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The arrest of sheikh Saleh al Taleb by Prince Muhammad bin Salman is huge. It is a sign of growing tensions within the alliance at the heart of Saudi Arabia. Let’s take a quick look at the history of Wahhabism/Salafism and the royal family.
Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab was born in 1703 in 'Uyayna. Born in the context of waning Ottoman power, he believed Islamic societies had become too permissible and therefore weak. A student of ibn Taymiyyah, he preached a puritan Islam that interpreted the religion in novel ways.
For example, he broke with the tradition of following a madhhab (though he himself was Hanbali) and instead promoted emulation of the first and second-generation Muslims as “salaf” or ancestors. Hence Salafism (Wahhabism is derogatory).
His radical puritanism got him banished. His own brother Sulayman denounced him. He was taken in by the sheikh of Diriyah Muhammad bin Saud. They made a pact, Saud would spread al-Wahhab’s message and in turn al-Wahhab would legitimize the rule of Saud.
The pact became the core of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia bet'n the House of Saud and Al ash-Sheikh the inheritors of al-Wahhab. The alliance led a campaign to purify Arabia, attacking even Mecca and Medina in a jihad that targeted Shia, Sufi and any perceived “foreign innovation.”
But the alliance was defeated. The Wahhabis attacked Karbala and sacked the Imam Husayn Shrine. They attacked several Ottoman caravans and threatened the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. The Ottoman's retaliated in 1811.
By 1818 the Ottoman Pasha Muhammad Ali from Egypt crushed them in the first Ottoman-Saudi War also known as the Wahhabi War. In fact, had it not been for the British, Wahhabism would have likely been a footnote in history.
In 1915 and 1927, British agents signed a treaty with the descendants of the House of Saud, acknowledging that they could establish a new caliphate in Arabia friendly to the British and opposed to the Ottomans.
In fact the British were anxious abt Afghanistan emerging as a leader in the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia provided them w/ an alternative. In 1917 Capt N. Bray wrote "essential that the country to whom Mohammedans look should not be Afghanistan...We have an opportunity in Arabia"
With the discovery of oil the United States under FDR also formalized a longstanding relationship with the country, choosing Saudi Arabia as its chief ally in the region. In 1933, US recognized Saudi Arabia and in turn Saudi Arabia allowed oil mining to begin under ARAMCO.
Interesting aside, in 1949 J. Paul Getty paid Ibn Saud around $10 million dollars to search for oil. He struck gold and it made him even richer than he was. This would J. Paul Getty of the Getty Museum in LA.
Armed with petro-dollars and the support of Britian and the US, the House of Saud consolidated its power in Saudi Arabia, upholding Salafism as the official policy of the state. But the relationship has not always been an easy one.
In 1979 Wahhabi militants led by al-Otaybi & al-Qahtani seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca. They accused the House of Saud of becoming too Westernized & therefore lost their legitimacy. French & Pakistani special forces joined the Saudi National Guard & army in retaking the mosque
Saudis turned to Ibn Baz to get a fatwa from the ulema because violence is forbidden in the Grand Mosque. The militants demanded the end of oil export to the US and expulsion of all foreigners from Saudi Arabia.

The siege lasted weeks and ended violently.
Consequently, Saudi Arabia ended up giving religious authorities more power. They banned images of women and enforced gender segregation policed by vice police known as The Committee for The Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV).
Wahhabism became the foreign policy of the Kingdom. Money was poured into missionary work abroad, building mosques, and training imams;

Wahhabism became an export.
Ash Sheikh manages the Kingdom’s citizens using Salafism as a tool of conformity while overseeing missionary work. In turn the House of Saud was left to own devices. The lavish lifestyles of the royals convey a clear one set of edicts for the ppl & another for the royal family
W/ arrest of Saleh al Taleb we seem to be entering a new stage in the relationship bet'n the House of Saud & Ash Sheikh. Given how intimately Saudi domestic and foreign policy is tied to Wahhabism, we'll likely see further geopolitical tensions as MbS tries to consolidate power.
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