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The role of Islam in Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy Essay


Introduction

The world today is defined by plurality of cultures running in a rhythm of conflict and integration. The Islamic culture and value system defines the Saudi Arabia’s cultural, political, social and economic norms (Commins, 2006). As a country deeply rooted in Islam as the source of political ideology, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has continued to shape its international relations based on the staunch belief and practice of the Islamic culture.

The country is a non-aligned Islamic state whose main foreign policy objective is to maintain the security of the citizens as well as its position on the Arabian Peninsula.

In addition, the country has a long history of defending the Arab interest, promotion of solidarity among Islamic states, and maintenance of positive relations with oil-based countries. This paper seeks to explore the role of Islam in influencing its foreign policy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Discussion

Islam is central to Saudi foreign and domestic policy framework. According to the library of Congress, Saudi Arabia has been known for its stand on three thematic concerns, including the Arab nationalism, regional security, and Islam.

These themes have come to dominate the process of formulating foreign policies since the early 1950’s. Most scholars have directed their efforts toward investigating the extent to which the Islamic principles have tended to shape the Saudi foreign policies (Commins, 2006).

The concept of Islam has provided greener grounds that depict Saudi Arabia as a strong country, especially the existence of holy cities of Medina and Mecca. Studies show that religion, culture, and politics play significant roles in shaping a country’s relationship with the rest of the world (Emerson, Youngs, and Amghar, 2007).

According to Alshamsi (2011), where religion forms that core of a country’s unity, there are tendencies of creating strong affiliate unity. Therefore, this study suggests that the existence of a single religion has provided Saudi Arabia with a strong form of unity that remains unmatched by other countries around the world.

The fact that Saudi foreign policy remains committal to ensuring peaceful coexistence with allied Islamic countries, its quest for creating foreign policies has been driven by ideologies of Islam. Islam has continued to offer the basis for searching and maintaining allies, and providing support for Muslim countries in terms of leadership and political strengths.

For instance, Saudi Arabia has generated impetus for involvement in the internal affairs of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Somalia (Emerson, Youngs, and Amghar, 2007). Literature abounds about the role of religion in streamlining political ideologies of most countries, especially the Arab world.

History recalls that from mid 1930’s up to 1991, the Saudi Islamic concept opposed the existence of communist ideologies. This meant that within this defining moment, Saudi Arabia had no positive relations with the Soviet Union, which was regarded as unholy state.

Although Islam has driven most issues of Saudi foreign agenda, studies indicate that countries that have supported its Islamic stand have won its foreign support against its major opponents.

During the early 20th century, Saudi Arabia became a unified Kingdom, emerging as a socio-political and economic leader in the world (Qing, 2009). Guided by Islamic teachings, Saudi Arabia has focused on Arabian unity, Islamic solidarity, and peaceful relations with the external world (Hinnebusch and Ehteshami, 2002).

At this point, it should be noted that although the western view of Islamic state has painted these countries as being fatal in the context of international unity, recent studies demonstrate that new phase of Islam provides for a renewed impetus for peace.

Saudi Arabia under the leadership of King Abdulaziz has stood on the essence of Islam as the pillar for protecting the Islamic interests at the center of external relations. Approximately one fifth of the world’s population is made up of Muslims. This growing populace can be attributed to the changing worldview about the Muslim world.

Saudi Arabia occupies a huge space in defining the Islamic cores of the world owing to the historical foundations of Islam and the holy cities within its boundaries. The need to understand the nature and scope of Islamic concepts and its changing course has stimulated many western countries to seek out for Saudi based on its rich Islamic history.

Although the Islamic core establishments have remained in the mainstream Islamic pillars and teachings, varied interpretations and the quest for a new world order has redefined the Saudi Arabian leadership and political, and foreign frameworks (Korany, Hilal, and Kheir, 2008). Currently, the Kingdom is recognized as a strong advocate of peaceful coexistence, constructive cooperation, and security across the world.

Up to until recently, the western states have gained an impetus to seek the mediation of Saudi Arabia in peace agenda involving the Arab and Muslim world (Hinnebusch and Ehteshami, 2002).

This has majorly yielded from the fact that the country holds a significant stake in the unifying the Arabian world and countries holding elements of Islam. Therefore, the growing interest by most western states in Saudi’s mediation power has rejuvenated its old relations as well as building new relational blocs with the rest of the world (Mandeville, 2007).

Islam has remained the key element influencing the Kingdom’s priority issues regarding foreign policy. Since its establishment, the country has continuously generated appetite to support issues of the Islamic world by using its economic potentials. This effort builds on the pursuit of solidarity and unity driven by the beliefs in brotherhood.

Since the western states and their allies have for many years been regarded as the true enemies to the Islamic states, religion has served to create a solid unity to regain their worlds’ honor.

Based on the driving force of the Islamic religion, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sought to achieve solidarity with the rest of the Islamic countries by establishing governmental and non-governmental organizations to propagate their worldview across the world (Mandeville, 2007).

For example, the creation of the Muslims World League in 1962 and the organization of Islamic Conference serve to concretize the nature of foreign policy and means used by the Kingdom.

According to Ministry of foreign Affairs (2005), the government of Saudi Arabia has embraced the concept of peaceful solution of disputes among Islamic states while providing material support to Muslim-based groups across the world with an aim of sustaining its influence on external matters (Qing, 2009).

Wahhabism and the quest for power

The new form of Islam within the context of Saudi Arabia defines the modern trends in the religious dynamics of the Islamic world. The country boasts of being the founder of the United Nations in 1945 (Niblock, 2006). Therefore, to maintain its legacy, the Kingdom of Saudi believes in peaceful resolution of disputes.

The country does not hold power as the tool to facilitate her foreign policies. However, it is worth noting that in the spirit of staunch Islamic principles, Saudi Arabia believes in lawful self-defense as the basis of protection of its national and Islamic interests.

The spread and maintenance of Wahhabi by Islamist frontiers, the government of the Kingdom and its affiliates has continued to strengthen its foreign policies based on Islam (Niblock, 2006). The creation of the Islamic charitable groups and organizations has attempted to penetrate the mainstream policy of the country.

These groups have served to materialize and propagate the Islamic ideologies based on the Islamic principles of Wahhabi (Tawheed). According the official website of World Association of Muslim youth (WAMY), the group has a membership in over 55 countries across the world with over 600 youth organizations in the world.

Studies reveal that although such groups and Islamic foundations have claimed to be independent in terms of their operations and agenda, the government has used them to navigate the external world.

Recently, studies have found that the Ministry of foreign affairs and its embassies across the world has played a critical role in establishing and maintaining Wahhabism. In addition, some sources have claimed that the distribution of funds in support of the ideologies of Wahhabism has dominated the Saudi’s foreign policy framework hinged on Islam (Nonneman, 2005).

The action by the US to withdraw its diplomatic credentials from the Saudi nationals working in Islamic departments demonstrated the growing evidence for the Kingdom’s indirect involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

In 2008, Raouf Ebeid wrote “A country failing its King” to demonstrate the struggle for political and religious tolerance that has continued to meet controversy across Muslim fundamentalists (Nonneman, 2005). The King’s call for an inter-faith dialogue emerged as a move toward a reforming the Islamic view on the rest of the world.

However, studies show that this efforts have failed to provide lasting solution to the existing inter-faith and country wars between Muslim and non-Muslim states.

This controversial efforts created by the strong allies of Wahhabism practiced by most of the King’s subjects has served to direct the political, social, and economic policies within and outside the country. These events prove that there is no separation between political processes and religious dogmas in a country strongly rooted in Islamic culture.

The Political Islam in Saudi Arabia

The process of formulation of foreign policy is seen to be divided into two subsystems: input and output. Further, this division can be divided into three related fields, including guidelines, decision-making, and implementation. People subscribing to realist ideologies have created tendencies of emphasizing effects of policy issues by tracing the significance of such policies using a backward process.

Therefore, Islamic culture depicts a realist view of events, which downplays the significance of cultural factors in shaping the outcome. According to numerous studies, the Islamic culture has an overwhelming influence on the three fundamental elements of policy formulation.

The value systems held by the Islamic culture forms the basis for shaping the belief and cognitive systems of the people. Therefore, Islam has become a mirror through which the people view the external world and yield value judgments.

The Kingdom has demonstrated its resounding goal to support Islamic cooperation in its foreign policy that leads to its duality form (Quandt, 1981). The country depicts a form of government that is innately conservative with a desire to exert its effort toward protection against the extremist external states from influencing its regime.

The need to prevent the non-allied states against interference with its homeland issues has continued to generate sour relationships with the external world, especially the US after the November 11 attacks on the U.S. territory.

The leadership forms of the Saudi have remained superior to the diplomatic agenda of the country with the rest of the world. Therefore, because the leadership of the country upholds Islamic ideologies in high esteem, it becomes almost difficult for the foreign policy to rule over the innate interests of the country (Wilson, and Graham, 1994).

Many scholars studying the nature of Islamic foreign policies have confided that foreign policies of Islamic world are established out of cultural and social contexts capped by the Islamic culture. Led by Muslim leaders, Islamic societies the political diplomatic and economic values have continued to be shaped by the largely inherited Islamic culture.

Although some studies have trivialized the scope of religion in defining the development or failure of foreign policies, Islamic cultural values remain the working boundaries of the leader’s idiosyncracies (Quandt, 1981).

The recent quest by the Kingdom to embrace religious tolerance amounted to lack of legitimacy and subsequent threat of dwindling political support. Therefore, the need for political legitimacy meets this opposition with little or no effort, thus offering itself support of the domestic interests.

In the recent past, the country has witnessed mild tensions between the political regime and the strict Islamic culture regarded as the sole source of the country’s ideology.

In order to overstate their legitimacy, governments of leading regimes usually adopt policies mirrored with Islam with a view to accommodate Islamic forces. However, these mechanisms tend to provide short-run mitigating solutions to the impending policy challenges (Quandt, 1981).

The conservative nature of Islamic culture and its desire to look into the historical past allows for continuation of a ‘status quo’ for the already established policies. Therefore, this condition (status quo) denies the progressive nature of diplomatic foreign policy that contrasts with the rigidity created by the historical elements.

The inability of the Arab and Islamic world to establish sufficiently flexible policies have remained the reason for the stumbling peace after the establishment of the Madrid Peace Conference (MPC). It is evident that although regimes have stepped up efforts such as the proposed peace plan by King Abdullah, these efforts fail because of missing policy links.

The Islamic norms occupy a significant position in the process, policies, and practices of diplomatic agenda. The spread of the Islamic value systems across the Arab world has generated a sense of cultural homogeneity (Nonneman, 2005).

The fact that the Arab and Muslim world has continued to gain from the Islamic unity has resulted in a continuous interactions among Muslims and its allied forces. This form of brotherhood within the confines of common religious garment facilitates all sorts of cultural, social, and diplomatic strengths, which blurs the issue of borders and state sovereignty.

Arab Nationalism

The study of the politics of the Arab world leads to the unique characterization of Islamic states with regionalism. The rise of Arab nationalism has tended to generate the ideologies of Islamic unity over several decades (Nonneman, 2005).

Although no clear link of foreign policies may be available to demonstrate this growing relations, evidence suggest that Islamic culture serves as the moderating effect that creates an implied form of commonness among the Arab world. The distinguishing element of the Arab politics is enshrined in the presumed existence of a shared unity, identity, and a harsh reality of anarchy.

Recently, several studies have proven the inexistence of the Arab world, but found out that the Arab political system still carries the elements of a family (Nonneman, 2005). This means that the Islamic norms have strong influence on the emerging quest for diplomatic course among the Islamic states.

In the contemporary Arab politics, the use of weaponry to wield power has ceased, but instead guided by powerful Islamic structures as the balance of domestic and foreign legitimacy (Alshamsi (2011). Some scholars have sounded lack of legitimacy as contrasted to military resources as the major impediment of the Arab foreign policy frameworks (Emerson, Youngs, and Amghar, 2007).

The need to navigate the Islamic notions across the world has led to the Kingdom’s direct link with the ongoing international peace and war interventions.

The transfer of Saudi young men forming graduates of Islamic Universities to other Islamic-based states and other countries serve to highlight the extent to which the government of Saudi Arabia perpetuates its Islamic culture to the rest of the world. These activities supplement official efforts of the country’s foreign policy initiatives to sustain its interests amidst the opposing non-Muslim world (Commins, 2006).

Conclusion

The role of religion in streamlining political ideologies of most countries, especially the Arab world has dominated current debates about their influence on foreign policies. History recalls that from mid 1930’s up to 1991, the Saudi Islamic concept opposed the existence of communist ideologies. Islamic culture and value systems have continued to navigate the Saudi foreign policy and its relationship with the rest of the world.

The position held by Saudi Arabia in respect of Islamic foundations has stimulated religious power in the mainstream body polity of the country and its influence on external relations. Although some studies have trivialized the scope of religion in defining the development or failure of foreign policies, Islamic cultural values remain the working boundaries of the leader’s idiosyncracies.

The recent quest by the Kingdom to embrace religious tolerance amounted to lack of legitimacy and subsequent threat of dwindling political support. Therefore, the need for political legitimacy meets this opposition with little or no effort, thus offering itself support of the domestic interests.

Guided by Islamic teachings, Saudi Arabia has focused on Arabian unity, Islamic solidarity, and peaceful relations with the external world. At this point, it should be noted that although the western view of Islamic state has painted these countries as being fatal in the context of international unity, recent studies demonstrate that new phase of Islam provides for a renewed impetus for peace.

Although no clear link of foreign policies may be available to demonstrate this growing relations, evidence suggest that Islamic culture serves as the moderating effect that creates an implied form of commonness among the Arab world. The distinguishing element of the Arab politics is enshrined in the presumed existence of a shared unity, identity, and a harsh reality of anarchy.

The fact that Saudi foreign policy remains committal to ensuring peaceful coexistence with allied Islamic countries, its quest for creating foreign policies has been driven by ideologies of Islam. Islam has continued to offer the basis for searching and maintaining allies, and providing support for Muslim countries in terms of leadership and political strengths.

The spread of Wahhabism through the establishments of the leadership regime has ensured that Islam remains the conduit for political power. since its establishment, Wahhabism under the guidance of the political regimes have maintained strict support for its Islamic foreign policies by forming Muslim-based groups to propagate its Islamic norms abroad.

References

Alshamsi, M.J., 2011. Islam and Political Reform in Saudi Arabia: The Quest for Political Change and Reform. New York: Taylor & Francis.

Commins, D.D., 2006. The Wahhabi mission and Saudi Arabia. New York: I.B.Tauris.

Emerson, M., Youngs, R., and Amghar, S., 2007. Political Islam and European Foreign Policy: Perspectives from Muslim Democrats of the Mediterranean. New York: Centre for European policy Studies (CEPS).

Hinnebusch, R.A., and Ehteshami, A., 2002. The Foreign Policies of Middle East States. New York: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Korany, B., Hilāl, A., and Kheir, K.A., 2008. The foreign policies of Arab states: the challenge of globalization. American University in Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.

Mandeville, P., 2007. Global political Islam. New York: Routledge.

Ministry of foreign Affairs (mofa)., 2005. The foreign policy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Web.

Niblock, T., 2006. Saudi Arabia: Power, Legitimacy and Survival, New York: New York: Taylor & Francis.

Nonneman, G., 2005. Analyzing Middle East Foreign Policies And The Relationship with Europe. New York: Routledge.

Qing, Y., 2009. The Influence of Islamic Culture on International Relations. Web.

Quandt, W.B., 1981. Saudi Arabia in the 1980s: Foreign Policy, Security, and Oil. Washington: Brookings Institution Press.

Wilson, P.W., and Graham, D., 1994. Saudi Arabia: The Coming Storm, New York: M.E. Sharpe.

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IvyPanda. "The role of Islam in Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy." September 30, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-role-of-islam-in-saudi-arabias-foreign-policy/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The role of Islam in Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy." September 30, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-role-of-islam-in-saudi-arabias-foreign-policy/.

References

IvyPanda. (2019) 'The role of Islam in Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy'. 30 September.

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