November 24, 2017, 8:44 pm
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Saudi clerics detained to silence dissent

Several prominent Saudi clerics have been detained in an apparent crackdown on potential opponents of the conservative kingdom’s absolute rulers amid widespread speculation that King Salman intends to abdicate in favor of his son.

Saudi sources told Reuters that Salman al-Awdah, Awad al-Qarni and Ali al-Omary were detained over the weekend. Officials could not be reached or declined to comment.

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

Awdah was imprisoned from 1994-99 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.

Saudi officials have dismissed reports that the king may soon pass the throne to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who already dominates economic, diplomatic and domestic policy.

But the al-Saud family has always regarded Islamist groups as the biggest internal threat to its rule over a country in which appeals to religious sentiment cannot be lightly dismissed and an al Qaeda campaign a decade ago killed hundreds. In the 1990s, the Sahwa demanded political reforms that would have weakened the ruling family.

“Mohammed bin Salman is very likely to be the next king but any dissenting voices that could challenge this succession could also be considered destabilizing from the regime perspective,” said 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 because the situation is so polarized on all sides.”

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
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