Authorities in Saudi Arabia crack down on Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated clerics
LONDON - Authorities in Saudi Arabia have detained a number of hard-line clerics, including controversial Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated cleric Salman al- Oudah.
On September 9, security services arrested 20 people; among them were al-Oudah and fellow hard-line Sheikh Awad al-Qarni, also known for his affiliation with the outlawed Brotherhood movement. The kingdom’s official news agency did not name either man but said that authorities had uncovered a group involved in “intelligence activities for the benefit of foreign parties.” A Saudi security source told Reuters that the individuals arrested were accused of “espionage activities and having contacts with external entities, including the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Saudi sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the arrests of a number of hard-line clerics were not tied to their individual views or the extreme ideas they’ve expressed on social media, but to their acting like a fifth column for the Qatari government as well as their placing loyalties to the Muslim Brotherhood movement above the interests of their own country.
The sources stressed that the arrests of al-Oudah and al-Qarni were a long time in the making and were tied to their positions related to Qatar and their links to exiled Egyptian theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars. It has been accused of being a front for the Muslim Brotherhood organisation.
In June of this year, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with Qatar over what they described as its continued support of radical groups and perpetual interference in the affairs of its fellow Arab states. Consequently, Saudi Arabia ordered all its nationals living and working in Qatar to return home, and Saudi nationals were no longer permitted to work for Qatari-owned business or establishments.
Saudi Arabia designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation in 2014, coinciding with the last time Riyadh severed relations with Doha.
In al-Oudah’s case, despite the severing of relations between Riyadh and Doha, the provocative sheikh maintained his post as assistant secretary of Qaradawi’s Qatar-based International Union of Muslim Scholars, regardless of being considered by some to be a front for the Muslim Brotherhood movement and Qaradawi’s officially being designated as a terrorist by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.
Al-Oudah has had a long and complicated relationship with Saudi authorities. He was imprisoned in the early 1990s by Saudi authorities, along with four other high-profile preachers, for petitioning the government to give more say to the religious establishment in the country’s decision-making process, believing the kingdom to not be orthodox enough.
Al-Oudah was also an inspiration to former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. During bin Laden’s speeches in the 1990s, in which he talked about the kingdom’s contentious relationship with the United States, he frequently referenced al-Oudah due to their shared world vision.
The New York Times has described al-Oudah as a mentor to bin Laden. Although al-Oudah and other Saudi religious scholars denounced the 9/11 attacks, it took the controversial preacher six years to publicly denounce his former pupil.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.