March 9, 2014

Worried for their own security, the rulers of Saudi Arabia expand their own list of “terror organizations” and criminalize dissent

    Sunday, March 09, 2014   No comments

8 years in prison for tweeting
in support of a demonstration
Days after recalling its top diplomats from Qatar, Saudi Arabia published a list of organizations and activities that are deemed criminal and prohibited Saudi citizens and residents from joining or supporting such organizations. The two events might appear to be unrelated. In reality, the latter decision provides the proper context for understanding the former. Moreover, the list and the logic that produced it are intriguing. Here is a summary of the key points of this document followed by a short analysis.


Any Saudi citizen or resident is prohibited from:

1. Promoting atheistic thought in any form; or raising doubt about the principles of the religion upon which this country is founded.

2. Renouncing the pledge of allegiance (bay`ah) offered to the rulers of this country; or paying allegiance to a party, organization, association, movement, or a person in this country or outside.

3. Fighting or encouraging others to fight in zones of conflict in a foreign country; or issuing religious edicts [fatwas] in support of fighting in outside wars.

4. Showing support for any of these parties, organizations, associations, movements, or groups; or showing sympathies towards them, or promoting their activities and attending their meetings inside or outside the kingdom; this applies to showing support through any and all means of communication including television, radio, print media, social media—visual, aural, written—and the Internet; or sharing and re-sharing of such content; or using the logos and symbols that express sympathies to these entities.

5. Donating to these entities or providing any kind of support—financial or moral—to groups and organizations that are terrorists or extremists; or sheltering anyone inside or outside the kingdom who belongs or supports these entities individuals and groups.

6. Communicating or establishing connections with these movements and groups, or persons who are enemies of the kingdom.

7. Having loyalty to any foreign country or having connection to any foreign country; or establishing connections with any foreign country in order to destabilize the kingdom or break the unity of its people.

8. Aiming to break the fabric of society and national unity; or calling for, promoting, enticing, or participating in sit-ins, demonstrations, or gatherings; or issuing statements in the name of a groups or association in any form that will risk the unity and stability of the kingdom.

9. Attending meetings, conferences, or colloquium that are held inside or outside the kingdom where ideas that may risk the security and stability of the kingdom are promoted or that could result in civil strife [fitna].

10. Criticizing other countries and its leaders.

11. Inciting other countries or organizations to criticize or act against the interests of the kingdom.

It ought to be noted that “the Holder of the Honored Place” [the King] has approved these recommendations and they are adopted in the royal decree 16820 and that these orders enter into effect on March 9, 2014. Violators will be prosecuted for acts from before and after this order was issued. Those still fighting abroad are granted an additional 15 days from the date of this order to reconsider their thinking and return home.

The Interior Ministry is appending a list of organizations and entities that are covered by this order including the organizations call themselves as follows:

Al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in Yemen, al-Qaeda in Iraq—Daaesh--, Jabhat al-Nusra, Hezbollah of Saudi Arabia, Muslim Brotherhood, and the Houthi Association. The order applies to any organization that is similar to these groups in their thinking, preaching, and action; and all terrorist organizations as determined by the UNSC and other world organizations. The ministry will update this list regularly.


A simple reading of this document would reveal that the rulers or Saudi Arabia are still far from treating the root cause of the culture of violence they had created in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and now Syria. They are, however, interested in protecting the Saud family’s hold on power and they are using the so-called “global war on terror” as a pretext to criminalize all forms and modes of dissent. In fact, the first victim of this new law is an activist who was sentenced to 8 years in prison. This decree treats those killing civilians on sectarian and theological grounds the same way it treats a student or an academic who attends a class or a conference where views critical of the rulers of the kingdom are expressed.

The document is, in many ways, an official statement about what the rulers of the kingdom fear most and provides an insight into their thinking as it relates to domestic and foreign policy matters. The following can easily be deduced from reading this text.

The rulers of Saudi Arabia…

a.      are fearful of Iran and they are worried that Iran would use the Saudi Shi’as to destabilize the kingdom.

b.     are fearful of the Muslim Brotherhood and countries that support the Muslim Brotherhood (Qatar).

c.      are fearful of dissent and social change.

d.     are fearful of disloyalty: they fear that Saudi citizens  would join the Muslim Brotherhood, non-citizens would fall under the influence of their original countries, and Shi`as would fall under the influence of Iran.

e.      are fearful that the takfiris now fighting in Syria and Iraq will return home better trained and hardened and overthrow them.

f.      are fearful of the uncontrollable nature of the means of communication

g.     are fearful of the “privatization” of religious authority: anyone with a twitter account and large following can be a mufti and no one cares to listen to the official one anymore.  

Since laws are not created in vacuum, this document is also significant in that it represents an official acknowledgement of the role of Saudi Arabia in inciting hate, sectarianism, and violence. It recognizes the role of Saudi religious scholars, donors, and individuals in promoting and sustaining a culture of violence and exporting it to other countries. In this sense, going after hate speech and sectarianism is a step forward: Saudi officials are taking an active role in eradicating supremacist and violent sectarian ideology the same way they took an active role in manufacturing it. The problem is that they are casting a wide net to stifle legitimate dissent and exert even more control over all aspects of people’s lives.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.


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