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The need to stay at a safe distance from Saudi Arabia

COMMENT | Saudi Arabia has started an aggressive campaign, not merely to put a check on Qatar, who is supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, but any country with close ties to Iran; indeed, even Turkey.

Oddly, Turkey, Qatar, and Iran are three countries that have undertaken some modicum of political and economic reforms. Instead of encouraging all sides to work together, Saudi Arabia has gone on an offensive in Yemen, too. Therein the danger posed to Malaysia: if Malaysia is too close to Saudi Arabia, Putrajaya would be asked to choose a side.

Yet, the Saud family is comprised of many competing factions, whose personal and political machinations, are not often obvious to the world. There are close to 1500 princelings that are related to the royalty.

When Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, otherwise known in the West as MBS, was announced as the future successor of King Salman of Saudi Arabia, it was the first time that the throne was passed from the current King to the son, rather than the brother.

When political moves are made without precedent, new pressure points are obviously triggered. Even the mere act of allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia has led to an outcry in Saudi Arabia. One can, therefore, expect more palace intrigues to force MBS down. Either way, Malaysia should not be too close to a country whose internal politics are getting toxic.

On Nov 4, by arresting some 200 royal princelings, one of whom is Alwaleed (photo), the tenth richest man in the world, MBS has shown more animosity against all who don't agree with him.

For the lack of a better word, Saudi Arabia is a cesspool of constant rivalry among the princes. By this token, it is also a vortex that could suck any country into its black hole if one is not careful.

Indeed, Saudi Arabia is governed by hyper-orthodox Salafi or Wahhabi ideology, where Islam is taken in a literal form. Yet true Islam requires understanding Islam, not merely in its Quranic form, but Quranic spirit.

For example, there are verses of the sword in the Quran where Muslims are urged to kill those who subject their faith to various forms of threats.

But the number of those verses range only in the tens, while few thousand other verses spoke of the need for compassion, mercy, and empathy.

Truly the inner voice, indeed, the actual character of Islam is peace, which is precisely why Islam is a religion that had emerged from the root word of salam.

When a government focuses on the literal meaning of the Quran, with further overlap with all the executive and administrative powers of the state, the end outcome is a Wahhabi state that seeks to punish and police every behaviour.

Just as Malaysia should steer clear of countries like North Korea, where the internal intrigues in Pyongyang can suddenly turn Malaysia into a battleground between the key members of the Kim dynasty, where the late Kim Jong-nam was killed in our very own airport, Malaysia should keep a safe distance from Saudi Arabia too.

Thus, the focus should be confined to diplomatic courtesy, simple undertakings to increase the quota of the pilgrimage to Hajj, and ideally, an abolition of other onerous fees that make it difficult for Muslims in Malaysia to perform his or her Hajj there.

When Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his wife boast of close relationship with the King of Saudi Arabia, even ostensibly taking and returning, the donation back to the Kingdom, they should emphasise that these are personal undertakings.

If not Saudi Arabia, under MBS, may expect Malaysia to follow him blindly. However, the rub is this: by being close to Saudi Arabia, Malaysia must sacrifice its relationships with Qatar, Iran, potentially, even Turkey, too. But why should Malaysia follow Saudi Arabia when its internal situation remains unclear?

As this is written, the leaders of the elite National Guards of Saudi Arabia have been changed too. Again an unprecedented move.

The military campaign against Yemen is also caught in a rut, with MBS declaring on Nov 3 that a short-range missile was launched in Yemen, and aimed at Riyadh.

All these aggressive rhetoric and behaviours produce more turbulence in the Middle East, which neither King Salman nor MBS can jointly control, especially when the US is led by a president, who too, is unpredictable and unreliable.

All in all, it was not wise of Prime Minister Najib and his wife to claim that they were close to Saudi Arabia, which is a kingdom reeling from low prices of oil, and a youth bulge where close to 80 percent of its demography is under the age of 30. MBS himself is barely 33. Yet most of his uncles and previous relations in the royal households are septugenarians and octogenarians.

When the younger monarchs want to challenge the older powers, trouble is just brewing under the surface. That, in one short description, is Saudi Arabia. Malaysia should not be caught in this Byzantine-like labyrinths.

MOHAMAD SABU is president of Amanah.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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