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Saudi economist who criticised Aramco sale charged with 'terrorism'

The renowned economist was previously awarded for his work by King Salman [Twitter]

Date of publication: 2 October, 2018

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Essam al-Zamil was accused of joining the Muslim Brotherhood, inciting local protests in the kingdom and communicating with neighbouring Qatar.

A prominent economist who once criticised plans to sell Saudi Arabia’s state-owned Aramco oil company was charged with joining a terrorist organisation and meeting with Qatari officials, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

Essam al-Zamil was accused of joining the Muslim Brotherhood, inciting local protests in the kingdom and communicating with neighbouring Qatar, which Saudi Arabia and three of its allies severed relations with more than a year ago.

Local media confirmed the public prosecutor has charged a man but fell short of identifying him. 

But the London-based Saudi rights group ALQST, and a network of activists that monitor “prisoners of conscience” in the region confirmed the identity of Essam al-Zamil, who has been detained since September 2017.

Prior to his arrest, Zamil published a series of social media posts online in which he said the $2 trillion valuation for Aramco suggested by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would require the authorities to include the company’s oil reserves in the sale. 

According to Okaz, the charges against Zamil include giving foreign diplomats “information and analysis about the kingdom” without informing the authorities or obtaining permission from them to do so. 

Zamil, a renowned software entrepreneur from a respected merchant family in the Eastern Province, was awarded by King Salman for being the youngest, most successful entrepreneur in the kingdom. He was also named by Forbes as one of the most influential Saudi figures and travelled as part of the official Saudi delegation to the US just a week before his arrest.

Long known for its ultra-conservative mores, the kingdom has tried to modernise its image with a programme of wide-ranging social and economic reforms, driven by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The sale of state-owned Aramco was announced as part of the MbS' Vision 2030, although the kingdom has since backtracked.

Under his helm, Saudi Arabia in June ended a long-standing ban on women driving and launched a number of projects aimed at attracting tourists.

But the crown prince's efforts to portray himself as a reformer while continuing a devastating bombing campaign in Yemen, as well as a brutal crackdown on activists at home, including women's rights campaigners.

Prince Mohammed has led a year-long blockade of Qatar, cracked down on critics and potential rivals, and has been accused of forcing the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign while in Riyadh.

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