Saudi king sacks cleric who attacked social reform (REUTERS) By Angus McDowall RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA 05/12/12 12:15pm EDT)
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(Reuters) - Saudi Arabia´s King Abdullah has sacked a senior cleric
after he decried cautious reforms in the world´s top oil exporter
that allowed women to mix with unmarried men, Saudi Gazette reported
The decision to relieve Sheikh Abdulmohsen al-Obeikan of his position
as royal adviser was made in a decree issued on the recommendation of
Crown Prince Nayef, himself a reputed conservative.
The move fits a pattern of recent years in which senior clerics who
oppose the government´s cautious social reforms too openly have lost
Although Obeikan has previously backed government positions on
reforms including gender mixing at university, he recently gave a
radio interview attacking the government for changing the position of
women in society.
"He´s taken a lot of positions in the past against the royal family
and this is another one," said Hossein Shobokshi, a Saudi newspaper
Under King Abdullah, the ultra-conservative Islamic state has made it
easier for women to work and study alongside men, and tried to
promote more tolerant views of other religions.
Earlier this year, the head of the religious police was replaced by a
cleric who was seen to be more liberal, and in 2010 King Abdullah
fired the judiciary head, Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan, for attacking a
new university that was the centerpiece of government education
Most senior religious jobs in the conservative Islamic kingdom are
government appointments, including the positions of Grand Mufti and
imam of the great mosques at Mecca and Medina, Islam´s holiest sites.
The government started trying to rein in what it saw as extremist
viewpoints in the clergy after Islamist militant attacks inside the
kingdom began in 2003, pushing hardline clerics to renounce al Qaeda
and violent tactics.
In 2010, King Abdullah also restricted the ability to pass fatwas, or
religious edicts, to a small group of senior clerics, an important
step in a country ruled by sharia, or Islamic law.
However, the government and the ruling Al Saud family have to tread
carefully to avoid angering religious conservatives.
"Abdullah has to reckon with the political and social weight these
guys carry. Although it is the very opposite of their image outside
the country, inside the country the Al Saud are seen by conservatives
as dangerous modernists who are undermining the traditional values of
Saudi society," said Robert Lacey, author of "Inside the Kingdom".
Obeikan stirred controversy for his 2010 ruling that a man could
spend time unsupervised with an unrelated woman if he drank some of
The Al Saud have always retained a close alliance with clerics of the
strict Wahhabi school of Islam, which controls the judiciary and
parts of the education system in the world´s largest oil exporter.
Wahhabis endorse a political philosophy that demands obedience to the
ruler and have issued fatwas banning anti-government protests, but
they have themselves opposed many of King Abdullah´s social reforms.
(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Sophie Hares) (© Thomson
Reuters 2012. 05/12/12)
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