By Artyom Kobzev
1 February, 2014
Riyadh is showing a growing interest in Kyrgyzstan. In January, the Deputy Head of Saudi diplomacy visited the country. And before that, the chairman of the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia visited Bishkek. Meanwhile, it is well known that the Saudis are the main sponsors of the propagation of the Wahhabi ideology. Hardly Kyrgyzstan will be an exception to this rule.
"Today we are witnessing a new phase of cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Saudi Arabia. Active development of cooperation between the two countries meets the comprehensive interests of our people and both our countries." These were the words of the head of the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry Erlan Abdyldaev after meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Khalid bin Saud bin Khalid Al Saud. Still, at present moment the cooperation between the two countries is in its infancy. However, soon there may appear a Saudi logistics center at the Manas airport. However, even if this project is implemented, it is too early to say that the development of relations with Bishkek has become a priority for the Saudis, says an expert on Central Asia, Arkady Dubnov:
"Yes, it is easier to settle in Kyrgyzstan, so they say, since the country is open to outside influence. Besides, it is a poor country that needs foreign investment. It certainly helps Riyadh to pursue its policy. In addition, there is a certain similarity between Riyadh and Bishkek due to the fact that Sharipov, brother of the current speaker of the Kyrgyz parliament, is Kyrgyz ambassador to Saudi Arabia. And he personally tries to warm up the relations between the two countries. He is perhaps the main lobbyist of Riyadh interests in Kyrgyzstan".
At the moment, the interaction between the two countries is developing mainly in the humanitarian sphere. Meanwhile it is well known that under the guise of humanitarian projects Riyadh often creates conditions for the propagation of Wahhabism, which is the dominant ideology in Saudi Arabia itself. And the Saudis do not make exceptions to this rule for anyone, says the Moscow Carnegie Center expert, Alexei Malashenko.
"The fact that Saudi Arabia carefully supports the so-called non-traditional Islam, which has a lot of names in Kyrgyzstan - the Salafi Islam, the fundamentalist, the Arabic, the Wahhabi - is beyond doubt. Saudis do it wherever they can. And the problem of Islam or even Islams in Kyrgyzstan itself - the traditional and non-traditional versions – is now quite acute. And more than half of the society is concerned that non-traditional Islam will gradually replace traditional. Even more so, the young people are attracted by this unconventional Islam".
Kyrgyzstan is not the only post-Soviet republic, which has faced a similar problem. Experts say that Islamic radicalism is a challenge for all the countries that have a high proportion of the Muslim population. However, this phenomenon has its own specifics in the territory of the former USSR. Unconventional Islam began to penetrate it relatively recently, and in conditions of poverty and the lack of a coherent state ideology, it quickly began to gain popularity. As a result, today the supporters of unconventional Islam are at loggerheads not only with those who adhere to the region's more familiar forms of the religion, but also with the authorities. The most radical elements join the ranks of the so-called jihadists and fight for the creation of a caliphate both at home and abroad.