Senior Saudi cleric and royal advisor Sheikh 'Abd Al-Muhsin Al-'Obikan claimed recently that officials in the Saudi judicial system and religious establishment are trying to "Westernize" Saudi society, and that they are plotting to undermine the religious court system and to overthrow the royal family. His statements evoked intense criticism in the Saudi press and led to his dismissal from his position as advisor to the king.
The following are details about the affair and excerpts from press responses to it.
Sheikh Al-'Obikan: Officials Are Trying To Sabotage The King And Ultimately Overthrow Him
Sheikh Al-'Obikan made his statements in a two-part interview that was aired on the "Your Fatwas" program on UFM Radio. He spoke against gender mixing in the Saudi courts, claiming that separate departments and separate entrances were needed in order to prevent this. He also criticized the Justice Minister for including women in his delegation on an official visit to the U.S., saying, "What benefit can there be in the Justice Ministers' traveling to America in the company of women?..."
Al-'Obikan threatened to reveal the names of officials in the religious judicial system and the religious establishment who "have a plan to undermine the religious courts and to issue man-made laws." He explained that they mean to do this by Westernizing Saudi society and by liberating women and thus taking them away from their "natural place" (in the home). He claimed further that these officials are keeping him from seeing the king, lest he present him with evidence of their plot to deceive him and ultimately overthrow him: "I have been trying to see the king for several months. I submitted a written request in which I asked to meet him in order to speak [to him] about this grave matter, but the meeting never occurred, and I suspect that the request never reached him... I do not rule out that these saboteurs are planning to overthrow the Sa'ud royal family... and I have evidence to prove it... People in the king's vicinity are trying to deceive him..."
Al-'Obikan added that some of the king's associates are sabotaging him in order to make him seem incompetent, and are using the media to realize their plans: "Some of the king's associates fail to carry out his orders and are delaying his initiatives when it is possible to advance them, so as to slander his personality and create the impression that he is incapable of realizing the citizen's hopes... They use the media to carry out their plot, by [bribing] journalists and writers to spread their ideas and attack their opponents."
Senior Saudi Sheikh: Making Sweeping Accusations Against Senior Officials Is "A Forbidden Act"
The sheikh's statements sparked intense criticism among wide circles in Saudi Arabia, and triggered a harsh response from the authorities. According to reports, his website has been shut down and he has been banned from appearing in the media. On May 11 the king fired him from his post as royal advisor. Sheikh Qais Al-Mubarak, a member of the Senior Clerics Council (Saudi Arabia's supreme religious body), said in response to Al-'Obikan's remarks that making sweeping accusations against senior officials is "a forbidden act" that must be avoided. He conceded that reprimanding officials for improper behavior is an act mandated by the shari'a, but added that there are proper procedures for doing so.
Conversely, senior cleric Sheikh Sa'd Al-Barik condemned the attacks on Al-'Obikan, saying that his detractors are "like payphones that, fed with a coin, immediately start to spew curses."
Editors of Saudi Dailies: Al-'Obikan Is Talking Nonsense
The editor of the daily Al-Yawm, Muhammad Al-Wa'il, wrote: "... Forgetting (or pretending to forget) that, as a royal advisor, he is [supposed to be] credible, Al-'Obikan resumed his preoccupation with his ideological and mental disorders, and used the radio station to spread fantastic stories... trying to take over the listeners' minds. He attacked the [kingdom's] supreme leadership and senior ministers, and violated the moral principle of refraining from making an enemy of the one who gave him his post, sought his advice, and believed in him [i.e., the king]...
"His crocodile tears over the presence of women on the Justice Minister's [delegation] are shameful, and exposes the depth of the man's backwardness and ignorance... The problem with Al-'Obikan and people like him is that they must always put in their two cents, even if it involves lying or comes at the expense of their religion, homeland, and conscience. They never learn from their past [mistakes] or learn how to preserve their credibility. Al-'Obikan is living in the past, in a cave full of illusions, fantasies, and conspiracy [theories]. He looks and sounds stupider than ever...
"Like all braggarts, Al-'Obikan has repeated the mistake of his predecessors... who sadly still think that the state takes its authority from them and not from Islam... They think that they [embody] the religion, and therein lies the danger... Al-'Obikan and his ilk must understand that we do not need them; what we need is real rulers..."
The editor of the Al-Jazirah daily, Khaled Al-Malik, wrote that Al-'Obikan's behavior was foolish and that he "speaks without knowledge, distorts facts, and hurls accusations right and left, at this [official] and that one, regardless of their seniority, without [the slightest pangs of] conscience... and without learning from his past... He does this even when it comes at the expense of his homeland and its citizens, and uses religion to attain his goals, on the pretext of defending reforms and fighting corruption – when [in fact] it is his recent statements that are corrupt and corrupting.
"How [can] a man like him, whose position obliges him to be responsible, say what he said about the judicial [system], the Justice Minister, and about senior advisors that the king believes in? His statements are a betrayal of his position, an offense to the honor of the state, and slander against [the king], who should be obeyed and trusted."
Al-Riyadh editor Turkey Al-Sudairi wrote: "... I call upon [Al-'Obikan] to prove his claims. As [members of] the Journalists Union, we must demand that he be prosecuted for what he said... These nonsensical [statements] lack any religious or scientific proof, and are nothing but a collection of immoral accusations and exaggerations…"
Al-'Obikan's Supporters: His Critics Are Distorting His Image
There were also some journalists who defended Al-'Obikan. Columnist 'Abdallah Nasser 'Utaibi wrote in the website lojainiat.com that the sheikh's critics were slandering him and that his position obliged him to voice his opinion: "... Sheikh Al-'Obikan's statements were clear. He was speaking of the Westernization plan that [some people] are trying to advance, and which might spread in the future to the judicial institutions and even to the religious establishment... Things reached a point where the sheikh could no longer keep silent. [That is why] he spoke of grave plans [to harm] the king and the state. As an advisor, it is his duty [to expose such threats]... The sheikh is known for his sincerity and honesty... [His critics] are the ones... who distort the image of religious scholars and harm them with their articles..."
 Sheikh Al-'Obikan was the author of the breastfeeding fatwa of 2010. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 626,
"Controversy in Saudi Arabia over Fatwa Permitting Breastfeeding of Adults," July 28, 2010,
 E-mailaat.com, May 9, 2012.
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 11, 2012.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), May 12, 2012.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), May 11, 2012.
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 11, 2012.
 Al-Yawm (Saudi Arabia), May 13, 2012.
 Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), May 9, 2012.
 Lojainiat.com, May 11, 2012.