Archive for the ‘King Abdullah’ Tag
This blog’s very first post concerned women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and we have since followed other developments in the desert kingdom, good, bad, and ugly. This one is good: King Abdullah has appointed a woman to the Saudi Council of Ministers for the first time. Noor Al-Fayez will serve as deputy minister for women’s education.
Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s few remaining absolute monarchies. The Council of Ministers is appointed by and responsible to the king and merely advises him on the formulation of general policy and assisted with managing the activities of the bureaucracy. The council consists of a prime minister, the first and second deputy prime ministers, 20 ministers (of whom the minister of defense also is the second deputy prime minister), two ministers of state, and a small number of advisers and heads of major, autonomous organizations.
Khaled Al-Maeena, editor-in-chief of Arab News, an English-language daily newspaper in Saudi Arabia, called many of the other appointments in what is the council’s biggest shake-up since Abdullah became king in 2005 very “progressive”, which is a very good thing.
King Abdullah appears to be, very slowly, moving the country in a more liberal direction, but considering how reactionary the place is it’s still just about the most conservative place on the planet. He is 84 years old and the Crown Prince is just two years younger. Succession to the Saudi Monarchy can be a messy process and it will be interesting to see how things shake out in the next two decades when the last of the sons of Ibn Saud, the nation’s modern founder, pass on.
The Economist has an interesting story about Saudi plans to remodel Mecca, the holiest city is Islam. The city is the original hometown of Mohammed, the founder and chief figure in Islam, and was a key religious center even before that time. Muslims are supposed to pray five times each day, at appointed times, all while facing in the direction of Mecca, and are urged to participate in the haj, a pilgrimage to the city during the holy month of Ramadan, at least once in their life if they are able.
As international travel has gotten easier, more Muslims have been able to visit Mecca, causing significant logistical problems (including people often being trampled to death). A chief reason for remodeling parts of the city, including the most important mosque there, the Masjid al-Haram (“Sacred Mosque”) is to accommodate the 2.5 million pilgrims that come to Mecca during the haj each year. At present, the mosque can hold up to 900,000 visitors; plans are to expand it to a capacity of 1.5 million.
Given the great importance of the mosque and Mecca to Muslims, it is not surprising that the Saudi plans are stirring up debate. The fact that one of the architects chosen for the project, Briton Norman Foster, is a non-Muslim has added to the controversy. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter Mecca, so he’d have to supervise the project from a distance and couldn’t visit the site itself.
But the city has already undergone huge changes. The Economist reports:
Even before the plans to give the Haram mosque a facelift emerged, many Muslims were uneasy about the renovations already underway in Mecca. The modern city bears little resemblance to the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad. Visitors to Mecca can buy a latte from Starbucks and a snack from KFC or McDonald’s. Moreover, the first Islamic school where Muhammad is believed to have taught as well as the house of Khadija, his first wife, are believed to have been destroyed as construction in Mecca has boomed. Critics such as Mr Angawi fear that if these plans go ahead, more damage will be wrought upon Mecca’s historic buildings. Some suggest that Saudi Arabia’s rulers don’t concern themselves much about preserving these historic sites because their interpretation of Islam regards venerating holy places as akin to idol worship.
It will be interesting to see what sorts of decisions are made by Saudi leaders, including King Abdullah—who is the “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” (in Mecca and Medina)—in this matter.