Friday Mar 30 2018

Saudi Arabia spread Wahhabism to counter Soviet influence, says crown prince


WASHINGTON: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has said that the kingdom, after being asked by its allies during the Cold War, invested in mosques for the spread of Wahhabism to counter Soviet influence, the Washington Post reported.

The statement was made during the Saudi crown prince's 75-minute meeting with the Washington Post editors and reporters on the last day of his four-day stay in Washington.

Mohammad bin Salman, 32, met with President Trump on Tuesday in the Oval Office and over lunch. On Thursday, he visited Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon. The crown prince also serves as Saudi Arabia’s defense minister.

Discussing his reform efforts in Saudi Arabia, including giving women the right to drive and have more rights outside the home, Salman said he has worked hard to convince religious leaders that such restrictions are not part of the Islamic doctrine.

"I believe Islam is sensible, Islam is simple, and people are trying to hijack it," the newspaper quoted him as saying. He said that lengthy discussions with clerics have been positive and are "why we have more allies in the religious establishment, day by day."

Asked about the Saudi-funded spread of Wahhabism, the crown prince said that investments in mosques and madrassas overseas were rooted in the Cold War, when allies asked Saudi Arabia to use its resources to prevent inroads in Muslim countries by the Soviet Union.

Successive Saudi governments lost track of the effort, he said, and now "we have to get it all back."

He said that funding now comes largely from Saudi-based "foundations" rather than from the government.

The Saudi crown prince said that it would be "really insane" for him to trade classified information with presidential son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner, or to try to use Kushner to promote Saudi aims within the Trump administration.

That kind of relationship "will not help us" and does not exist, he said.

Salman denied US media reports that he had claimed Kushner was "in his pocket," or that he had sought or received a green light from Kushner, when the two met in Riyadh in October, for massive arrests of allegedly corrupt members of the royal family and Saudi businessmen that took place in the kingdom shortly afterward.

The detentions were solely a domestic issue and had been in the works for years, he said.

While "we work together as friends, more than partners", the crown prince said, his relationship with Kushner was within the normal context of government-to-government contacts.

He noted that he also had good relations with Vice President Pence and others in the White House.