In a June 29 interview on Rotana Khalijiya TV, Saudi cleric and political activist Mohsen Al-Awaji criticized the reign of the late King Abdullah. "You, the king, the crown prince, the deputy crown prince, and all the Saudi citizens know that we had suffered under the previous king," he said to TV host Abdallah Al-Modifer. He further said that although King Abdullah had been adulated during his reign, "now he is in his grave, and is being held accountable by Allah, all by himself, for all the problems." Al-Awaji and host Al-Modifer were arrested following the show, reportedly by order of King Salman, and the show was cancelled.
Following are excerpts:
Mohsen Al-Awaji: The domestic situation in Saudi Arabia is completely different from any other country. The legitimacy of Saudi Arabia is based on religion. Therefore, every preacher, scholar, and sheik is an intrinsic part of the state. Thus, no preacher, cleric, or reformist can be labeled "an oppositions."
The enterprise of the Saudi state is the theoretical enterprise of Islam, and the preachers serve this enterprise. The Saudi leadership must realize that it will not survive without this enterprise.
The Saudi state is an Islamic entity. It is not a secular or a liberal state. The Saudi state cannot go on like this – without a constitution and so on – unless it adheres to Islam. This would be impossible without it. King Salman has no legitimacy other than the legitimacy of Islam.
Perhaps it could be considered acceptable if a regime like Syria's or Iraq's were to refrain from embracing Jihad. But in Saudi Arabia neglecting to carry out charity work, and to support the oppressed is unacceptable. These are at the heart of the shari'a, upon which the state is based.
Where are all the people who call for reform? I'm talking about people from the various movements. Where are they? Either in prison… Some are still in prison. Others have been dismissed from their jobs, like me and others, who have been denied work for the past 20 years. We have gained nothing from this.
Never in my life have I been as pleased with our leaders as I am now. Nevertheless – and I say this here and now – the political prisoners should not have been arrested in the first place, let alone have been kept in prison to this day.
The age of sycophancy is over. For 70 years, the Saudis including you and me, were saying that the problem was with the king's entourage, and that the king himself was not remiss in anything. This is over now. The king is accountable for everything, large and small, in the kingdom. "Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his own flock." If we continue to adulate the king… People adulated King Abdullah during his reign, but now he is in his grave, and is being held accountable by Allah, all by himself, for all the problems.
You, the king, the crown prince, the deputy crown prince, and all the Saudi citizens know that we had suffered under the previous king. Everybody is being sycophantic and avoids the subject. I'm not calling to settle scores. This is not necessary. I call to study this past, so that we can learn from the fatal mistakes, which have almost destroyed the Islamic nation.
Interviewer: What sort of suffering do you claim to have experienced under the previous king?
Mohsen Al-Awaji: Not just me, but the entire nation…
Interviewer: What kind of suffering?
Mohsen Al-Awaji: When the Houthis made incursions into Yemen, the [Saudi regime] made the preachers pledge that they would not talk about the Houthis. When there was…
Interviewer: The king himself… There was a war [with the Houthis] in 2009…
Mohsen Al-Awaji: Let me finish.
Interviewer: Okay, go ahead.
Mohsen Al-Awaji: When an official at the Royal Court and an official in Al-Sisi's office [conspired] how to waste our money, during a phone call that was leaked… That's one thing. When the most senior Saudi clerics went to meet officials at the Royal Court, they were left to wait in the garden, like some Ethiopian or Eritrean refugee. Nobody talks about it. In the days of the late King Fahd, the senior clerics would sit with him every Monday – Ibn Baz would be to his right, Ibn Uthaymin to this left, and all the princes would be left to sit far away. This is the proper place for the clerics.
The opportunists from among the rebels – or rather, coup ring – in Egypt, and the opportunists in Lebanon, took advantage of the calmness – or vagueness – of the discourse, which prevailed in the Royal Court during the previous era. I know that all the people feel the same as me, but for some reason – out of politeness, or because they are embarrassed – they do not talk about it. But we are not analyzing the problem, so we can fix it.
Take Lebanon, for example. The Syrian crisis began in the days of the late King Abdullah. It was dealt with by the head of intelligence, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan. He collaborated with Saad Eddine Al-Hariri, who was viewed as a channel to the Sunnis in Lebanon and in Syria. As you know, Al-Hariri is the paralyzed arm of Saudi Arabia in Lebanon, and he is constantly skiing in the Alps. The other "arm" that is active in Lebanon is Iran's party of Hassan Nasrallah, and it is not paralyzed. So one is in the Alps, and the other is hiding in his lair. If Iran and Saudi Arabia were to agree on somebody – even Satan himself – to become president of Lebanon, both [Al-Hariri and Nasrallah] would be forced to applaud this decision, and all the Lebanese, including the journalists, would follow.
I am talking about the Arab Spring. Could the coup have succeeded in all the killings, evildoing, and theft, if not for the [support] of the Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia? Secondly, didn't you hear, in recent days, that Al-Sisi himself, along with his minister of endowments, decided to remove the books of Ibn Al-Baz, Ibn Uthaymin, and Ibn Taymiyya, from the bookshelves of the Egyptian markets? It is as if we are the ones who spread all the catastrophes, regardless of the fact that it was the Saudi government that brought [Al-Sisi] to power. If not for the Saudi government, Al-Sisi would still be simple clerk in the smallest department of Egyptian intelligence, and no one would have heard of him.
King Salman saved the royal family from itself, by his courageous decision to promote the younger princes. We do not care who is in power. All we care about it how he rules. We want King Salman to save the people from the royal family as well. We do not want to fight. We only want our rights. We do not want there to be favoritism or different classes, and for the princes to continue to be holy, while the citizens are not. We want to justice, sincerity, and clarity.