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Saudi Arabia Moves Against Muslim Brotherhood Amid Increased Pressure for Reform

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On October 2, Arab media reported that a Kuwaiti radical Muslim television preacher, Tareq Suwaidan, was prohibited from visiting Saudi Arabia. Suwaidan had sought to go to Mecca to perform “umrah,” a shorter version of the annual hajj pilgrimage.

Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

The hajj, which takes up five days of rituals, will begin on October 13-14. Its timing depends on sighting of a new moon, marking commencement of the hajj month, or Dhu l-Hijjah, which is the last month in the Islamic lunar calendar. Umrah, involving only a part of the full hajj ceremonies, may be performed at any time, and is popular with Muslim believers who can afford the journey.

Suwaidan, one of an array of prominent Muslims considered imitators of Western tele-evangelists, is a man of parts. Supplementing his televised sermons, he is a motivational speaker and management consultant. He is ambiguous about certain topics, but admits to membership in the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). He has appealed for dialogue between Muslims and the West, and praised American schooling—perhaps unsurprisingly since he was educated at Penn State and the University of Tulsa, earning a doctorate in petroleum engineering at the latter institution.

But Suwaidan distinguished himself by his unsuccessful support for a European law against “insult to religious figures” during the 2006 controversy over cartoon depictions of Muhammad, and he has incited suicide terrorism against Israel. Last year, he complained to the Al-Quds television station, affiliated with Hamas, “I can change the positions of some Westerners, but at the end of the day, power lies with the politicians, who are influenced by two things only: money and the media, both of which are controlled by the Jews. . . . The most dangerous thing facing the Muslims is not the [Arab] dictatorships. The absolutely most dangerous thing is the Jews. They are the greatest enemy.” 

The Kuwaiti may therefore stand as typical of the MB’s exponents. He merges an idiom of enthusiasm for modernization and democracy with a defense of extremist violence. But Saudi Arabian tolerance of the MB and its ideology has become visibly exhausted. The exclusion of Tareq Suwaidan from participation in a religious observance on the soil of the kingdom is merely the latest expression of a high-level Saudi desire for distance from radical Islam, and especially from the MB.

The Saudi action against Suwaidan’s entry came six weeks after his dismissal from Al-Resalah (The Message), an Arabic-language, religious television and Internet medium. Suwaidan’s removal from Al-Resalah programming was ordered by the channel’s owner, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, who condemned Suwaidan’s relationship with the MB. In a letter terminating Suwaidan’s employment, Alwaleed characterized the MB and its political stance as “deviant” and said there was no place for MB advocates on Al-Resalah.

While Suwaidan’s name will be unfamiliar to most non-Muslims, Alwaleed is well-known and disdained widely by Westerners, if only for the objectionable manner of his offer, after the al Qaeda atrocities of September 11, 2001, of a $10 million check to then-mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani. The “relief donation” was accompanied by a declamation against American support for Israel, and Giuliani refused the money. Alwaleed then aggravated the offense by denouncing, in Saudi media, “Jewish pressure” as the motive for Giuliani’s action.

The rich Saudi’s grossly offensive attitude after 9/11 along with his contributions to Islamist causes and Arabocentric Western academic programs—including $20 million each to Harvard and Georgetown in 2005—have overshadowed his undeniably-reformist attitudes and actions within Saudi society. Just as Suwaidan’s incoherence reflects the confused nature of the MB, Alwaleed’s varied initiatives reveal the internal contradictions of Saudi reality.

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