The Rise of the Thought Police in Saudi Arabia

In what might read to some like a further dispatch from our (fictional) Department of Bureaucratic Oppression, but is instead a series of dispatches from the real world, the Saudi government has relaunched a cleverly titled “thought policing” initiative. A slightly more literal translation might be “thought security.” Possible thought crimes appear to include Shi’ism, Sufism, secularism, interest in political parties, and attempts to organize demonstrations and sit-ins.
True totalitarian states are historically rare and the word should not be thrown around lightly, but the apparent effort to transform Saudi Arabia’s ‘religious police,’ the Committees for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, into a thought-policing body has a clear whiff of totalitarianism. Time will tell if the Saudi thought security initiative is an inept bureaucratic initiative or a substantial expansion into political repression for the religious police.


shurta-leftThe Police : for torturing the people.

To introduce the initiative, higher officials of the religious police were summoned to a Sept. 10 conference headed by the son of the kingdom’s Crown Prince. Excerpts from Al Sharq Al Awsat.

Prince Faisal Bin Suleiman, governor of Medina Province, inaugurated on Tuesday a series of conferences to advance the Committee For The Promotion Of Virtue And The Prevention Of Vice’s central role in upholding thought security. At the meeting, which took place at Medina’s Meridian hotel, Prince Faisal thanked Dr. Abdellatif Bin Abdelaziz, head of the Virtue and Vice Committee, for organizing the get-together. The meeting seeks to reinforce thought security, and increase the training of senior staff of the Virtue and Vice Committee, so that it may better confront thought deviations and extremism in all of its permutations.

Faisal praised the efforts made by the Virtue and Vice committee’s presidency to modernize the organization’s mechanisms, underlining the importance of the role of the Virtue and Vice Committee in protecting society from deviant thoughts, and reinforcing thought security. The occasion began with an audiovisual presentation detailing upcoming conference sessions for Virtue and Vice Committee members.

Then it was the turn of the Virtue and Vice Committee president to give his talk: “On this blessed day, in this blessed land, and with the grace of God Almighty, we meet with the aim of discussing and working on one of the most important issues facing our nation in this moment: the question of promoting thought security,” he said. “And as everyone here is aware, looking after thought security is a fundamental matter, because it is the foundation for establishing security in all of its forms and manifestations. As everyone is also aware, the proper and true basis for security is implementing the monotheism mandated by God.” He also added that “whoever does not fill himself and his mind with true monotheism will fall into the mistakes that undermine the security and the stability of societies.”

The proper enforcement of Islamic law in society, said the committee’s president, is the reason the country is blessed with security, stability and prosperity. He praised the approach taken by the country’s leaders since the establishment of the blessed Saudi state at the hand of the Imam Mohamed Bin Saud, in particular its basis on the call to monotheism, the rooting of monotheism in the minds of the people, and establishing the law of God everywhere possible on earth. He said the project is backed by numerous experts on Islamic jurisprudence, who will organize study conferences and initiatives around the theme of thought security, to fortify society against religious and thought pollution, a trap many Islamic societies have fallen into.

The president also added that these initiatives are being launched in numerous cities around the kingdom. These sessions, he explained, will be of great help to every promoter of virtue and preventer of vice, in repelling the misconceptions that he encounters in statements and publications that assail the stability and security of the country.
-Al Sharq Al Awsat


saudi-balcony21 Saudi balcony view. Al Riyad. Photo CC: Edward.

The kingdom-wide seminars for Virtue and Vice officers began soon after, and in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, the focus was naturally on thought security’s role in preventing civic unrest. The Eastern Province is home to the Saudi kingdom’s Shi’ite population, who live on top of an uncomfortable amount of the country’s oil. Saudi Shi’ites are severely repressed, and the province is occasionally rocked by demonstrations and even insurrection. From Al Hayat.

A four-week conference entitled “The Role of the Virtue and Vice Committee Member in Promoting Thought Security” aims at averting “terrorism in all its forms, including sit-ins and demonstrations,” according to Sheikh Omar al-Duweish, director of the Eastern Province branch of the Virtue and Vice Committee, which is organizing the conference. “The negative and dangerous influences these forms of terrorism exert on individuals and society are destructive, inhibiting nation-building by encouraging factional strife and sowing doubt about the foundations of the true law.”

In a press release, al-Duwesih said that the conferences will instruct participants “on several themes, among them the glorification of the texts of Islamic law and the correct position to take toward strife [dissent]particularly of the takfiri variety [which proclaims other Muslims as apostates].” Al-Duweish underlined the necessity of “maintaining security, and of the obedience of Muslims to their leaders unless he orders them to become apostates, and the need to stand together as one.”

Duweish said that the conference sessions are led by a group of experts on Islamic jurisprudence and academics specializing in thought security, with the participation of other relevant government bodies, and in partnership with universities.
– Abdallah Al Dahilan and Omar Al Mahboub


shurta-rightThe Police : for torturing the people.

Thought crime from Egypt has long bedeviled Saudi authorities; an enormous number of Egyptian professionals live and work in the kingdom, bringing with them such homegrown ideologies as Arab nationalism and bourgeois Islamism. For some years, the Saudi state has lived in fear of alternatives to its own brand of neutered Islamism, and in particular that of the Muslim Brothers. Undoubtedly one reason Saudi Arabia was the main financier of the coup against the Brotherhood government in Egypt this summer. Newly minted experts on thought security are suddenly everywhere. From Al Manar.

Historian Saleh El Saadoun reveals that an overwhelming majority of university teachers in the kingdom are Muslim Brothers. “Ninety percent of Saudi university teachers belong to the Muslim Brothers organization, a group whose aim is to seize power in Saudi Arabia,” he says.The historian and expert on thought security made his revelation on Saudi journalist Nadine al-Badir’s television program “Orientations” on the Al Alem Channel. Besides Al Saadoun, guests included thought security expert Dr. Abderrahman Al Wassel and Qassem Al Khalidi, active in confronting political party activities. According to Saadoun the Muslim Brothers are a high level threat to the Saudi state.Echoing this, [political parties expert]Khalidi said “In Saudi Arabia, curing this kind of thought has been a major priority, but we have overlooked the real reasons that give rise to this terrorist ideology… Ordinary people do not realize the danger of the Brothers. Some of them have this outdated notion that criticizing the Brothers is somehow an attack on Islam. But in the Brothers’ actions disfigure our religion and the image of religion. Brotherhood ideology is the same as that of the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda. The only difference is that the ideology of the Brotherhood is a constructive ideology.”

[Thought security expert] Al-Wassel said that “the Muslim brothers accuse all of those who oppose them of being foreign tools. But it has recently become clear that it is actually they who are a Western construction. It is the West that stood with them in their revolution that brought them to power in Egypt. We can all see what actually happened in the Arab Spring countries, how the support and aid came in, and these states became tools of the West, lost touch with their own people.”
-Al Manar


saudi-balcony21 Saudi balcony view. Al Riyad. Photo CC: Edward Musiak.

The Saudi neologism seems to have immediately appealed to other Arab Gulf autocrats in these agitated times. In neighboring Kuwait, parliamentary deputy Abderrahman al-Jiran cataloged for readers of Al Watan a long list of the risks to thought security, including such foreign concepts as ‘political opposition.’

Among the biggest dangers to our national security today is the flood of foreign culture coming in to our country through different kinds of media. This is a long term obstacle to our national culture’s development, since it brings in the styles and fashions of the monolithic culture of the West. On one side of the scale sits our stable national culture, while the other side strains under the enormous weight of all the imported cultural production of these other societies. Our own culture fades and, with the passing of time, could disappear entirely under the onslaught of the newcomer.

First [foreign culture]will undermine the pillars of our society and promote agitation among our people. This is among the major threats to our national security, threats that come in different shapes: the call to change the existing political system, the breaching of public order, the spreading of ideas which will create strife among the different communities of our society. […]

Second, multinational business corporations undermine the axis of our thought security and the stability of our national state, doing so under the guise of the principle of partnership in investment and providing opportunities to bring industrialization to the country. Their presence generates middle classes in the society that are well-fed with foreign culture while a large part ofthe society is sent to the margin. The elites grow addicted to foreign cultural imports becoming spiritually and socially homogenous with the West, while the “national character” is being stripped of its historical virtues. […]

The fact that the progeny of the Muslims are sent to study abroad, which impacts them enormously with Western styles of life and modes of thinking, morals and religions, is another major threat to our national security. They ape the Westerners, they are inhabited by feelings of weakness and mental defeat and they do not feel the desire anymore to improve their society and participate in its developing projects.

A look at Egypt shows to what degree foreign influence has become a threat to their national security; Egypt being much more Western-influenced than any other country in the region. This is due to the number of students who obtain scholarships to study in the West, and the type of studies they chose to do there.

During Sadat’s time, the number of Egyptian students who were sent to study in the USA thanks to so-called “peace scholarships” was 70 thousand students. In the American embassy in Cairo a League of Egyptian Students in the USA was founded, becoming a headquarters for the control of the minds of the students and their intellectual orientations. This raises serious questions about the true role and real scope of American cultural and societal domination in Egypt. […]

Finally, foreign publications destabilize our national culture through publicizing untruths and impostures that sometimes brought back to life sectarian sensitivities, through publicizing Western culture, falsifying historical facts or inciting the people against their governments. […]

Among the ideas most propagated by these publications is the need for social success, making that success man’s primary goal, turning this idea into a religion followed by generations of young people of both sexes. […]

These books also made it possible for new words which are foreign to us to infiltrate our culture and become omnipresent in our educative institutions, to the point that they become ordinary concepts among the educated: words like “mu’arada” (political opposition) or “nukhba” (elite) Meanwhile we lose authentic concepts of our own culture like: shura [leader’s consultative council], Hisba [obligation to promote virtue and forbid vice], the caliphate [God’s designated leader on Earth], imama [theological leadership], etc. […]
– Abderrahman al Jiran


saud-police Saudi military parade. Makka. Photo CC: Omar Shatriwala..

Excerpt from the agenda of a Virtue and Vice Committee meeting. From Al Sakina.

The benefits of preserving the mind from wandering into fields it cannot comprehend or benefit from:

There are great benefits to preventing the mind from getting interested in issues it cannot comprehend and that are of no use. First it will protect the person from falling into disobedience to God. Secondly, it will also protect the person from uncertainty, doubt and confusion that could happen if he releases his mind to wander freely. Thirdly, it will preserve the person from being convinced by deviant doctrines and stray thoughts, such as: takfirism, murjitism, shi’ism, asceticism, rationalism, democracy, secularism, liberalism…

-Ibrahim Bin Abdallah Al Zahrani Translated from Arabic by International Boulevard