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In Saudi Arabia, 10-year imprisonment for top preacher exposes bitter infighting

In Saudi Arabia former Imam of Kaaba Sheikh Saleh al-Talib faces 10-year imprisonment

In Saudi Arabia, a former Imam of Kaaba and preacher Sheikh Saleh al-Talib has been sentenced to 10 years in jail, exposing the internal churn in the Kingdom, which is taking steps to transition away from its ultra-conservative past.

BBC Urdu service is quoting Qatar-linked Arabic 21 as saying that the Saudi appeals court which has handed over the sentence has reversed the verdict of a lower court that had acquitted the preacher.

The cleric was arrested in 2018, and prior to his detention, he had slammed the Saudi leadership by calling it “oppressive and autocratic” . According to the BBC, the Qatari network has been critical of Saudi Arabia since 2017 following tensions between Doha and Riyadh.

Though Sheikh Talib has steered clear of naming the Saudi royalty in his criticism, he has, nevertheless, highlighted social media opposition to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic and social reforms under Riyadh’s “Vision 2030”.

The sentencing of Sheikh Talib is not unprecedented as a number of Saudi clerics, with  ultra-conservative views , and critical of Prince Salman’s transition blueprint have been put behind bars, according to the BBC.

Sheikh Talib’s arrest has exposed deep fault lines in the Kingdom.

For instance, Turki-al-Shaloub, a self-styled anti-corruption scribe with over a million followers on Twitter described the verdict as “one of the stories of cruelty, corruption and injustice of the Salman regime”.

Social media backlash to the decision has been intense.

Another tweet prayed for the cleric’s early release and called for the protection of “all righteous scholars”.

Prince Salman’s Vision 2030 on the other hand calls for a complete transformation of Saudi Arabia. In a tweet, the Saudi Ministry of Investment says that Saudi Arabia “attracts more than 40 international companies to set up their regional headquarters in the Kingdom during the first quarter of 2022 followed the Saudi vision 2030”

The plan also includes developing the ultra-modern Neom city.  The new city being built along the Red Sea coast will be 33 times the size of New York City. The city is being touted as a new model for sustainable living, working and prospering. Saudi officials describe it as “the world’s most ambitious project.”

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