Saudi Arabia's purge of 'extremist ideologies' from education system has political undertones

The purge seems set to target the Muslim Brotherhood, while not mentioning the Wahhabi hardline.

Saudi Arabia's purge of 'extremist ideologies' from education system has political undertones
Mohammed bin Salman has promised liberalisation and de-radicalisation of the society and economy. (File picture)

Saudi Arabia will crack down on its own education system to purge it of 'extremist ideologies', the kingdom's education minister has claimed. While the move is being portrayed as a part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's promise to promote a moderate brand of Islam, it has unmistakeable political underpinnings.

The education ministry is working to "combat extremist ideologies by reviewing school curricula and books to ensure they do not reflect the banned Muslim Brotherhood's agenda," Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Issa said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia is working to "combat extremist ideologies by reviewing school curricula and books to ensure they do not reflect the banned Muslim Brotherhood's agenda," education minister Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Issa said in a statement on Tuesday, news agency Reuters reported.

He added that the kingdom would "ban such books from schools and universities and remove those who sympathize with the group or its ideology from their posts."

The Muslim Brotherhood is a radical Islamist organisation that was born in Egypt in the 1920s. Its members reached Saudi Arabia in the 1950s, fleeing persecution under the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser. They had been co-opted into the largely illiterate kingdom's education system. After decades of a mutually beneficial relationship with the Saudi government, the Brotherhood called for democratic reforms. This put the organisation at odds with the ruling House of Saud.

In the years since, the Muslim Brotherhood has been declared a terrorist organisation by the Saudi government, apart from a number of other countries. 

The ruling Al Saud family has always regarded Islamist groups as a major internal threat to its rule over a country where appeals to religious sentiment resonate deeply and an al Qaeda campaign a decade ago killed hundreds.

Since the kingdom's founding, the Al Saud have enjoyed a close alliance with clerics of the ultra-conservative Wahhabi school of Islam who have espoused a political philosophy that demands obedience to the ruler.

Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS as he is referred to, has already placed strains on the government's relationship with the Wahhabi clergy, using whose backing the dynasty's founder Abdulaziz ibn Saud had built up a certain degree of legitimacy for his rule.

The Wahhabi ideology has also led to violent Islamist movements that have given rise to outfits like the Taliban and al-Qaeda among many others. The present plan to purge the education sector however, does not contain reference to whether Wahhabism could be next.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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