Middle East Briefs

Parallel to the Center’s scholarly work, Middle East Briefs provides a brief analysis of a single issue at the top of the region’s political, social, or economic agenda. Targeted primarily at decision-makers and opinion leaders, the publication was launched in 2005.

Latest Brief

October 2023 – Saudi Salafi Clerics under MBS: Reform and Survival

Raihan Ismail

Middle East Brief 156 (Summary) — In recent years, Saudi Arabia has seen rapid social transformations driven by the country’s crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman (commonly known as MBS). These initiatives have included the promotion of what MBS calls “moderate Islam” and the arrest of Saudi preachers in ever increasing numbers for allegedly promoting extremism and destabilizing the Saudi state. In our latest Middle East Brief, Raihan Ismail assesses how the relationship between the ruling family and religious establishment has changed under MBS and what recent trends within Saudi religious circles can tell us about the status of the Saudi Salafi/Wahhabi religious tradition in the kingdom. Ismail argues that while state-clerical conflict is not new, and religious institutions remain intact, MBS has effectively subdued the religious establishment and reduced its capacity to challenge his social reforms.

Read Middle East Brief 156 (PDF)

Raihan Ismail is the His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford and was the Goldman Faculty Leave Fellow at the Crown Center in 2022–2023.