This article focuses on the Muslim Brotherhood and political Salafism, two influential currents of political Islam that formed a two-pronged political movement prevailing in Saudi Arabia over the past two decades. It examines how they have both influenced, in separate and distinct ways, the development of political Islam in that country. What began initially as a religious movement, striving to assert a national character, has subsequently over time separated itself from the political regime and the official religious establishment in a process that witnesses profound social change in Saudi society. It suffers from an inherent paradox linked to the context in which it developed; an organic relationship with the state in the 1980s, on the one hand, and a struggle against it in the 1990s, on the other. It enshrines the contradictory constraints with which it grapples with respect to government reluctance to modernize the society, on the one level, and popular, progressive aspirations linked to individual civil rights, on the another. In the opinion of the author, this religious movement has failed to comprehend and cope with the social change that has been taking place in Saudi society since 1994. The movement has suffered from an inability to set political priorities, and its ageing leadership has prevented it from keeping abreast with change and developments occurring within the society at large. With its uncompromising stance against women's rights, and most particularly their right to work, as one example, it has got bogged down on many issues – in blatant opposition to popular demand – and failed to take into account the transformation under way in the society. This paper argues that the outlook for Saudi political Islam, within the two groups under study in this article – the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist Islam – is bleak and does not augur well for its promising future. It is likely to be the same for other Arab countries.

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