Skip to main content

Qatar crisis: Now Saudi religious preachers jump on the political bandwagon

Saudi and Egyptian preachers express their support for cutting diplomatic ties with Doha
Poster of Saudi King Salman (C), Crown Prince and Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef (R) and Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman on the offices of the Saudi national airline carrier in Riyadh (AFP)

A group of influential Saudi religious scholars and an Egyptian preacher have lashed out at Qatar amid an ongoing crisis that has left the Gulf state isolated from its neighbouring countries. 

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt severed diplomatic relations with Qatar in early June, halting all air, sea and land links to the emirate.

The Gulf countries and Egypt expelled Qatar from the coalition fighting the war in Yemen, accusing it of supporting terrorism. They also asked Qatari diplomats to leave the country and caused many families in the region to be split apart across borders.   

In a series of tweets on Thursday, influential Saudi scholar and preacher Mohamad al-Arefe, who has 17.7 million Twitter followers, condemned Qatar and supported the Saudi kingdom.

Translation: All thanks to the servant of the holy mosques [King Salman] for reuniting Saudi and Qatari families despite Qatar's grave political, social and intelligence breaches [against Saudi Arabia].

Translation: There is no space for impartiality when it comes to those who conspire against the kingdom which God has honoured by making it the direction which Muslims stand towards in prayer. Protecting our nation, even if using only words, is a religious obligation upon us.

Translation: I call upon the leaders of Qatar to extend honest relations to Saudi Arabia and for Qatar to open up a new chapter [in relations] which is founded upon honesty and an intent on not intervening in other countries’ affairs.

But many of Arefe's followers questioned the authenticity of the tweets. Despite his public show of support for the Saudi monarchy's isolation of Qatar, Arefe has drawn the ire of the authorities for several years and been detained on several occasions for criticising the government.

One unnamed source told Arabi21 that the Saudi authorities had pressured the scholar into publishing these tweets. According to the source, Arefe was detained for two days and his passport was withheld by the authorities.

Meanwhile, another influential Saudi preacher, Ayed al-Qarni, who has more than 12 million followers on Twitter, also hit out at Qatar over Twitter on Thursday.

Translation: Our religion, our nation, our leaders and our people are a red line that cannot be crossed. Gambling with those things is not acceptable.

Qarni is regarded as a senior Islamic scholar by Saudis and many Muslims around the world.

In his book Awakening Islam, the French academic Stephane Lacroix included Qarni among "the most famous" Saudi preachers.

Translation: May God help the servant of the holy mosques [King Salman]. May God unite us and spare us the evil of the evildoers.

Although his tweets do not mention Qatar explicitly, Qarni's followers considered his words as a show of public support for the Saudi authorities in their move to cut ties with Qatar.

In a similar show of support for the Saudi government, Abdurahman al-Sudais, the imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, used implicit words against "those who support and fund terrorism" during communal Ramadan prayers on Monday, when he led tens of thousands of Muslims.
Many of Sudais's followers questioned what he meant by this prayer, although some deduced he was targeting Qatar, which has been accused by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt of supporting militant groups and harbouring the Muslim Brotherhood.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have both banned the Muslim Brotherhood as a "terrorist organisation" along with charities, scholars and thinkers linked to the group.

Meanwhile, Egyptian preacher and televangelist Amr Khaled, who has nearly nine million Twitter followers, also expressed his support for Cairo's decision to cut ties with Qatar.

Translation: I support any decision taken by my country Egypt towards anyone who attempts to jeopardise its safety, whether that be Qatar or any other country.  

Khaled is the face of a new brand of popular preachers or al-duaa al-judud, who seek to offer Muslim youth a religious discourse intertwined with practical techniques for finding success in their spiritual, personal and professional lives.

In 2007 Khaled was named as one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time Magazine. His website received 26 million hits in 2005 and was listed as the third-most-popular Arabic site in the world, according to a 2006 New York Times article.

Pro-Qatar scholar excommunicated

The diplomatic isolation of Qatar by its neighbouring countries has also led religious authorities in the region to isolate scholars who have shown support for Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood.  

The Muslim World League (MWL) announced the termination of the membership of Qatar-based Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi last week after his inclusion on a so-called "terror list" by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.

The Saudi-backed organisation, which supported the Gulf countries' move to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, announced over Twitter that "based on the classification issued, the MWL had ended Qaradawi's membership [in the league]".

"The international community must intensify its efforts to counter the activities of terrorist organisations, as well as its feeders and the incubators,” MWL said.

Once considered a spiritual guide for the Brotherhood, Qaradawi, 90, was named on the list of alleged terrorists, despite having been hosted and celebrated in Saudi Arabia recently. In the past he has condemned terrorism and described Islamic State's caliphate as "void under the sharia".

The news came as the UAE's top prosecutor, Hamad Saif Al Shamsi, warned on Tuesday that showing sympathy for Qatar on social media is a "crime". There have also been reports that Bahraini authorities detained a citizen on Wednesday on charges of sympathising with Qatar via social media.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.