Arab News reports:
The prince also spoke about extremism in the Kingdom in his remarks, saying, according to the Arab News that "those who were brainwashing young Saudis had 'corrupt moral backgrounds' and were losing ground in the Kingdom."
Interior Minister Prince Naif yesterday urged the Saudi community not to endorse the culture of segregation between men and women. The remarks were met with applause from members of the audience where the prince was speaking.
"Segregation of men and women is not correct," Naif told an audience consisting of officials, academics and media persons, who were attending an annual communication forum organized by the Saudi Association for Media and Communication here.
To appreciate what would seem to be Prince Naif's new position you have to understand something about the dynamics in the kingdom.
In a 2004 article in Foreign Affairs, Middle East expert Michael Scott Doran described the situation this way:
The Saudi monarchy functions as the intermediary between two distinct political communities: a Westernized elite that looks to Europe and the United States as models of political development, and a Wahhabi religious establishment that holds up its interpretation of Islam's golden age as a guide. The clerics consider any plan that gives a voice to non-Wahhabis as idolatrous. Saudi Arabia's two most powerful princes have taken opposing sides in this debate: [Crown Prince] Abdullah tilts toward the liberal reformers and seeks a rapprochement with the United States, whereas [Interior Minister] Nayef [alternative spelling of Naif] sides with the clerics and takes direction from an anti-American religious establishment that shares many goals with al Qaeda...
Getting Riyadh to divorce itself from radical Wahhabism will be as great a task as getting the Soviet Union to renounce communism. Clearly, there are forces in the kingdom who would be willing to support the efforts of a Saudi Gorbachev, but it is not clear when or whether one will appear.
Perhaps Prince Naif's apparent change of heart regarding the status of women, among other hardline positions he has held that seem to have softened, heralds the the possibility that Abdullah, now king, may well be the Saudi Gorbachev.