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Mohammed bin Salman’s lessons for Bangladesh

  • Published at 04:42 pm February 2nd, 2018
  • Last updated at 04:06 pm February 3rd, 2018
Mohammed bin Salman’s  lessons for Bangladesh

The modern crown prince of Saudi Arabia has been in the news in recent weeks for his progressive moves, moving out of the strict Islamic strictures or even taboos.

Women have been allowed into stadiums to watch matches and to drive cars in this desert kingdom, where oil is slowly drying up. And the future king, it appears, has set his target of turning around the country to match the present world.

The other move that stole front pages of many newspapers across the world has been the detention of and heavy financial penalties given to other royals as well as bureaucrats, who have amassed massive wealth at home and abroad, London being their favourite destination.

The atmosphere is so relaxed, that the LGBT community in hiding has started to come out of their closets, with one report suggesting two men getting married openly. Here in Bangladesh two LGBT activists were brutally killed for their sexual orientation.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has reasons to be happy, as his anti-graft drive has not only exceeded his target of $100 billion by seizing $24bn more, but these figures might be higher as exact figures have not been released by the Saudi government.

The drive comes amidst a higher national budget of about $60bn and low oil earnings, which has been putting pressure on its coffers.

I just loved the way the 32-year-old little known crown prince has made his mark: Not only did he tighten his grip on power politics, but has also slowly started to take his country towards a more modern Saudi Arabia. I welcome this development as a signal to countries like Bangladesh, where progressive forces have been sidelined since the 1975 assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

First, General Ziaur Rahman lifted the ban on political groups like Jamaat-e-Islami and fanned the flame for orthodox Islam to stay in power. The progressive modern Bangladesh started changing as far as the rulers were concerned and the moderate Muslims too -- the ones who practiced Islam, but not the way it has been in some Middle Eastern countries, especially in Saudi Arabia.

General Hussein Muhammad Ershad followed suit and imposed Islam as the country’s state religion, taking out the spirit of the Independence War out of a secular Bangladesh. Meanwhile, Begum Khaleda Zia’s BNP-Jamaat alliance bared its fanatic and un-Islamic beliefs by attacking, raping, and torching the homes of Hindus when they returned to power in 2001.

The Hindu minorities who have lived in absolute harmony with their Muslim brothers since then have been targeted violently, to either send them away or grab their properties. Media reports suggest that despite the government’s best efforts to halt these crimes, the Hindu community still faces difficulties.

Media reports suggest that despite the government’s best efforts to halt these crimes, the Hindu community still faces difficulties

Many of them have left for safety, which is sad. For me, my parents never singled out such ugly religious divisions, but taught us to respect all. They grew up with Hindu teachers or “master moshais” and enjoyed the festivities of all religions.

I grew up enjoying the religious festivals of four religions -- Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. So much fun, and what varied tasteful delicacies. Most Bengalis were the same, except for a few who pursued a more orthodox Islamic lifestyle.

The Jamaat-e-Islami and few other such groups were backed by Middle Eastern countries, especially Saudi Arabia. The mollahs always referred to Saudi Arabia for its religious practices, including all the rage for the hijab.

Thus, Muslim-majority Bangladesh can ask the Saudi crown prince to send religious emissaries to explain how they have allowed women to watch matches in the stadiums and drive cars along with men.

The anti-corruption drive is unique in its own way, and we can take lessons from that too to get some of the booty back to the national exchequer.

The 1/11 caretaker government was military-backed and thus, the show of catching the corrupted was more for public support than for any practical reason. Where are those bureaucrats and businessmen now?

The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina can follow the Saudi crown prince in secretly identifying the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats and haul them into the MP hostel in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar until fines imposed are realized. The figure might give us many Padma bridges, if we take into account watchdog reports.

Otherwise, the steps of the Anti-Corruption Commission will never be enough, and the thieves will continue to get away with our money with a total loss to the exchequer.

Let us look forward to returning to a progressive and graft-free Bangladesh, with more forward-looking moves by the crown prince. May he live long.

Nadeem Qadir is a UN Dag Hammarskjold Fellow in journalism.