RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday vowed to restore “moderate, open” Islam in a kingdom known for its ultra-conservative rule.
“We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world,” he said at an economic forum in Riyadh.
“We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today,” he added.
“We will end extremism very soon.”
The crown prince´s statement is the most direct attack by a Saudi official on the Gulf country´s influential conservative religious circles, who have for decades wielded influence on policy.
While the Saudi government continues to draw criticism from international rights groups, Prince Mohammed has pushed ahead with reforms since his sudden appointment on June 21.
Authorities have vied to modernise certain sectors in the kingdom, hinting that long-banned cinemas would soon be permitted as part of ambitious reforms for a post-oil era that could shake up the austere kingdom´s cultural scene.
The young prince is widely regarded as being the force behind King Salman´s decision last month to lift a decades-long ban prohibiting women from driving.
Earlier Tuesday, Saudi Arabia´s Public Investment Fund announced the launch of an independent economic zone along the kingdom´s northwestern coastline.
The project, dubbed NEOM, will operate under regulations separate from those that govern the rest of Saudi Arabia.
Monitors, including Amnesty International, say Saudi Arabia has in parallel stepped up its repression of peaceful rights activists.
Saudi authorities last month arrested dozens of activists, including clerics, without disclosing any charges against them.
Prince Mohammed, known by his initials MBS, said he would see to it his country moved past 1979, a reference to the rise of political Islam in the years following the assassination of King Faisal in 1975.
The early 1970s had ushered major change into the oil-rich kingdom, including the introduction of television and schools for girls.
But that came to a halt as the Al-Sheikh family, which controls religious and social regulation in the kingdom, and the ruling Al-Saud family slowly reinforced the conservative policies Riyadh is known for.
Prince Mohammed´s statement Tuesday is the most direct attack by a Saudi official on the Gulf country´s influential conservative religious circles, whose stranglehold on Saudi society now appears to face serious challenges.