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memri
October 8, 2013 No.
1023

Saudi Authorities Irate Over Communiqué Condemning Ouster Of Former Egyptian President Mursi

By: Y. Admon*

The Arab Spring revolutions, which brought the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to power in Egypt and Tunisia, forced the Saudi authorities to contend with the growing power of the MB and its supporters within Saudi Arabia and outside it. The Saudi press responded to the challenge with an anti-MB media campaign. The deposing of Mohammed Mursi in Egypt caused anti-MB sentiment to resurface in Saudi public discussion. Saudi Arabia was the first country to express its support for the Egyptian military's move that resulted in Mursi's ouster,[1] and Saudi King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz announced recently that his country would grant Al-Sisi's Egypt with $5 billion in assistance.[2]

Nevertheless, some in Saudi Arabia did support Mursi's regime and express their displeasure over his ouster. On July 10, 2013, the day dozens of pro-Mursi demonstrators were killed in Cairo by the Egyptian army opposite the Republican Guard headquarters, where Mursi was detained, a group of Saudi intellectuals, as they described themselves, published a communiqué that condemned the shooting, expressed support for the demonstrators, and called upon the Egyptian people to remain steadfast in order to restore the legitimate regime.[3] Nearly a month later, on August 8, 2013, 56 Saudi clerics published another communiqué condemning the military move that had led to Mursi's ouster. The clerics called Mursi's removal "an illegal and criminal military coup," and hinted at foreign involvement in Egypt that had begun from the moment of Mursi's ascension to power.[4]

The Saudi authorities interpreted these communiqués as an expression of support for Mursi and the MB, for the additional reason that its signers included Saudi clerics, such as the Sheikhs Mohsen Al-'Awaji and 'Awad Al-Qarni, who were known MB supporters. The first communiqué provoked a firm response by the authorities against Saudi clerics who were known supporters of the MB, some of whom had also signed the communiqué: A few days following the communiqué's publication, reports circulated that the Saudi authorities had arrested clerics who had previously expressed their support for the Egyptian MB including Sheikh Muhammad Al-'Arifi and Sheikh Mohsen Al-'Awaji.[5]

In Saudi Arabia, where it is legally prohibited to set up parties or to support political parties operating outside the country, the MB is currently trying to organize itself, primarily via the social media, and the authorities fear that these efforts could touch off internal political unrest.[6] Early in the month of Ramadan, King 'Abdallah and Crown Prince Salman 'Abd Al-'Aziz delivered speeches emphasizing that Saudi Arabia would not allow extremists hiding behind Islam, as they called them, to exploit religion for the sake of their own personal interests, and that the country opposed parties that "do not derive their authority from Allah but only generate conflict and failure."[7] The Saudi Senior Clerics Council – the state's supreme religious body – backed these statements and called to defend Islam against extremism.[8] The council's chairman, Saudi Mufti Sheikh Abd Al-'Aziz bin 'Abdallah Aal Al-Sheikh, warned of the dangers he claimed were implicit in the very existence of parties, and cautioned that struggles between parties, which seek to promote personal interests at the expense of the homeland, could divide the Islamic ummah.[9]

The official Saudi press sharply criticized the first communiqué, claiming that it did not represent the position of Saudi intellectuals at all, but had been issued by Saudi clerics identified with the MB. At the same time, many anti-MB articles appeared in the Saudi press.

This report will present the first communiqué, the Saudi authorities' response to it and the responses it evoked in the government Saudi press.

The Saudi Intellectuals' Communiqué: The Egyptian People's Election Of President Mursi Must Be Respected

The July 10 communiqué condemning Mursi's ouster was signed by 1,700 "Saudi intellectuals," the most prominent of them being Dr. Saud Al-Fanisan, Dr. Khalid bin 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-'Ujami, Dr. Mohsen Al-'Awaji, Dr. 'Aidh Al-Qarni, Dr. Sanhat Al-'Otaibi, Dr. Ahmad bin Rashed bin Sa'id, Dr. 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Tamami and Dr. Sa'id Al-Ghamidi, among others. The communiqué read:

"In light of current events in Egypt... We, the undersigned, assert the following:

  1. "The Egyptian people's choice of its legal and legitimate leadership, which was according to all the international constitutions and [legal] systems, must be respected, as well as its commitment to the lawful election of its legal president, Dr. Muhammad Mursi, to a definite presidential term of office, based on a fair electoral process whose objectivity was witnessed by the world and which was supported by a referendum on the Constitution.

  2. "[We] emphasize the sanctity of blood and the prohibition [against bloodshed], and condemn the massacre that took place this morning [a reference to the Egyptian army's shooting of demonstrators in front of the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo] and the killings occurring in the Egyptian street... and commend the nonviolent conduct of the sit-down strikers in the face of the military coup and their denunciation of violence regardless of its source or motivations...

  3. "[We] affirm the Egyptian people's exclusive right to manage its internal and external affairs, and oppose any regional and international intervention that attempts to foist guardianship upon it, which contravenes its values and history and its distinguished status [in the] Arab and Islamic [world].

  4. "[We] applaud the steadfast position of the sit-down strikers, who call for the restoration of the legitimacy that was stolen [from them], as well as their nonviolent conduct and their capacity to maintain restraint in the face of repeated provocations.

  5. "[We express] complete solidarity with the Egyptian people [as it] calls upon the perpetrators of the military coup, the usurpers of popular rule who rebelled against legitimate authority, to restore justice. Likewise, we call upon the revolutionary forces opposing the elected president to stick to constitutional measures in resolving differences of opinion.

  6. "[We] applaud the just international positions that refused to recognize the military coup in Egypt and called upon the perpetrators of the military coup to restore legal authority to the Egyptian people.

  7. "[We] condemn the policy of silencing and media blackout that the coup regime adopted by closing channels that broadcast the truth and disrupting channels that attempt to show popular action in support of the elected president.[10] [We stress] the need for the media to be professional and objective in covering events, instead of publishing mendacious or fabricated reports.

  8. "We call upon our people in Egypt to be patient, persevere and stand firm until legitimacy is restored to the people..."[11]

Communiqué Prompts Wave Of Arrests Of Pro-Mursi, Pro-MB Saudi Clerics

The communiqué aroused the ire of the Saudi authorities, who viewed it as an expression of support for Mursi and the MB. About 10 days after its publication, it was reported that Saudi clerics known to support Mursi and the MB had been arrested, including some signatories to the communiqué. The Egyptian daily Al-Yawm reported on July 20, 2013 that signatory Mohsen Al-'Awaji had been arrested. The liberal website elaph.com explained that he had been arrested for collecting signatures on the communiqué and for criticizing Saudi domestic and foreign policy in a television interview, particularly its policy following the fall of the Mursi regime.[12]

The MB website reported that Sheikh Muhammad Al-'Arifi had also been arrested, on July 20, 2013, after delivering a sermon in a Riyadh mosque, and had been taken to an undisclosed location. The report stated that his arrest had been "a response to his positions on Egypt, which evoke respect, and to his opposition to the military coup."[13] According to the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, the Saudi authorities have banned Sheikh Al-'Arifi from traveling to Qatar to deliver sermons.[14] On July 22, 2013, only two days following the report of their arrest, it was disclosed that Al-'Awaji and Al-'Arifi had been released after promising to desist from further intervention in the affairs of other countries.[15]

The MB website reported that, according to rumors in Saudi Arabia, more clerics from among the signatories to the communiqué are to be arrested in the coming days.[16]


Sheikhs Muhammad Al-'Arifi (left) and Mohsen Al-'Awaji (images: morabt.com, alkhabarnow.net, April 5, 2013.)

It is noteworthy that senior cleric Salman Al-'Odeh was apparently not among the communiqué signatories, though he has frequently been "branded" in the kingdom as an MB member – a claim which he denies.[17] Nevertheless, it appears that he viewed the arrests of Sheikhs Al-'Arifi and Al-'Awaji with concern, as well as the ban imposed on the latter from leaving Saudi Arabia. In an interview with the Al-Arabiya channel, Al-'Odeh said: "I sent him [Al-'Arifi] text messages and [tried to] communicate with him via Twitter, but he did not reply."[18] After the two sheikhs were released, on July 22, he wrote on his Twitter account: "Thank Allah, the truth-sayers Muhammad Al-'Arifi and Mohsen Al-'Awaji were released an hour ago."[19]


Salman Al-Odeh's July 22, 2013 tweet

The Government Saudi Press Sharply Attacks The Communiqué And The MB

The government Saudi press launched a media campaign against the communiqué. It was claimed that those who had issued it were not "Saudi intellectuals," as they called themselves, but merely Saudi supporters of Mursi and the Saudi MB. For example, the government daily Al-Sharq interviewed Saudi intellectuals who protested the attempt to attribute this label to the communiqué signatories. Saudi poet Ibrahim Zoli said: "[This] communiqué may be associated with the MB, the Islamists or any other [party], but not with Saudi intellectuals. Whoever wants to familiarize himself with the intellectuals in this kingdom, [can find] their opinions on the social networks, and they support the second revolution of the Egyptian people [i.e., Mursi's ouster]." Journalist Ahmad Al-Taihani likewise rejected the communiqué, calling it unrealistic, injurious to others, and conveying the partisan political stance of a Saudi group whose position is disputed by the Saudi intellectual mainstream. He claimed that a more accurate title for the communiqué would have been "communiqué on behalf of the Saudi branch of the MB."[20]

In addition, numerous articles condemning the MB in Saudi Arabia were published. These articles contended that Mursi's fall had exposed the Saudi MB, that the authorities should not minimize the threat this movement represented, and that it had to be confronted and vanquished.

The Communiqué Represents The Saudi MB

In an article in the government Saudi daily Al-Jazirah, Dr. Hamad Al-Faraj wrote: "It appears that the Saudi branch of the [Muslim] Brotherhood has suffered a serious blow, and this following the terrible downfall of the MB in Egypt. That is why they did not suffice with squawking on the social media, with the threats and with incitement to violence in all forms, but [also] published a communiqué condemning what occurred in Egypt and what the armed forces in Egypt did in response to the call by the [Egyptian] people, who took to the squares throughout Egypt. They also condemned the foreign intervention in Egypt's affairs while knowing [full well] that they had encouraged and supported similar interventions during the revolution against the Mubarak regime. Likewise, they condemned the closing of the incitement channels, although all the world's countries, including Western democracies, shut down any media channel that calls for and incites to violence. They also spurred the Egyptian people to remain in the squares until the legitimate [rule], that had been usurped, was restored...

"The communiqué's authors claimed that it was 'by Saudi intellectuals', but reality demonstrates that it does not represent these intellectuals, and perhaps a more accurate title for it is 'communiqué by MB partisans'. I contacted many of my fellow intellectuals, and they denied knowing anything about this communiqué, and even said they opposed such blunt intervention in the affairs of another country that enjoys historically close ties with the kingdom..."[21]

In a similar vein, columnist Muhammad Al-'Usaimi wrote in the government daily Al-Yawm: "...Reading between the lines of this communiqué, one finds a personal agenda and a despicable and narrow-minded partisan stance... We must not be fooled by the innocent-sounding phrases evoking humanitarianism and legitimacy... Naturally, we all oppose massacres and bloodshed, but when we condemn them, we must condemn them at all levels and regardless of who [commits them]. [The authors of this document] did not issue a single communiqué or write a single line condemning those who caused the death of hundreds last year or cold-bloodedly threw children from the rooftops... or exhorted MB youths to die in front of the Republican Guard headquarters [in Cairo]…"[22]

The Communiqué Ignored The Context Of Mursi's Ouster

In an article in the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh, columnist 'Abdallah Maghram wrote that the communiqué was slanted because it ignored the circumstances that had prompted Mursi's deposition: "The communique was unfair, because it failed to explain what had motivated the [Egyptian] army to depose president Mursi, and did not mention that the army could have never intervened if the [Egyptian] people and religious leaders had not welcomed this and if the Egyptian people had not been suffering from increasing economic crises. The communiqué also ignored the Egyptian society's discomfort with the Empowerment Plan[23] that had been formulated by the MB in order to take over the state institutions. It also failed to mention the corruption of the MB leaders or [the fact that] relatives of president Muhammad Mursi had occupied two government posts…"[24]

The Only Way To Deal With The MB Is To Confront And Defeat Them

In an article published in the government daily Al-Jazirah several days before the publication of the communiqué, columnist Muhammad 'Abd Al-Latif Aal Al-Sheikh wrote that the spread of the extremist Islamist movements, including the MB, was increasing and posed a threat to Saudi Arabia. He added that, since all the attempts to halt the spread of the MB in the kingdom had failed, the only option was to confront this movement: "The historic speeches delivered by King 'Abdallah and the Crown Prince in the beginning of Ramadan, which included a clear and direct warning to anyone trying to politicize Islam... must be translated into practical, tangible and firm measures on the ground. [Messages on] the social media, especially on Twitter, revealed the inclinations of many Saudis from the [MB] movement, who, when the Egyptians deposed the MB government, became hysterical and launched a harsh and insane attack on the Egyptian army and a relentless verbal campaign against [any] Egyptians who do not [support] the MB, some of them even describing this campaign as a war between Islam and the infidels.[25]

"Just as the resounding fall of the MB in Egypt exposed [this movement's] ignorance about politics, economy, management and development, and even about the shari'a and its principles... it also exposed the lackeys of [this movement] in our country, and revealed that they are no less stupid and ignorant than their masters in Egypt... The shell of secrecy that had surrounded their activity in the kingdom thus received a resounding blow. I believe that this failure will cost [them] dearly on the social level, especially since the common people have not only been exposed to the failure of the [MB's] political and executive theses and to their hypocrisy, but [have also] discovered the MB's ties with the violent jihadi organizations... Now the burning question is this: how do we deal with these partisans [the MB supporters in Saudi Arabia] and how do we save the state from their harm?... I do not think anyone will disagree if I say that this phenomenon is constantly escalating in terms of its quantity and the way [it is done]. This means that all the attempts to deal with it, halt it and assess it – which have been ongoing since the [incident of] Juhayman Al-'Utaibi[26] – have been futile, which makes confronting and defeating it the only remaining option. Showing leniency towards these partisans, pandering to them, containing them or even dialoguing with them definitely [mean] toying with the continued existence of [the Saudi kingdom]…"[27]

The MB Fell Into Its Own Trap

Columnist Hamad Al-Salami wrote in Al-Jazirah that the MB fell into the trap of its own violent tactics: "After a violent confrontation with the Egyptian authorities and society, the MB movement resumed its wayward course and [embarked on] another 80 years of extremism– for that is the natural fate of a movement which, from the day of its establishment, deceived the public and used violence to attain power... For 80 years, the movement saw ups and downs along with the Egyptian state and people, assassinated civilian and military leaders, shed much blood and also lost many of its own members. When it rose to power following the popular revolution against Hosni Mubarak, it tried to "brotherize" the Egyptian people and fell into the trap of its own evil. Nobody understands the mentality of this movement like its own members. In the years prior to [the MB's] ouster by the Egyptian army and people... numerous [MB] members left [the movement] and revealed many of its secrets and confidential documents in interviews, letters and biographies they published...."[28]

Mursi's Fall Exposed The Saudi MB

Columnist Jasser Al-Jasser wrote in the government daily Al-Sharq that the Saudi MB had tried to hide its true identity until Mursi's ouster ripped the mask off their face: "The crisis of the Saudi [Muslim] Brotherhood deepened after Mursi's fall, because they are the only ones who never revealed their affiliation [with the MB movement] but hid under the umbrella of [general] Islamic activity. In certain circumstances, some of them may have [even] sworn that they did not belong to the MB...

"Thank you, Mursi, for exposing the arena of conflict and causing [the MB members to raise] their voices... Now the Saudis no longer have to try very hard in order to expose the MB members among them, for they are louder and more conspicuous than [anyone else]. Thank you, Mursi, for inadvertently helping to increase the awareness of many [Saudis], who now see the difference between the pure Islamic spirit and the partisan orientation [of the MB], and [thank you for] lifting the perpetual mist and making matters clear... For decades the Saudi [Muslim] Brotherhood lay hidden, but now this party is out in the open, and they share the fate of their brethren in the other Gulf countries, for they have lost their original uniqueness."[29]

* Y. Admon is a research fellow at MEMRI.

Endnotes:

[1] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), July 4, 2013.

[2] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), July 10, 2013.

[3] Islammemo.cc, July 11, 2013.

[4] Aljazeera.net, August 8, 2013.

[5] Sheikh Al-'Arafi has great influence on Saudi and Egyptian public opinion and on the younger audience in particular. Recently Al-'Arifi exhorted Egyptian youth to embark on a jihad in Syria and in response Saudi King 'Abdallah demanded that the Senior Clerics Council punish those clerics who exhorted young people to go on jihad more severely. Elaph.com, July 22, 2013.

[6] For Saudi apprehension about the social networks power see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 903, Saudi Regime Fears Social Networks As Means Of Triggering Popular Protests, December 3, 2012.

[7] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), July 10, 2013.

[8] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 17, 2013.

[9] Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 13, 2013.

[10] It should be noted that, since Mursi's ouster, the new government in Egypt has closed television channels known for supporting the MB, such as Al Jazeera, Al-Hafz, Al-Quds and Al-Yarmouq.

[11] Islammemo.cc, July 11, 2013.

[12] Elaph.com, July 22, 2013; twitter.com/alsaleeh, July 17, 2013. Al-'Awaji indeed published links to the communiqué on his Twitter account to recruit additional signatories. These links are now disabled. See twitter.com/MohsenAlAwajy, July 22, 2013.

[13] Ikhwanonline.com, July 21, 2013.

[14] Al-Masry Al-Yawm (Egypt), July 20, 2013.

[15] Elaph.com, July 23, 2013.

[16] Ikhwanonline.com, July 21, 2013.

[17] On July 13, 2013, Al-'Odeh responded to this claim on his website (Islamtoday.net), stating that he is not an MB member but is, in fact, closer to the Salafi stream. In a previous message on his website, he explained that, as a child, he had learned a great deal from MB books, but today he does not belong to this movement. Islamtoday.net November 11, 2012. It should be mentioned, however, that Al-'Odeh gives frequent interviews to the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel, which provides an extensive platform for MB members and champions the Arab Spring revolutions. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5360, Muslim Brotherhood Opponents And Al-Jazeera Employees Protest: The Channel Is Biased And Unprofessional, July 12, 2013.

[18] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), July 20, 2013.

[20] Al-Sharq, (Saudi Arabia), July 15, 2013.

[21] Al-Jazeera (Saudi Arabia), July 11, 2013.

[22] Al-Yawm (Saudi Arabia), July 10, 2013.

[23] The "Empowerment Plan" is the MB opponents' name for the "Fatah Misr" plan formulated by MB Deputy-General Guide Khayrat Al-Shater in 2005. MB opponents frequently claim that it was a plan for a gradual takeover of Egypt by the MB.

[24] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), July 14, 2013.

[25] Indeed, one of the tweets about the events in Egypt stated: "Whoever is familiar with the two [rival] camps in Egypt, the perpetrators of the coup and its victims, and knows how far each of them is from truth or from falsehood, knows that the events [in Egypt] are a conflict between Islam and the infidels and between self-righteousness and faith" (twitter.com/@abdulaziztarefe, July 9, 2013).

[26] A Saudi Islamist who, in November 1979, led the takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca and held worshipers hostage for three days. He and his militants were arrested after Saudi security forces stormed the mosque, and he was subsequently executed.

[27] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), July 16, 2013.

[28] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), September 1, 2013.

[29] Al-Sharq (Saudi Arabia), September 12, 2013.