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Saudi Arabia’s Revolution From the Top Has No Place for Critics

  • Clerics and other dissenters are co-opted, cowed -- or jailed
  • Radical change could bring chaos without a ‘very firm hand’
Light trails from automobile traffic traveling along the King Fahd highway, left, and Olaya Street, right, lead towards the Kingdom Tower, center rear, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. Saudi Arabia is working to reduce the Middle East’s biggest economy’s reliance on oil, which provides three-quarters of government revenue, as part of a plan for the biggest economic shakeup since the country’s founding.
Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
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Few would describe Mohammed Al-Arefe as a defender of women’s rights. In one infamous video, the Saudi cleric explains exactly how a man should beat his wife.

But when the government decided to allow women to drive cars, up popped Al-Arefe on state TV to say what a good idea that was. “A modest woman will remain modest whether she drives or not,” he told the nation. Other religious leaders, once hostile to any departure from traditional ways, joined the chorus of approval.