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Saudi Government Wants to Ditch Domestic Sharia for Private London Court

Saudi Arabia wants to establish a “private court” in London to try major commercial cases involving foreign investors under English law. The Saudis apparently believe that this will step up foreign investment in the the country because foreign investors do not trust sharia-based law or the integrity of Saudi courts.

In itself, this seems like an excellent idea—good for the investors, good for the Saudis seeking investment.

But the implications are serious. On the one hand, this tells us something very significant about the way the Saudis see their future. Despite enormous oil reserves, population growth and a history of failed development initiatives have apparently spooked the Saudis into believing that they need to attract very large amounts of foreign investment to keep the country running smoothly. This suggests that the Saudis themselves have some serious concerns about the long term viability of their economic model and social peace.

But there’s another important inference to be drawn. Apparently, the Saudis think that sharia courts cannot do the job. Do the Saudis really believe that Islamic courts cannot be made to function honestly and competently enough to handle major commercial cases? Or do they believe that Islamic law lacks the ability to handle large and complex disputes? Or is this simply an admission that foreigners, including Muslims, prefer English common law to sharia and that, as a practical matter, the world’s largest oil exporter and the home of the two holiest mosques in the world must bow to their wishes?

At a time when people all over the Middle East are rallying to the cry that “Islam is the solution” to whatever complicated political or economic problems their countries face, the Saudis seem to be saying that “England is the solution,” at least when it comes to building a legal system that others will trust.

The real problem in the Middle East today is that while Islamism is an appealing ideology to many people, but it is no more able to solve the region’s problems than secular Arab nationalism or socialism—the last two ideological fads that swept the Arab world. Egyptians believed in Nasser with all their hearts, but he failed.

The failure of Islamism, if indeed the new ideological wave proves as unsatisfactory as its predecessors, will lead to a much deeper civilizational crisis in the region — though at first the failure may drive countries toward more radical Islamist ideas. But when those have been tried and failed, we can hope that the pragmatic accommodation to reality that has led the Saudis to accept English common law will inspire the Arab world to look at some of the other ideas that have worked for the Anglo-Americans as well.

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