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The New Arab

Saudi Arabia detains prominent clerics amid abdication rumours

Salman al-Awdah has over 14 million followers on Twitter [Facebook screenshot]

Date of publication: 11 September, 2017

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Prominent Saudi religious leaders reportedly taken into custody after expressing support for reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Saudi authorities arrested two prominent religious leaders in what appears to be a crackdown on critics of the country's foreign policy, according to social media postings.

Reports of the arrests came amid widespread speculation that King Salman bin Abdulaziz was preparing to abdicate in favour of his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Muslim cleric Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, 60, was reportedly taken into custody on Saturday, just days after he took to Twitter to welcome reports that Saudi and Qatari royals had made contact after months of their prolonged dispute.

"May God harmonise between their hearts for the good of their people," Awdah said on Twitter, where he has over 14 million followers.

It related to a report that Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had spoken over telephone, an important step after four months of crisis between the two countries.

Optimism about dialogue between the two states, however, was quickly dashed when Riyadh accused Doha of "distorting facts" and suspended dialogue.

Awdah was imprisoned in Saudi Arabia between 1994 and 1999 after being accused of anti-government activities.
Following his five-year prison term, the cleric  re-emerged as a supporter of the Saudi royal family.

Social media posts also said that Sheikh Awad al-Qarni, a cleric with over 2 million Twitter followers, was detained in his home in the south of the kingdom.

Qarni had also expressed support for reconcilliation between the Qatar and the countries that have blockaded Doha.

Saudi Arabia's ruling family has long struggled to contain both reformist and jihadi Islamist elements within the kingdom.

In the 1990s, the al-Saud battled the Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Sahwa [Awakening] movement that demanded political reforms.

A decade later, the Saudis struggled against an al-Qaeda insurgency that killed hundreds in the kingdom.

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