The Saudis may be stretching out the hand of peace to their old foes

FROM the forecourt of the Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in Medina during the annual haj pilgrimage, which ended on September 4th, came the still, small voice of Shias praying. Saudi security guards fanned them helpfully against the heat. At the al-Baqi cemetery nearby, the resting place of many of the Prophet’s descendants, Sunni vigilantes and puritans scowled at Shia worshippers but, in contrast with previous years, they held back from beating them with sticks. And as over 2.3m Muslims perambulated around Mecca’s great black basalt stone, the Kaaba, Prince Khalid al-Faisal, the province’s governor, singled out 86,000 Iranians for a special welcome.

Change may be afoot in Saudi Arabia’s hostile relations with Shias and their champion, Iran. For decades the kingdom has been the font of Sunni Islam’s anti-Shia dogma. The media issued screeds against the rawafidh, or rejectionists, deemed beyond the pale of proper Islam. But this…

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