered a post-Wahhabi phase. Religion no longer has the power of veto over the economy, social life and foreign policy ”.