Saudis urged to re­port on each other’s ac­tiv­ity

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

RIYADH: Saudi Ara­bia has urged its peo­ple to re­port sub­ver­sive com­ments spot­ted on so­cial me­dia via a phone app, a move de­nounced by a hu­man rights watch­dog as “Or­wellian”. The ap­peal, an­nounced on a Twit­ter ac­count run by the In­te­rior Min­istry late on Tues­day, co­in­cides with an ap­par­ent crack­down on po­ten­tial govern­ment crit­ics and a call by ex­iled op­po­si­tion fig­ures for demon­stra­tions.

“When you no­tice any ac­count on so­cial net­works pub­lish­ing ter­ror­ist or ex­trem­ist ideas, please re­port it im­me­di­ately via the ap­pli­ca­tion #We’re-all-se­cu­rity”, it said, re­fer­ring to a mo­bile phone app launched last year to en­able civil­ians to re­port traf­fic vi­o­la­tions and bur­glar­ies. Hours later, the pub­lic prose­cu­tor tweeted a sec­tion of the king­dom’s ter­ror­ism law which states: “En­dan­ger­ing na­tional unity, ob­struct­ing the Ba­sic Law of gov­er­nance or some of its ar­ti­cles, and harm­ing the state’s rep­u­ta­tion or sta­tus are ter­ror­ist crimes.”

Ex­iled Saudi crit­ics have called for demon­stra­tions to­mor­row to gal­va­nize op­po­si­tion to the royal fam­ily and prom­i­nent cler­ics, in­tel­lec­tu­als and ac­tivists, in­clud­ing prom­i­nent Is­lamist cleric Sheikh Sal­man Al-Aw­dah, have been de­tained this week, ac­tivists say. Ac­tivists cir­cu­lated lists of peo­ple de­tained on so­cial me­dia show­ing the num­ber had risen to around 30, in­clud­ing some with no clear

links to Is­lamist ac­tiv­ity or ob­vi­ous his­tory of op­po­si­tion. Protests are banned in Saudi Ara­bia, as are po­lit­i­cal par­ties. Unions are il­le­gal, the press is con­trolled and crit­i­cism of the royal fam­ily can lead to prison. Riyadh says it does not have po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, but se­nior of­fi­cials have said mon­i­tor­ing ac­tivists is needed to main­tain so­cial sta­bil­ity. The de­ten­tions re­ported by ac­tivists fol­low wide­spread spec­u­la­tion, de­nied by of­fi­cials, that King Sal­man in­tends to ab­di­cate to his son, Crown Prince Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, who dom­i­nates eco­nomic, diplo­matic and do­mes­tic pol­icy.

There are also grow­ing ten­sions with Qatar over its al­leged sup­port of Is­lamists, in­clud­ing the Mus­lim Brother­hood which is listed by Riyadh as a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion. Some Twit­ter users ex­pressed sup­port for the govern­ment’s ap­proach, us­ing the “We’re all Se­cu­rity” hash­tag. “No flat­tery, no si­lence whether for a rel­a­tive or friend in se­cur­ing the home­land,” said one. “De­fend your se­cu­rity. Chaos starts with slo­gans of free­dom and re­form. Do not be­lieve them.” An­other user called on peo­ple to pho­to­graph any “low-lifes” protest­ing to­mor­row and up­load them to the app.

Hu­man Rights Watch, a New York-based watch­dog, con­demned the govern­ment drag­net, say­ing it called into ques­tion the author­i­ties’ com­mit­ment to free speech and the rule of law. “Saudi Ara­bia is reach­ing a new level of Or­wellian re­al­ity when it goes be­yond se­cu­rity ser­vices’ re­pres­sion and out­sources mon­i­tor­ing of cit­i­zens’ on­line com­ments to other cit­i­zens,” said Mid­dle East di­rec­tor Sarah Leah Whit­son, re­fer­ring to English writer Ge­orge Or­well’s dystopian novel “Nine­teen Eighty-Four”.

“Saudi Ara­bia’s new lead­er­ship is quickly show­ing it has no tol­er­ance for crit­i­cal thought or speech and is mar­shalling Saudi so­ci­ety to en­force red lines by spy­ing on it­self.” The govern­ment has not clearly ac­knowl­edged this week’s de­ten­tions or re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment. But state news agency SPA said on Tues­day author­i­ties had un­cov­ered “in­tel­li­gence ac­tiv­i­ties for the ben­e­fit of for­eign par­ties” by a group of peo­ple it did not iden­tify.

A Saudi se­cu­rity source said the sus­pects were ac­cused of “es­pi­onage ac­tiv­i­ties and hav­ing con­tacts with ex­ter­nal en­ti­ties in­clud­ing the Mus­lim Brother­hood”, which Riyadh has clas­si­fied as a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion. The govern­ment tough­ened its stance on dis­sent fol­low­ing the Arab Spring in 2011 af­ter it averted un­rest by of­fer­ing bil­lions of dol­lars in hand­outs and state spend­ing. But the Brother­hood, which rep­re­sents an ide­o­log­i­cal threat to Riyadh’s dy­nas­tic sys­tem of rule, has gained power else­where in the re­gion.

Since the king­dom’s found­ing, the rul­ing Al Saud fam­ily has en­joyed a close al­liance with cler­ics of the ul­tra­con­ser­va­tive Wah­habi school of Is­lam. In re­turn, the cler­ics have es­poused a po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy that de­mands obe­di­ence to the ruler. By con­trast, the Mus­lim Brother­hood ad­vances an ac­tive po­lit­i­cal doc­trine urg­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary ac­tion, which flies in the face of Wah­habi teach­ing. The Brother­hood-in­spired Sahwa move­ment in the 1990s ag­i­tated to bring democ­racy to Saudi Ara­bia and crit­i­cized the rul­ing fam­ily for cor­rup­tion, so­cial lib­er­al­iza­tion and work­ing with the West, in­clud­ing al­low­ing US troops into the king­dom dur­ing the 1991 Iraq war.

The Sahwa were largely un­der­mined by a mix­ture of re­pres­sion and co-op­ta­tion but re­main ac­tive. The AlSaud 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. 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 that Doha de­nies. — Reuters

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