Three prominent Saudi clerics and government critics, Salman al-Awdah, Awad al-Qarni and Ali al-Omary were detained in the second weekend of September 2017. GCSP’s Global Risk and Resilience Cluster Leader, Dr Jean-Marc Rickli, commented on the situation for Reuters claiming that there is no middle stance in Saudi Arabia in the present.
The three clerics have a history of criticising the Saudi government on numerous issues. The regime is aware that the recent speculations that King Salman intends to hand over the throne to his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will likely draw lots of criticism from dissenting voices. Consequently the government has been imposing stricter political order to silence any opposition.
Despite their recent silence, however, the three clerics were arrested last weekend without any comments from the authorities.
In analysing the arrests and the devolution of the throne, Dr Rickli, an expert on Middle Eastern issues, commented that “any dissenting voices that could challenge this succession could also be considered destabilizing from the regime perspective.”
Furthermore, Awdah and Qarni had also recently expressed support for reconciliation with Qatar following the Gulf diplomatic crisis - an act which the government considers to be ‘destabilising’ since Saudi Arabia ended all dialogue with Qatar recently.
“You put that in the context of the Qatar rift,” says Dr Rickli relating the two issues, “and it is very difficult right now in the Gulf to have an opinion that is not considered biased or adversarial because the situation is so polarized on all sides.”
Failure to openly support the government, or even the possibility opposing the government, could be considered as destabilising the political situation in the Kingdom and could potentially lead to an individual’s arrest.