A New Saudi Holiday Symbolizes a Shift to Religious Moderation

Feb. 21 2022

Tomorrow, Saudi Arabia will celebrate for the first time a new national holiday, Founding Day, which will commemorate a key date in the establishment of a precursor to the modern Saudi state. (The country only came into being in its present form in 1932, but its rulers descend from the same dynasty that reigned in the 18th century.) By choosing this particular date, Riyadh appears to be rewriting its national narrative so as to downplay the importance of Wahhabism—a puritanical and often extreme denomination of Islam—to the kingdom’s identity, as Simon Henderson explains:

For many years, scholars have described the historical origins of Saudi Arabia in terms of an alliance between a tribal leader named Mohammad bin Saud, who ruled the area around the town of Dariyah in central Arabia, and an Islamic preacher named Mohammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, who had sought refuge in 1745 after fleeing from nearby villages for preaching an Islamic orthodoxy that criticized local practices. Together, the men became allies and hatched a plan to combine Mohammad bin Saud’s tribal leadership and fighting prowess with Abdul Wahhab’s religious zeal to have a jihad (campaign) to conquer and purify Arabia.

But now, according to a decree issued by King Salman on January 27, the first Saudi state has been declared to have been founded in 1727, eighteen years before Abdul Wahhab fled to Dariyah. The year 1727 reflects when Mohammad bin Saud took over local leadership upon the death of his father, Saud bin Mohammad.

An article in the Saudi English-language daily Arab News on January 31 describes how Saudi historians have conducted extensive research to support the significance of the new date. The article describes Dariyah, now a historical site on the northwest edge of the modern capital, Riyadh, as then itself a city-state and says Mohammad bin Saud was determined to transform it into a nation-state and “bring peace and unity to the wider Arabian Peninsula.”

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism

American Aid to Lebanon Is a Gift to Iran

For many years, Lebanon has been a de-facto satellite of Tehran, which exerts control via its local proxy militia, Hizballah. The problem with the U.S. policy toward the country, according to Tony Badran, is that it pretends this is not the case, and continues to support the government in Beirut as if it were a bulwark against, rather than a pawn of, the Islamic Republic:

So obsessed is the Biden administration with the dubious art of using taxpayer dollars to underwrite the Lebanese pseudo-state run by the terrorist group Hizballah that it has spent its two years in office coming up with legally questionable schemes to pay the salaries of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), setting new precedents in the abuse of U.S. foreign security-assistance programs. In January, the administration rolled out its program to provide direct salary payments, in cash, to both the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

The scale of U.S. financing of Lebanon’s Hizballah-dominated military apparatus cannot be understated: around 100,000 Lebanese are now getting cash stipends courtesy of the American taxpayer to spend in Hizballah-land. . . . This is hardly an accident. For U.S. policymakers, synergy between the LAF/ISF and Hizballah is baked into their policy, which is predicated on fostering and building up a common anti-Israel posture that joins Lebanon’s so-called “state institutions” with the country’s dominant terror group.

The implicit meaning of the U.S. bureaucratic mantra that U.S. assistance aims to “undermine Hizballah’s narrative that its weapons are necessary to defend Lebanon” is precisely that the LAF/ISF and the Lebanese terror group are jointly competing to achieve the same goals—namely, defending Lebanon from Israel.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, U.S. Foreign policy