Saudi Arabia’s new religious direction has been widely regarded as a departure from the traditional position it has maintained both domestically and abroad. The new “moderate Islam” approach is key to explain the kingdom’s recent policies, from curtailing the religious sphere at home, to recalibrating the role of the Muslim World League. Furthermore, the new approach has been perceived as instrumental in transforming the social scene in order to implement the country’s diversification plan – Vision 2030.
This paper will first look at the roots of the moderate Islam approach, including its promotion by both the state and certain religious scholars after terrorism struck the kingdom in 2003. Over time, however, conflicting agendas resulted in tension rather than synergy. In 2017, the moderation approach entered a new phase not limited to the socioreligious sphere. The new top-down approach also includes the security sector, through the use of the moderation narrative in public messaging and on social media. As a result, moderate Islam can be seen as a comprehensive strategy to tackle the kingdom’s regional and domestic concerns while at the same time reshaping the religious and social scene in line with the leadership’s new sociopolitical objectives.
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