In Brief... Saudi Crown Prince Cautions Islamic Leaders

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In Brief... Saudi Crown Prince Cautions Islamic Leaders

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Crown Prince Abdullah recently warned senior Saudi Islamic leaders to be careful and avoid provocative remarks in their religious speeches. Prince Abdullah cautioned them to "not be emotional or provoked by others," the official Saudi daily Arab News reported. Abdullah exhorted the religious elite to "weigh each word before saying it." The royal family is closing ranks as it faces trouble on several fronts, but they are cautious to avoid alienating Saudi Arabia's religious elite and increasing opposition to Crown Prince Abdullah's reign. Abdullah became Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler after King Fahd had a stroke in 1995.

The royal family has at least momentarily laid aside internal conflict in the face of trouble on various fronts with growing Islamic extremism and Saudi-U.S. relations strained. Still, Abdullah's strategy may alienate one of his key bases of support and undercut his political clout in the long run. This is the first time an effort to rein in the mainstream religious elite has been made as growing concerns over political dissent surface. The warning serves to make it clear that fueling opposition to the regime will not be allowed.

As a religious monarchy, Saudi Arabia's government tries to balance the state's cooperation with the secular West with its strict religious society. Complicating the secular versus religious dilemma is a complex web of tribal affiliations and loyalties. Originally divided into warring tribes, Saudi Arabia was united in 1932 by Abdul Aziz al Saud, father of King Fahd, who is officially the current ruler, as well as Prince Abdullah and Prince Sultan. Abdullah, known for his personal piety, relies on support from the country's religious elite as leverage in countering his rivals-the faction of the royal family led by King Fahd and Prince Sultan. Abdullah hoped to reduce what was perceived as Washington's inordinate influence over Saudi foreign and domestic policy, a perception stemming partly from the basing of several thousand U.S. soldiers on Saudi soil.

The U.S. war in Afghanistan has revived the debate over Riyadh's close cooperation with Washington. Immediately before the launching of air strikes, several Saudi clerics condemned the anticipated U.S. actions and criticized the royal family for working with the United States.

In his speech Nov. 14, Abdullah said, "We are now passing through critical days, and our duty requires that we be mindful," the Associated Press reported. For the usually cautious Saudi leadership, the recent statements are a glaring admission of troubled times.

Abdullah's effort to moderate the situation could backfire and have devastating consequences for his legitimacy among his own supporters, especially the country's more religiously hard-line factions. Once he weathers the current situation, the crown prince may find his political clout eroded and his position as the country's heir apparent in jeopardy.

Sources: Stratfor, WorldNetDaily, AP.