Three renowned scholars will reportedly face execution after Ramadan. Even beyond the Khashoggi murder, such a ruling means the crown prince will stop at nothing to retain absolute power.

Saudi Arabia is reportedly planning to execute three popular scholars and television personalities after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which ends early next month, according to a shocking report released yesterday. 

The three men are Sheikh Salman Al Odah, Sheikh Awad Al Qarni and popular broadcaster Ali Al Omari, all three of whom enjoy widespread support across the Arabic-speaking world and have a large and highly influential social media presence.

What crimes did they commit to deserve death? They opposed or were simply perceived to stand in opposition to, the machinations and grand schemes of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, infamously known as MBS.

Scholars for dollars

These three men have been jailed since just after MBS and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, known as MBZ, put Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt on a collision course with the region’s preeminent soft power masters, Qatar.

Much like its oil-rich Saudi and Emirati neighbours, Qatar has used its vast wealth accumulated from exporting natural gas and a large foreign investment fund to foster influence both in advanced economies and across the region. However, Doha took things a significant step further by establishing a veritable web of media outlets of varying size, with the Al Jazeera Media Network as its crown jewel, broadcasting globally to an audience of millions.

All this allowed Qatar to play a vital role in supporting the Arab Spring movements, as well as fostering ties with elected governments in other Muslim-majority countries, most notably Turkey. 

These reformist movements - and Qatar’s support for them - was deemed unacceptable by MBS and MBZ because this essentially meant people would have a voice in how they are ruled and governed. 

When the blockade of Qatar began in June 2017, Saudi Arabia looked to its legion of high-profile domestic scholars, clerics and television personalities to use their social media presence and broader influence to get Saudis on board with the idea that they were going to do their utmost to starve their neighbours of food, economic opportunity, and even to break up families with mixed Qatari and Saudi or Emirati heritage. Even Qatari camels weren’t spared the wrath of Saudi’s crown prince and died of thirst in the desert.

Personalities, such as renowned Quran reciter and Mecca’s most well-known Grand Mosque imam, Abdulrahman Al Sudais, immediately sided with MBS.

Similarly, television preachers such as Mohamad Al Arefe and Ayed Al Qarni – both of whom enjoy enormous followings – kowtowed to the crown prince’s demands and issued a number of cringe-worthy statements, including Al Qarni apparently admitting he was formally an extremist but now follows MBS’s version of “tolerant” Islam.

Such clear sell-out stances have caused many to brand these men “scholars for dollars” and has resulted in their credibility being severely dented and crippled.

By contrast, the three men who are now at risk of having their heads severed in a couple of weeks simply expressed a desire for Saudi Arabia to patch up its relations with Qatar. Why is that such a crime? 

After all, both nations are Arab, both nations are not only Sunni Muslim, both follow the same Hanbali school of jurisprudence and both nations share deep bonds of tribal kinship, shared traditions and marriage. 

Before he was arrested, Odah posted a prayer on Facebook hoping that MBS and Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hammad Al Thani could make peace. Now he and others rot in jail, awaiting a headsman’s sword.

Bogus charges from an oppressive ruler

While still unconfirmed by Saudi authorities, it is not beyond the scope of reason to suggest the report of their impending executions may well be true. After all, it is not as though MBS and his coterie of henchmen are ashamed of using unjustified and savage violence – just ask the family of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi

At least Odah, Qarni and Omari can expect a kangaroo court to show a veneer of justice before they are sent to the gallows.

The charge sheet against the defendants would be laughable were it not for such deadly consequences. As previously mentioned, none of their “crimes” involve actually committing any violence, whether serious or minor, let alone actually killing anyone. 

Instead, they are being prosecuted under broad anti-terror laws that punish defiance of the state, even if it is as simple as a prayer, as in Odah’s case.

Amongst other weird and bizarre charges, the Saudis are accusing the three men of sympathising with - or having outright membership to - the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Question is: why should that be a problem, even if it were true?

After all, was it not Saudi Arabia and the UAE that gave its most senior spiritual leader awards recognising his scholarship and contributions to Islam in the modern world? 

What short memory spans MBS and MBZ have when their predecessors awarded Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi with the Saudi King Faisal International Prize for Islamic Studies and the Dubai International Holy Quran Award. Were previous Saudi and Emirati rulers blind to this alleged terrorist they were constantly inviting over and honouring? 

Probably not and no one is fooled today, either. 

The stark reality is this: MBS cannot stand anyone disagreeing with him. While he is certainly moving forward with superficial economic and social reforms, he has been incredibly silent on what many Saudis really want, which is political reform. 

But, of course, that will never happen while those who call for peace and reconciliation with their neighbours lose their heads for daring to disagree with a crown prince who has all the political subtlety of a bull in a china shop.

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