This paper tracks the relationship between religion and the state in Saudi Arabia during the past 50 years. This relationship is unique in the sense that the religious power (Wahabi) together with the ruling family (Al Sa'ud) were partners in founding the Kingdom. This cooperative relationship has been degenerating into mutual suspicion. Right now there are three main variants of religious stratification in Saudi Arabia vis-à-vis the state: the traditional Salafists who back the rulers come what may – the government is gradually reducing their prerogatives; and the opposition, which in turn is divided between Sahwa (who are discontented Salafists) and Tanweeris (advocates of enlightenment). The Sahwa current with its elderly leadership believes that the state is straying away from the teachings of religion and it recommends austere adherence to it; the dynamics of their activities are possibly pushing towards taking leadership from outside the Kingdom. The Tanweeris, on the other hand, have young leaders, the popular base is young and broad, and they are strong advocates of democracy. Despite their capacity for effective social mobilization, it seems too early to judge whether this religious stream will eventually push for reform or constrain it, especially given that it has not yet resolved its position on some key issues such as different national constituencies and women.

This content is only available via PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.