Saudi Arabia's crown prince promises country will return to 'moderate, open Islam'

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Saudi Arabia‘s crown prince, speaking at a major investment conference, has promised the country will “return to what we used to be – moderate, open Islam”.

Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud made the announcement at the beginning of the landmark Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh on Tuesday. 

The country would also do more to tackle extremism, the prince said. “We will not waste 30 years of our lives dealing with extremist ideas, we will destroy them today,” he told interviewers. 

“It was not like this in the past… We will end extremism very soon”, the prince added.

Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, is governed under an puritanical Sunni form of Islam known as Wahabism; it is extremist versions of Wahabism that are espoused by jihadist groups such as Al Qaeda and Isis.

In the wake of 9/11, the Saudi authorities have worked alongside the US and other Western countries to tackle radicalisation – but have often been criticised for not doing enough

Prince bin Salman, who was appointed heir to the throne by his father King Salman earlier this year, is seen by many as the face of the modern kingdom. 

The 32-year-old is the driving force behind ‘Vision 2030’, Saudi Arabia’s long term economic plan to wean itself off dependence on oil, and is popular for his reforms to the country’s ineffective state bureaucracy. 

While Prince bin Salman has built his reputation as a bold and socially liberal reformer, critics note his hawkish foreign policy. As defence minister – a position he has held since 2015 –  he has attracted criticism for his role in Saudi Arabia’s bloody intervention in the Yemeni civil war, as well as his aggressive stance on Iran.

The prince is also regarded as one of the primary decision makers behind the Gulf states’ recent cutting of ties with Qatar. 

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