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Saudi royals criticise UAE diplomat for promoting secularism

UAE’s ambassador in Washington said that the two countries both want to see secular government in the Middle East
Yousef al-Otaiba, UAE ambassador to the US, in Idaho, US on 6 July 2016 (AFP)

Members of Saudi Arabia's royal family have reacted with outrage after UAE’s ambassador in Washington said that the two countries both want to see secular government in the Middle East.

In an interview with an American TV network PBS on Saturday Yousef al-Otaiba attacked Qatar's and accused it of supporting terrorism and of “refusing secular government in the region”, the London-based newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi has reported.

The intervention by the UAE diplomat prompted many Saudi social media users and members of the royal family to attack al-Otaiba for making a “call for changing the system in the Kingdom”.

Saudi activists also attacked al-Otaiba online for what they saw as offensive comments against Saudi Arabia, which implements Sharia law and opposes the separation of religion and the state.

Fahda bint Saud bin Abdulaziz, a Saudi princess and daughter of late Saudi King Fahd bin Abdulaziz, said al-Otaiba's comments to PBS were a conspiracy against Saudi Arabia and Islam. “There is a conspiracy against Saudi Arabia and Islam and this has become clear in the world,” she posted on social media.

In a series of Tweets on Sunday, she said that the kingdom’s leaders are “ready to confront this plot”.

“There are those who call for secularising the country of the two holy mosques and those who call for internationalising the country with the two holy mosques, but we the people of Saudi Arabia and its leadership will protect the two holy mosques.”

The Saudi royal added: “Saudi Arabia is a state ruled through Sharia. We have the right to question the silence of the Ministry of Information about the statement of the UAE ambassador, which affects the sovereignty of our country and religion.”

The royal intervention came after al-Otaiba used his interview with PBS to call for more secular government in the Middle East.

“What we would like to see is more secular, stable, prosperous, empowered, strong governments,” al-Otaiba said.

“In the past ten to 15 years, we saw Qatar supporting groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Taliban and the Islamic militias in Syria and Turkey. This is the opposite direction which we want the region to go,” he said.

Following the interview, Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd, the son King Fahd bin Abdulaziz, also criticised the ambassador and published audio clips of members of the Council of Senior Scholars, an important religious institution in Saudi Arabia, warning of the dangers of secularism and describing it as blasphemy.

“Every Muslim who believes in God, his religion and Muhammad must fight secularism and liberalism with advice, then with the statement and then with the blade under the banner of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” he wrote on Twitter.

Saudi activist Abdul Aziz Al-Harbi wrote that “the one who is planning to secularize Saudi Arabia is actually aiming at the demise of Saudi state and the division of its territory. Be aware of the bitter brothers ... beware of Zayed’s sons."

Last week, In a series of tweets, Abdelaziz bin Fahd defended the former Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, while lashing out at the apparent partnership between Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Using the hashtag "No to harming Mohammed bin Nayef", Abdelaziz bin Fahd appeared to be addressing the deposed crown prince, giving him advice about what to do.

On 20 June Mohammed bin Nayef, a powerful figure in Saudi Arabia's security apparatus for the past two decades and the next in line to the throne, was ordered to step down by King Salman.

The high-stakes power grab placed sweeping powers in the hands of the 32-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MbS, and appeared designed to speed his accession to the throne.

According to reports, the king ordered bin Nayef to step aside in favour of his son MbS, because his alleged addiction to painkilling drugs was clouding his judgment.

But sources told MEE that these claims are untrue. Instead they believe these stories were fabricated by Saud al-Qahtani, secretary to the royal court, who reportedly arranged briefings to release allegations against MbN to the media.

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