Saudi Arabia Honors Its Nastiest Clerical Ideologues

While Saudi Arabia commits to fighting extremists abroad, King Salman's government tacitly endorses its own fanatical preachers.

Critics have previously accused Al-Majd Television Network, whose chief executive was honored by Mutlaq and Omar, of broadcasting “Saudi hate TV,” promoting intolerance toward America and adherents of other religions. Since then, the network apparently granted an award during the hajj last month to Saad bin ‘Ateeq al-‘Ateeq, who served for years as the preacher in residence at Saudi Arabia’s national guard academy and who has been witnessed several times on video beseeching God before crowds of worshippers to “destroy” Christians, Jews, Shiites and Alawites. Like the alleged terror financier al-Humayqani, ‘Ateeq has recently been a guest on Saudi Arabia’s state news channel, where he encouraged intolerant views of the conflict in Yemen, calling Shiites a term of abuse and ominously explaining that “we are cleansing the land of these rats.”

As Bruce Riedel noted in an extended profile of Saudi Arabia’s new leadership, King Salman has recently “moved the kingdom even closer to the Wahhabi establishment,” firing the only woman in the cabinet and assembling “often with notoriously reactionary members of the clerical elite.” Indeed, last week Salman received prominent princes at his Jeddah palace with several hardline clerics at his side.

Sitting immediately next to the king was Saleh al-Luhaidan, who “dominate[s]” the Senior Ulema Council along with other older conservatives. Al-Luhaidan was once suspended from his position as Saudi Arabia’s senior-most jurist after he allegedly called for the execution of media owners who broadcast “depravity.” During the U.S. occupation of Iraq in 2005, he also reportedly encouraged any young Saudi who “is capable of entering Iraq in order to join the fight” to face “an enemy who is fighting Muslims,” in spite of “evil satellites and drone aircraft.”

Also flanking King Salman on the same side last week was Nasser al-Shethri, a Saudi cleric who was promoted in January by the new ruler to be a personal advisor to his court. This was despite Shethri’s controversial approach to condemning the Islamic State by calling it “atheist” and proclaiming it is “more infidel than Jews and Christians.”

These developments compound concerns about Saudi Arabia’s approach to extremist rebels fighting in Syria now that Russia has intervened on the side of the Assad regime. They also suggest that the kingdom has failed to honor the Jeddah Communiqué that Secretary of State Kerry negotiated on the anniversary of 9/11 last year. In it, Riyadh and its monarchical Gulf neighbors pledged to “repudiat[e] the[] hateful ideology” of “ISIL and other violent extremists.”

Instead, it appears that Saudi Arabia’s government continues to embrace extremist clerics who promote intolerance toward other religions.

David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He recently helped author a report for Human Rights First on Saudi human rights abuses, religious incitement by state-supported clerics, and options for U.S. policy.

Image: Flickr/مكتب الدعوة برفحاء