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Two prominent clerics, son of former King Fahad, arrested in Saudi Arabia

Two prominent clerics, son of former King Fahad, arrested in Saudi Arabia
Pic. Courtesy: Middle East Eye

Two leading Islamic scholars of Saudi Arabia, Salman al-Odah and Awad al-Qarni have been arrested. According to sources Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Fahad al-Saud, a son of former King Fahad, was also detained. As reported by Reuters “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.” Reuters has also named another cleric named Ali al-Omary who has also been detained. The trio have large online followings. They were reportedly critics of the government policies including the rift with Qatar.

Odah comes from Buraidah and has 14 million Twitter followers. He was imprisoned from 1994-99 for agitating for political change and leadership of the Brotherhood-inspired Sahwa (Awakening) movement. Odah was allegedly detained on Saturday night because he tweeted on Friday welcoming a report that suggested the row between Qatar and other Arab countries may be resolved. The bitter diplomatic row had begun in June between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Odah in his tweet prayed for Saudi and Qatar to make amends for the sake of their nations.

According to BBC ‘Odah has also distanced himself from violence and extremism. In his tweets and videos, he talks about “love” and “mercy,” as opposed to violence. On the sixth anniversary of 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, he delivered a speech in which he asked the late al-Qaeda leader Bin Laden: “Will you be happy to meet God almighty carrying the burden of these hundreds of thousands or millions of victims on your back?”

Another influential cleric Qarni was detained at home in Abha for expressing support for reconciliation with Qatar. He has 2.2 million Twitter followers.

In all, about 20 people have been arrested in the past 24 hours, according to the sources. However Saudi authorities could not be contacted to respond on the reports. The arrests were made amidst the widespread speculation that King Salman intends to abdicate in favour of Crown Prince Mohammed. However the officials have dismissed the report.

A Saudi analyst speculated that the arrests might have been made to crush the Muslim Brotherhood or scare others if their plan is for him [Crown Prince Mohammed] to be king. The ruling family has always regarded Islamist groups as the biggest internal threat to its rule over a country.

Exiled Saudi opposition activists have called for protests on 15 September intended to galvanise opposition to the royal family.