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The New Arab

More Saudi public figures arrested in total clampdown on free speech

Essam al-Zamel is one of Saudi Arabia's best-known public personalities [Twitter]

Date of publication: 13 September, 2017

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Saudi Arabia has arrested more influential public figures in the kingdom, including entrepreneur and social media star Essam al-Zamel.

A number of prominent personalities have been arrested in Saudi Arabia in recent days, with no reason given by authorities for their detention.

Among the those arrested is social media star and successful social entrepreneur Essam al-Zamel and the famous Saudi historian Dr. Khaled al-Awda, who is also the brother of one of the kingdom's most famous clerics - Dr Salman al-Awda - who was also arrested last weekend.

Popular progressive Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has also been banned from writing for al-Hayat newspaper following comments he made on social media defending the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudi daily is owned by members of the kingdom's royal family.

While no reason has been given for their arrests - and the recent detention of other well-known Saudi personalities - state-owned media and figures linked to these outlets have vocally supported such arrests and justified the "positive steps" taken by authorities.

The moves come just days before calls were made on social media for peaceful demonstrations this Friday dubbed "Hirak 15 September" ("The 15 September Movement").

The arrests also come at a time Saudi society has shown signs of being strongly divided on the country's blockade of Qatar and their government's seeming subservience to UAE foreign policy.

Media outlets in Saudi Arabia now completely toe the government line on the Qatar issue and no space is given for dissent or criticism, however soft.

It appears that with rumours circulating about the apparent imminent coronation of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman as king, the government is cracking down heavily on social influencers known to be independently-minded and carry sway in the kingdom - particularly among Saudi youth.

The common factor is that most of those detained have huge social media followings.

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