(Photo: King Abdullah on a visit to Jordan, July 30, 2010/Muhammad Hamed)
Saudi authorities are taking greater liberty in celebrating the modern monarchy’s anniversary, a sign of their growing clout against clerics who have criticized holidays outside of the Islamic calendar.
Present ruler King Abdullah, 86, emphasised his push to reform the deeply conservative country upon taking power in 2005 by decreeing September 23 as an official holiday marking the kingdom’s unification led by founder King Abdul-Aziz and an army of ultra-conservative followers.
Since then, celebrations have been getting more colourful to attract larger masses and the labour ministry took the extra step of granting a paid-day off for all public and private sector employees for the day marking unification.
A prominent political writer, Khalid al-Dakhil said authorities’ push for a more jubilant celebration of the National Day highlights that the monarchy no longer feels it has to follow the mores of the Wahhabi clerics. “The Saudi state had in the past felt a need — or was forced — to listen to the religious establishment … King Abdullah has chosen a different path. Such change could not have happened 40 years ago,” Dakhil said.
Many Saudi clerics consider as heresy any celebration outside the Islamic holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, including the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday.