Saudi clerics detained in 'crackdown on dissent'

RIYADH • Three prominent Saudi clerics have been detained in an apparent crackdown on potential opponents of the conservative kingdom's absolute rulers, amid speculation that King Salman intends to abdicate in favour of his son.

Saudi sources on Monday said clerics Salman al-Awdah, Awad al-Qarni and Ali al-Omary were detained at the weekend.

All three men are outside the state-backed clerical establishment but have large online followings. They have previously criticised the government but more recently kept silent or failed to publicly back Saudi policies, including the current rift with Qatar over supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

Cleric Awdah was jailed from 1994 to 1999 for agitating for political change and leadership of the Brotherhood-inspired Sahwa (awakening) movement. He later called for democracy and tolerance during the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.

Riyadh has dismissed reports that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who dominates economic, diplomatic and domestic policy, may soon take the throne.

"Mohammed bin Salman is very likely to be the next king but any dissenting voices that could challenge this succession could also be considered destabilising," said Dr Jean-Marc Rickli, head of global risk at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. "You put that in the context of the Qatar rift and it is very difficult right now in the Gulf to have an opinion that is not considered biased or adversarial."

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and transport links with Qatar in June over its alleged support for Islamist militants, a charge Doha denies.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2017, with the headline 'Saudi clerics detained in 'crackdown on dissent''. Print Edition | Subscribe