Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has pledged a “moderate, open” country, in an attack on the Gulf country’s ultra-conservative clerics.
Speaking during a rare public appearance at an economic forum in the capital Riyadh, Mohammed bin Salman said Saudi Arabia was “returning to what we were before, a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world”. The heir to the throne said the kingdom will work to defeat extremism and make sure young Saudis live in harmony with the rest of the world.
“We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today,” he said. “We will end extremism very soon.” The crown prince’s statement represents the most direct attack by a Saudi official on the country’s influential conservative religious circles, who have had extensive influence on policy in recent decades.
Prince Mohammed has tried to introduce reforms since his sudden appointment in June with the young prince widely viewed as being the force behind King Salman’s decision last month to get rid of the long-standing ban on women driving.
Also yesterday, Saudi’s Public Investment Fund announced the launch of an independent economic zone along the country’s northwestern coastline. The $500bn project, known as NEOM, will operate under regulations separate from those covering the rest of Saudi Arabia.
Running entirely on alternative energy, it aims to drive innovations in drones, driverless cars and robotics.
But human rights groups, including Amnesty International, say Saudi Arabia has at the same time stepped up its crackdown on peaceful activists.
Authorities last month arrested dozens of activists, including clerics, without revealing any charges against them.