Saudi preacher 'missing' days after tweeting video criticising reforms in entertainment

Saudi preacher 'missing' days after tweeting video criticising reforms in entertainment
Activists have claimed that renowned Saudi preacher Emad Al-Moubayed has been detained by authorities after he published a video criticising recent reforms in the kingdom's entertainment industry.
3 min read
06 March, 2023
Emad al-Moubayed backtracked on his initial comments in a second video but disappeared shortly afterwards [Twitter/Screen grab]

A Saudi cleric who published a video criticising recent reforms in the kingdom's entertainment industry is reportedly missing, several activists have reported.

Emad Al-Moubayed, a renowned preacher in the kingdom who previously served as the imam at the King Abdulaziz Mosque in Dammam, was allegedly detained over his recent video, which garnered over 1.6 million views.

A hashtag #WhereIsEmadMoubayed trended on Monday after Saudi authorities said they detained a man for allegedly breaching cybercrime laws, without naming the suspect.

Police in the eastern Al-Khobar governorate said a Saudi man was arrested for "violating anti-cybercrime laws by filming and publishing visual content that included false information, which would disrupt public order". 

The New Arab could not verify whether the detained man was Al-Moubayed and has asked the Saudi embassy in London for clarification.

On 1 March, Al-Moubayed released a video on his Twitter account advising  "those in power" to "fear God" and said recent changes in the kingdom were "erasing the Islamic faith, and replacing the identity of Islam with other identities".

In the video, he addressed King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as the chief of the Authority for Entertainment, Turki Al-Sheikh, who has spearheaded social changes in the kingdom, including once-banned music concerts.

"Fear God in the affairs of this country, and fix what is happening in it of obliteration of the Islamic faith, and its replacement with other identities," Al-Moubayed said in the video.

"This country was established on the basis of faith and the establishment and application of the religion of God Almighty, and what is happening today is contrary to what the country was founded on."

His comments appeared to be in reference to the Gulf country's recent measures easing decades-long restrictions on entertainment, as part of efforts to improve its image, diversify its economy, and attract tourists.

The social liberalisation has not been accompanied by political reform however, and thousands of government opponents and human rights activists still languish in Saudi jails, where many have suffered torture and abuse.

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Al-Moubayed released a second video the following day in which he appeared to be reading from a piece of paper to "clarify what some people may have misunderstood from my first video".

"I would like to clarify and affirm that our country, its leadership, and its people are enjoying great prosperity, security and safety, and development. May God perpetuate goodness for our country and protect it from all harm," he said.

Saudi Arabia has strict cyber laws that criminalise the production and sharing of materials that could "harm public order".

Those convicted of breaking these laws can face prison sentences of up to five years.

The ultra-conservative kingdom has hosted international musicians for concerts that were unimaginable in the conservative country before 2018.

This includes Lebanese pop singer Haifa Wehbe, rapper Post Malone, and soul singer Alicia Keys.

It now allows women to drive cars and trains, and there have been ongoing reports that it could even allow alcohol in designated places, although Saudi officials continue to deny this.

The new rules have angered some conservative Muslims in the country who argue these reforms go against conventional Islamic law.