When I spent some time in Saudi Arabia almost 15 years ago, I saw a country struggling to find its soul after finally acknowledging that most of the 9/11 hijackers were from there.
Many religious and government officials then realized that if the nation created in the 1930s by the late King Ibn Saud was to survive, it would have to embrace some measure of modernity both socially and religiously. But given the huge number of Saudi youth without much of a future, my guess was that the House of Saud had a decade or two at most to make changes or to experience the sort of revolutionary upheaval we later saw in the Arab Spring (R.I.P.).
Well, change certainly has happened in the kingdom, though nowhere near as quickly as I concluded in 2002 that it needed to. But if this BBC analysis is anywhere near the mark, we may be much closer to important changes in Saudi life than most people outside the kingdom imagine.
Today, instead of serious change being measured in decades, the piece reports, "talk of change is measured in months."
That includes finally allowing (at least some) women to drive -- something my journalist colleagues and I pressed then-Crown Prince (later king, now gone) Abdullah about when we spoke with him in 2002. He was non-committal then, though he left open the possibility that it might happen some day. (At the time, Abdullah was considered a reformer, though the term has meant much less in Saudi Arabia than it means in many other countries.)
Social and economic change are needed there, to be sure, and the current crown prince is doing his best to get them through what he calls the "Vision 2030" plan.
If it really works, it will be helpful. But much of the world would feel better knowing there was also religious change in the wind, and that's considerably less certain. The rigid Wahhabi form of Islam that the clerics there lead and that the government protects in exchange for support from those very clerics is often seen as the source of the dogmatic, radical thinking that leads to terrorism. If the kingdom were to loosen its controls on religion and allow something closer to religious liberty, most of the world would be grateful.
The hope is that economic and social reform may lead to a lighter hand on religion. But it will take at least until 2030 to know if that's possible, assuming the country doesn't collapse into chaos before then, prodded by reformers who simply refuse to wait for change any longer.
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RELIGION IN RED AND BLUE AMERICA
That recent survey that showed Mississippi is home to the most religious people in the nation also has some political consequences, religion journalist Terry Mattingly points out in this piece. Republicans win most of the most-religious states, while Democrats win those at the bottom of that list. What does that mean for the future? Hmmmm.
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P.S.: For Presidents' Day today I am wearing my Lincoln stovepipe hat that I found a few years ago at the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, Kan. I thought the hat picture was a better choice than one showing me with Trump-like hair -- especially since no such photo exists and, if I have anything to day about it, never will.