Laurent Bonnefoy is a researcher at Sciences Po Paris/CERI and deputy principal investigator of the ERC “When Authoritarianism Fails in the Arab World” programme. A specialist of the contemporary Arabian Peninsula, he has co-edited Jeunesses arabes. Du Maroc au Yémen: loisirs, cultures et p...
Saudi Arabia and the export of religious ideologies
Laurent Bonnefoy, 5 September 2013
Saudi Arabia’s history since the mid-18th century has to a large extent been shaped by the relationship between the royal family, the Al Sa‘ud, and religious clerics, in particular those from the Al al-Shaykh clan. This relationship has been structural and has played a central role in maintaining conservative religious policies inside the country. It has also been instrumental in legitimising the monarchy both at the national level and abroad. The fact that the two holiest sites of Islam (Mecca and Medina) are on Saudi soil has further strengthened the relationship that exists between the state and religious actors, the role that Islam plays in defining Saudi foreign policy, and the image of the country at the international level.
This policy brief discusses the impact of this connection between state institutions and religion. It will first stress the diversity of the various ideologies and relationships that structure the politics-religion nexus in Saudi Arabia. In doing so it will stress the importance of not limiting one’s understanding of this nexus to Wahhabism. It will then present the various instruments and mechanisms that contribute to the dissemination or export of religious ideologies beyond Saudi Arabia’s borders. Finally, it will conclude by showing the extent to which Islam is one among many determinants of Saudi foreign policy.