Saudi cleric feared to be detained, instead fled Kingdom to a ‘safe’ country

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A prominent Saudi cleric who was feared to have been detained has apparently left the Kingdom for a “safe” country, after criticising the government’s radical reforms in the entertainment sphere.

Emad Al-Moubayed – a preacher and former imam at the King Abdulaziz Mosque in Dammam – posted a video on his unverified Twitter account last week, in which he warned against drastic social reforms in Saudi Arabia enacted over recent years.

Directing his “advice to the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, his trustworthy Crown Prince [Mohammed bin Salman], and Advisor Turki Al-Sheikh [the Entertainment Authority chief]”, he called on the authorities to “fear God” in implementing social changes which are “erasing the Islamic faith, and replacing the identity of Islam with other identities”.

The next day, however, Al-Moubayed posted a new video in which he clarified his comments, while reading from a piece of paper on the table in front of him, seemingly back-tracking on his criticism in a scene which some speculated he was forced to read in custody.

READ: Saudi Arabia imposes restrictions on Ramadan practices, limiting loudspeakers and surveiling worshippers

“Some people may have misunderstood what I mentioned in my previous words and clip … I would like to clarify and affirm that our country, its leadership, and its people are enjoying great prosperity, security and safety and development”, he said at that time.

The hashtag #WhereIsEmadMoubayed since trended, particularly after Saudi authorities said on Monday that they detained a man for breaching cybercrime laws. Contrary to concerns over his potential detention, however, a Twitter account attributed to Al-Moubayed yesterday published a post assured that he had not been detained and had, instead, fled. “By the grace of God, I was able to leave the country and reach a safe country, praise be to God”, stated the account allegedly used by him.

In recent years, the Kingdom has enacted a series of radical social reforms, especially in the entertainment industry by allowing the conducting of music concerts, hosting of controversial Western musicians and artists, and the free mixing of genders in entertainment venues such as cinemas.

Religious figures and clerics who have spoken up against those reforms, or regarding political issues, have been arrested, detained and often charged in connection to sedition or terrorism, in what many see as an overturn of the traditional religious establishment which formed an essential part of the Kingdom until now.


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