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Riyadh Preparing for Normalization; From Manama to Religious Pulpits

On Friday some of the sermons of Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, the Friday Prayer Imam of Masjid al-Haram, were devoted to the prophetic tradition of relations with the Jews, which resulted in provoking negative reactions on social media platforms.

Last week, during Friday sermons, the Prayer Imam of Masjid al-Haram stated that The religion of Islam has some teachings about the treatment of Muslims with non-Muslims, and in this regard, he said “The Prophet had mortgaged his shield to a Jew when he died, he had shared harvest from the land of the Jews of Khaybar among two. The excellence he showed to his Jewish neighbor led the latter to Islam”. These sermons, delivered shortly after the normalization of relations between the United Arab Emirates and the Israeli regime, were viewed by social media activists as an encouragement for other Islamic countries to normalize their relations with the Israeli regime, and therefore faced harsh and critical reactions.

Considering the historical alliance between the families of Al-Saud and Al-Sheikh, under which Al-Sheikh played the role of legitimizing the policies of Al-Saud, that was going well without much trouble before the beginning of bin Salman’s reform programs, the question arises whether the Saudi clerics will accompany bin Salman on the issue of normalization or not?

Al-Sheikh and Al-Saud; from Historical Alliance to Current Disagreements

The relations between Al-Saud and Al-Sheikh have historical roots, which as a matter of fact, the formation of Saudi Arabia is the result of this alliance. At the beginning of the formation of this alliance, Al-Sheikh issued the fatwa of jihad and fighting against the rivals of Al-Saud, and Al-Saud was in charge of the field fighting against their rivals in the peninsula, until they finally succeeded in forming a government called the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This alliance has traditionally entrusted governmental and political affairs to Al-Saud, and has assigned religious affairs to Al-Sheikh at the cost of legitimizing Al-Saud’s policies.

The alliance continued without facing significant problems before Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reform plan began. However, since the beginning of this program and especially the social reform program, the relationship of the two sides has entered a new era that has been full of tension and distrustfulness.

In fact, some of the more traditional Saudi scholars and clerics were reluctant to accept these reforms and criticized bin Salman’s stance, which resulted in bin Salman taking action subsequently leading to the imprisonment of a significant number of them. With the knowledge of Mohammed bin Salman’s personality, some Saudi leaders opposed his coming to power from the very beginning and preferred Muhammad Bin Nayef as an alternative to him. This led to the first wave of arrests of Saudi clerics three months after Crown Prince bin Salman’s reign had begun, during which individuals such as Salman al-Awda, Aidh Al-Qarni and Ali Al-Omari were imprisoned on charges of having links with the Muslim Brotherhood. Even a person such as Mohammed al-Arefe who was close to the regime had been arrested at some point.

Accordingly, after bin Salman’s coronation, al-Saud’s relations with Saudi clerics had entered a new phase. The tensions that have been created, have lead to the damage of the historic alliance between al-Sheikh and al-Saud, which has forced the parties to be more cautious of their actions.

Riyadh Preparing for Normalization and their Concern over al-Sheikh’s Response

Saudi Arabia’s positions and actions in recent years well prove that Riyadh has established close and secret relations with Tel Aviv, and meanwhile it has been wary of revealing such relations due to the consequences it may have inflicted.

However, Bahrain’s actions in the field of foreign policy, which are accompanied by a kind of dependence on and adherence to Riyadh, confirms that Saudi Arabia is not only a staunch supporter of the normalization of relations with the Israeli regime, but is also preparing for it.

Bahrain has joined the United Arab Emirates in agreeing to normalize relations with Israel, in a US-brokered deal that Palestinian leaders denounced as “another treacherous stab to the Palestinian cause”. Donald Trump, the president of the United States, announced the deal on Twitter on Friday after he spoke by phone to Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Therefore, it seems that Riyadh is preparing to join the UAE and Bahrain in normalizing its relations with the Israeli regime, and although it has long had a secret relationship with Tel Aviv, it is on the path of making it public.

In this regard, the claim of some Israeli officials that there is a possibility of normalization of the Israeli regime’s relations with countries bordering the Persian Gulf, strengthens the speculations that the normalization of relations between Riyadh and Tel Aviv is imminent. An issue that acts as a deterrent to Riyadh in making such a decision is the reaction of Saudi scholars and clerics to such a deed. On this basis, Riyadh seems determined on taking steps to reduce the impact of the wave of protests done by Saudi clerics and, more importantly, the impact of protests being triggered by the people before announcing the normalization of relations with Tel Aviv through a group of clerics close to the government.

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