A New Saudi Holiday Symbolizes a Shift to Religious Moderation

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.”

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism

 

The New Iran Deal Will Reward Terrorism, Help Russia, and Get Nothing in Return

After many months of negotiations, Washington and Tehran—thanks to Russian mediation—appear close to renewing the 2015 agreement concerning the Iranian nuclear program. Richard Goldberg comments:

Under a new deal, Iran would receive $275 billion of sanctions relief in the first year and $1 trillion by 2030. [Moreover], Tehran would face no changes in the old deal’s sunset clauses—that is, expiration dates on key restrictions—and would be allowed to keep its newly deployed arsenal of advanced uranium centrifuges in storage, guaranteeing the regime the ability to cross the nuclear threshold at any time of its choosing. . . . And worst of all, Iran would win all these concessions while actively plotting to assassinate former U.S. officials like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and [his] adviser Brian Hook, and trying to kidnap and kill the Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad on U.S. soil.

Moscow, meanwhile, would receive billions of dollars to construct additional nuclear power plants in Iran, and potentially more for storage of nuclear material. . . . Following a visit by the Russian president Vladimir Putin to Tehran last month, Iran reportedly started transferring armed drones for Russian use against Ukraine. On Tuesday, Putin launched an Iranian satellite into orbit reportedly on the condition that Moscow can task it to support Russian operations in Ukraine.

With American and European sanctions on Russia escalating, particularly with respect to Russian energy sales, Putin may finally see net value in the U.S. lifting of sanctions on Iran’s financial and commercial sectors. While the return of Iranian crude to the global market could lead to a modest reduction in oil prices, thereby reducing Putin’s revenue, Russia may be able to head off U.S. secondary sanctions by routing key transactions through Tehran. After all, what would the Biden administration do if Iran allowed Russia to use its major banks and companies to bypass Western sanctions?

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Russia, U.S. Foreign policy