Wahhabism and Arab National Capitalism

Saudi politics is based on the dynamism of the Wahhabi movement that started at the end of the 18th century and reached its peak in the 19th century.    This is a politics that is based on the tribe and sect synthesis with the alliance between Abdulaziz Ibn Saud and Muhammad bin Abdul Wahab. These politics rose from the Najd sociology and spread to the areas under Ottoman reign through time. Even dozens of wars and operations to suppress could not destroy this dynamism. The Sharif of Hejaz tells Ottoman local administrator Galip Pasha – in reference to the Wahhabis – “They are coming from everywhere like swarms of grasshoppers rising from the mountains after rain.” The Ottoman Empire realizes this early on and diagnosis it as Saudi Khawarijism.

Sultan Mahmud II legitimizes the word Wahhabism with this term. In the conditions of the 19th century, a Khawarijite movement that rises from Najd is born again. This movement continues despite all interventions. The British who see this start to take advantage of this process. This is where Lawrence gains significance.

In time, Wahhabism turns into a state in Najd. Riyadh becomes the capital city. The welfare and wealth that arrived in 1938 with oil leads to a new transformation. Now, oil will pave the way to a conformist Wahhabism. The Ikhwan Movement (Muslim Brotherhood) will continue to exist as the founding dynamism of Wahhabism. Ibn Saud knows their poverty and excitement of existence well. Followers of the Ikhwan devote themselves to jihad and Muslimizing Muslims. They want to have the Muslim community take line around the oneness of God. It labels all behaviors that do not comply with its theory as kufr (disbelief) or bidah (innovation in religion). In order to tackle these, jihad was transformed into tribal solidarity and combativeness. It resists for years against Wahhabism that shifts to conformism. In 1939, the leaders of major tribes and jihad surrender. However, conformism that arrives with petro-dollars deteriorates Wahhabis within wealth. King Faisal wants to change this. Hence, he changes Wahhabism to the Union of Islam. He leads with structures such as the Islamic Bank, Islamic World League, Organization for Islamic Conference, Union of World Muslim Youth. Egypt establishes good ties with Ikhwan. Islamism is supported against Arabism and Socialism.  Wahhabis’ aggressive attitude toward Muslims is channeled to the international order. He tries to integrate Wahhabis with the Muslim world. Kessinger meets with King Faisal. He makes threats such as the oil wells will be invaded and they will be surrounded by the U.S. fleet if need be. Following this threat, King Faisal is killed by his nephew who lived and studied in the U.S. for a long time.

The 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution starts to shake Saudi Arabia. The Wahhabi brotherhood’s Asceticist and jihad-based transformation projects reappear. Juhayman bin Utaba organizes the Kaaba raid. It calls the Ikhwan to duty again with the notice titled, “Call to Ikhwan.” Juhayman was born in one of the Ikhwan settlements and is the member of one of the famous Wahhabi tribes. The Saudi government gets help from the French military to deal with this situation.

However, this reemergence of Ikhwan and the Iranian Islamic Revolution leads the Saudi government to develop the “counter Islamism” policy. The ascetic Wahhabis of the Ikhwan Movement are channelized to the Afghanistan jihad. In opposition to Iran’s siege with Islamism, taking advantage of the Ikhwan Movement’s dynamism, action is taken with “counter Islamism.” The youth coming from the Saudi Ikhwan dynamism that went to Afghanistan are collectively recorded in a book. Later, this book will become popular as al-Qaida. Al-Qaida emerges as a new group of ascetic Wahhabism. Zarqawi, who goes from Jordan to Afghanistan, is trained here at al-Qaida’s camps and comes to Iraq through Iran. Following the U.S.’s invasion, he starts operations. This time Daesh emerges.

The Saudi government is now eliminating Wahhabism with its moderate Islam theory and returning to conformist politics. Wahhabism is being called to settle into the capitalist free market. The Union of Islam is being given up. Instead, Arabism is taken into the axis. The Saudi government recently meeting with Iraqi Shiite leaders and the Iraqi head of state, its support of Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi and perhaps turning to soon contacting Bashar Assad all show this. This time, Wahhabism may appear under the name national Arab capitalism. In response to the Arab National Socialism in history, now, this nationalist capitalism may develop. This is what Crown Prince Salman suggests. This is the true identity of moderate Islam. However, this is not a very simple thing. It is very difficult to completely eliminate the Ikhwan branch that constitutes Wahhabism’s founding dynamic and convince it to national Arab capitalism. Because this branch is an extremely influential dynamism in the distribution of all Gulf communities’ tribe and sectarian distribution that makes up Saudi Arabia and its surroundings.

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