Saudi Arabia arrests scholar critical of entertainment venture

Sheikh Omar al-Muqbil: detained by Saudi authorities

Sheikh Omar al-Muqbil, a professor of Islamic law at Qassim University in Saudi Arabia has been arrested and detained after he criticised the policies of the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) as a threat to the kingdom’s culture.

The prisoners’ rights group, the Prisoners of Conscience, made Muabil’s detention known in a Twitter post.

According to Al-Jazeera, the group said the scholar was arrested after a video in which he described the GEA’s actions as “erasing the original identity of society”. The video has been trending.

“This is a continuation of the arbitrary arrests that have taken place in the kingdom for the past two years, which are aimed at leading scholars, sheikhs and other free thinkers,” the Prisoners of Conscience group said.

Over the past year, the GEA has hosted a number of music stars including Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson and Sean Paul, in an attempt to boost the image of Saudi Arabia globally.

Last year, the authority announced plans to invest $64 billion in the entertainment sector during the next decade as part of a programme of social and economic reforms driven by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the world’s top oil exporter.

The reforms stem partly from an economic motive to increase domestic spending on entertainment and attract Western investment to offset the effect of a slump in the price of oil that began in 2014.
Other measures include ending decades-long bans on women driving, cinemas and mixed-gender concerts.

But activists have pointed out that the focus on entertainment is meant as a distraction from the kingdom’s poor human rights record.

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Scores of academics, economists, writers and human rights activists have been arrested in recent years in an apparent bid to stamp out dissent and opposition to Prince Mohammed, who has consolidated power with a purported anti-corruption crackdown.

The kingdom also faces widespread international criticism over the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul almost a year ago, allegedly by members of Prince Mohammed’s entourage, as well as over its long-running war in Yemen.

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