Manama: Manama: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah removed Culture and Information Minister Abdul Aziz Khoja from his post on Monday, hours after the minister announced the shutting down of a controversial Islamist television channel. However, no link between the two developments has been confirmed officially.
Khoja announced on Twitter that he has ordered the closing of the Wesal channel that is accused of inciting sectarian hatred, two days after an attack on a Shiite gathering place killed five people on the eve of Ashura, one of the Shiite calendar’s holiest days.
The subsequent manhunt for the killers led to the arrest of 15 people and the death of at least two in clashes, including one security personnel.
“I gave orders to shut down the office of Wesal in Riyadh and to ban any broadcasting of the channel from Saudi Arabia,” Khoja posted on his Twitter account early on Wednesday. “The channel is not Saudi in the first place,” he said, local daily Al Eqtisadiya reported on Wednesday.
Khoja did not specify the reasons for banning Wesal, but he said that the information ministry would not hesitate to take action against any media that attempts to undermine the nation’s unity, security and stability.
“The ministry, in collaboration with the security men and brave citizens, will confront, with strong determination, anyone who incites strife,” he said. “Terrorism has no religion or sect and terrorists are the enemies of all religions and sects and humanity,” he said.
Khoja’s duties will be taken over by the Haj Minister Bandar Bin Mohammad Hamza who also keeps his current post, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
The order by King Abdullah said that Khoja was removed upon his request.
After the announcement about Khoja’s replacement, Wesal posted on its Twitter account: “Latest news... Wesal channel continues... and minister [Khoja] has been relieved of his position”. The tweet appeared to have been deleted later. The channel also tweeted that it will air on Thursday at 5.30pm a segment dealing with the Eastern Province attacks.
Before making the announcement about the closure, Khoja sent a number of passionate tweets condemning the Al Ahsa attacks. “I have said it before and I will repeat it always: national unity is a red line” and “A salute to the people of Al Ahsa and its martyrs, and the martyrs of national duty, the heroes... terrorism has no sect”.
Wesal has often waded into controversy for broadcasting programmes and talk shows that highlighted differences between Islamic sects.
One of its hosts, Khalid Al Gamdi, provoked controversy in Yemen recently after posting an image of dead civilian Al Houthi protesters on Twitter and expressing joy at the sight. Al Houthis belong to the Zaidi branch of Shiite Islam.
Wesal’s Twitter account has also in the past called on followers to “bomb Shiite villages in Lebanon”.
The channel’s closure led to the launch of an Arabic hashtag on Twitter. Prominent Saudi journalist and head of Bahrain-based Al Arab television channel tweeted one word with the hashtag: “Finally”.
Some Saudis however were not pleased with the decision, saying “liberals” were responsible for it. Some changed their display pictures to Wesal’s logo. Another Twitter user said: “And what about music channels?”
Former Bahraini Islamist MP Mohammad Khalid Bu Ammar said: “Will the channels that spread their venom against our faith and incite against Gulf countries also be shut?”
Highly critical times
Saudi Arabia has recently intensified its relentless fight against terrorists and ideologies that supported or excused acts of terrorism, particularly after King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz in July urged all Muslim scholars to assume their duties and responsibilities towards God and foil attempts to malign Islam and present it as a religion of extremism, hatred and terrorism.
In an address to the Arab and Islamic nations and international community, King Abdullah said that scholars should be truthful in their statements and should not fear anyone in their drive to uphold the truth.
“Our nation is going through highly critical times, and history will be the witness against those who were the instruments and tools used by the enemy to disperse and tear up the nation and to distort the pure image of Islam,” King Abdullah said in his address.
The Saudi monarch, who has been ruling the kingdom since August 2005, said that fitnah — attempts to create schisms or exacerbate schisms within the community — had found a fertile ground in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
“Fitnah was facilitated by those who resent or hate our nation,” he said. “They believed that their attempts have been successful and they started to fill the world with terrorism and corruption. They kept on sliding further into wrongdoings. It is a real shame and a terrible disgrace that these terrorists are doing all these negative things in the name of Islam. They kill people whereas Islam has prohibited killing and they mutilate bodies. They proudly show off and diffuse their [horrible] actions in the name of Islam whereas Islam, the religion of purity, decency and humanity, has nothing whatsoever to do with that. Their actions, insolence and crimes have smeared Islam’s reputation,” he said.