Middle East regimes challenge religious order, move toward modernization

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (C) attends a reading of the Hadith at Al-Zaytuna Mosque in Tunis
Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi (C) attends a Hadith reading at a mosque in Tunis. His administration has worked to increase women’s rights in the country (source: dpa)
  • Religious traditionalism has blocked modernization for centuries in Arab states
  • Now, globalization is aiding leaders determined to bring reforms
  • Religious institutions are likely to put up only moderate resistance

Generations of Muslim clerics, scholars and jurists have tried in vain to adapt the rigorous demands of Islam to the realities of the modern world. Now, the proverbial winds of change are sweeping through the Middle East. No country is immune to the impact of globalization: easier travel, the availability of information and worldwide social networks. From Egypt to Tunisia to Saudi Arabia, economic and social needs are challenging the old religious order. This time they just might prevail, because those spearheading the fight are leaders who believe reform requires a moderate interpretation of Islam.

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in Egypt, President Mohamed Beji Caid Essebsi of Tunisia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia are the most visible promoters of the trend, but it is being felt throughout the Arab world.

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