Saudi Crackdown on Dissent Wins Backing From Religious Body (JMD quoted on Bloomberg)

Saudi Crackdown on 
Dissent Wins Backing
From Religious Body
Glen Carey
Vivian Nereim
September 14, 2017, 1:21 AM GMT+8 September 14, 2017, 7:41 PM GMT+8
·        Neutralized Saudis working for ‘foreign’ powers: government
·        Papers accuse those arrested of supporting Muslim Brotherhood

Saudi authorities have launched the most severe crackdown on 
dissent in years, arresting prominent clerics and activists amid 
growing speculation that King Salman will abdicate in favor of his 
powerful son.

Given the absolute powers enjoyed by Saudi rulers, any
succession is sensitive. But that would especially be the case
now with the 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman 
promoting unprecedented economic change, at the same time
as pursuing a more aggressive foreign policy that includes the
war in Yemen and the four-nation boycott of Gulf neighbour

Some of the people detained had ties to the brand of political
Islam that Saudi rulers have long opposed. The country’s top 
religious body and media publicly supported the arrests of
those who have criticized the monarchy in the past, after the 
government announced it had neutralized a threat from Saudis 
working for “foreign powers.”

In a statement posted on Twitter on Wednesday, the Council
of Senior Scholars declared there was “no place for political
or ideological parties” in a nation “based on the book of God
and the guidance of his messenger.” Newspapers accused
those arrested of being aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood,
an Islamist organization that several Gulf monarchies have 
designated as a terrorist group.

Among those detained by Saudi authorities are clerics
Salman Al-Oudah and Awad al-Qarni -- who are both
independent of the official religious establishment -- 
as well as a well-known poet, Ziad bin Nahit, Islamic studies
professor Mustafa Al Al Hassan and businessman Essam Al
Zamil, according to Twitter posts and and interviews with
activists, relatives and friends.

‘Foreign Powers’

Bloomberg was unable to independently verify their detention. 
Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi commentator and former
government adviser, said on Twitter that Saudi citizens aren’t
yet fully aware of the prevailing “atmosphere of detention and 

The crackdown comes as some of Prince Mohammed’s policies
Face setbacks. Saudi Arabia is preparing contingency plans for a 
possible delay  to the initial public offering of its state-owned
oil company – his signature economic aim -- by a few months
into 2019, according to people familiar with the matter. The
Saudi-led military alliance has failed to defeat Iranian-backed
Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen more than two years into the
conflict; Qatar has claimed an attack on its sovereignty and
moved closer to chief Saudi foe Iran.

After news of the arrests surfaced, the State Security
Presidency said it had “neutralized and arrested” Saudis
working for “the benefit of foreign powers” against the
security of the kingdom. It didn’t identify who had been held.
The government’s Center for International Communications
and the Saudi Human Rights Commission didn’t immediately
respond to requests for comment.

‘More Risky’

A sweep of this scale would represent a significant rounding
up of conservative scholars and activists likely to be resistant
to some of the changes featured in the Saudi reform push,
according to analysts.

“It’s hard not to call it a crackdown,” said James Dorsey, a  
senior fellow for the Middle East and North Africa at
Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, adding he
didn’t want to speculate on the timing of the move. Existing
Saudi restrictions on expressing criticismalready make
“pushing through economic and social reforms that are
likely to spark debate -- if not opposition -- more risky,” he
said. Saudi authorities have denied King Salman is about to
step down but that hasn’t stopped the speculation. New
York-based Eurasia Group  wrote in a report last week that
the Royal Court was planning for Prince Mohammed’s

At least two of those detained expressed hope for a solution
to the more than three month Gulf standoff with Qatar,
which Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse of supporting of
terrorism and sustaining links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Al
Zamil has in the past posted comments on Twitter that were
critical of elements of the government’s reform plan, which is 
designed to reduce the kingdom’s reliance on oil.

Subsidy Cuts

More importantly for many Saudis, authorities have cut energy
and utility subsidies and want citizens to seek employment opportunities 
in the private sector instead of relying on government jobs. Al-Oudah, 
who has more than 14 million Twitter followers, was jailed in the 1990s 
for advocating the Islamic militancy espoused by al-Qaeda.

After he was released from prison, the religious scholar
didn’t publicly comment on political Islam, though in March
2013 he published a letter online saying rulers must take
steps to stamp out political and business corruption and
warned of risks when religious and political symbolslose
their value.

Saudi papers have joined in. Okaz and Al Watan accused
those detained of being supporters of the Muslim
Brotherhood and working for Qatari intelligence.  One of
the men arrested was “one of the most famous faces of the
Muslim Brotherhood” who played a “hidden role” in
preparing the youth "to lead  demonstrations and protests
in Gulf countries, especially in Saudi Arabia," Okaz said.

According to Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at Gulf
State Analytics in Washington  D.C., the crackdown could
be related to the problems the crown princes faces at home
and abroad.

There’s the war in Yemen and “the impasse with Qatar.
Domestically, there is resistance to his economic and social
agenda from different corners of society,” Karasik said.
Bad news will likely bring a reaction, he said by email, “and
there is a lot of bad news.”


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