Few people in Washington pay closer attention to Saudi Arabian education and human rights policy as Hudson Institute scholar Nina Shea and human rights activist Ali Al-Ahmed. So it is striking to see the Saudi monarchy do something that has them both hopeful.
Recent shake-ups by Saudi King Abdullah have pushed out hard-line Wahhabi ideologues for people considered more open-minded and tolerant, Shea writes. At the top of the list is new leadership over Saudi educational programming. Abdullah even created a position focusing on women's education, and appointed a woman to run it:
"[T]his gives hope that Saudi Arabia may finally be ready to adjust peacefully to a globalized, pluralistic modern world. And, with Saudi Arabia's disproportionate and distorting impact on Sunni Islam worldwide, this gives hope also for American security interests."
The education ministry will now be run by the king's son-in-law, Prince Faisal bin Abdullah. Shea notes the prince had been an assistant director of intelligence where he would have seen the connection between Saudi education and jihadist thought.
Both Shea and Al-Ahmed are seasoned enough to know there are no guarantees, and whatever reforms follow are likely to fall short of their own hopes. But, as Al-Ahmad notes, it's an encouraging start:
"This could be a watershed for Saudi education. Prince Faisal is known to be effective and have the king's trust. He is someone capable of overhauling the curriculum."