In an ironical turn of events, Saudi Arabia’s state security agency released and published a promotional video on twitter categorising feminism, homosexuality, atheism and more than three dozen other categories as forms of extremism. This has come at a time when the conservative Muslim kingdom also seeks to promote tolerance to attract tourists and foreigners.
The animated clip was posted on Twitter at the weekend by a verified account of the State Security Presidency with a saying, “all forms of extremism and perversion are unacceptable”.
The news was first reported by the Reuters. It listed those concepts alongside takfir -the Islamist militant practice of labelling followers of other schools of Islam unbelievers.
“Don’t forget that excess of anything at the expense of the homeland is considered extremism,” said the promo’s voice-over. Such “extremist behaviour” is grounds for imprisonment and flogging, the government-aligned newspaper Al Watan reminded readers in a follow up report on Monday.
Saudi Arabia has recently undertaken a lot of reforming steps in a bid to present itself as an open society and attract foreign investment to transform its oil-dependent economy. The Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has also been pushing for a more moderate form of Islam while promoting nationalist sentiment in the country.
He, recently, initiated many first-of-its-kind changes like loosening of social restrictions and launching of a tourist visa. Also, Riyadh has chipped away at a guardianship system that assigns each woman a male relative to approve important decisions throughout their lives.
But the authorities continue to crack down on dissent, arresting scores of critics including clerics, intellectuals and activists.
Last year, when the ban on women driving was protested, nearly a dozen women’s right advocates were detained. Activists and diplomats argued that it was a clear signal that reform would happen only at the government’s initiative.
Under Saudi law, supporting groups classified as extremist organisations can lead to imprisonment.
Homosexuality and atheism have long been illegal and punishable by death in the absolute monarchy, where public protests and political parties are banned and the media is tightly controlled.
By Tuesday, the oil-rich kingdom tried to distance itself from the incident. The General Department for Counter Terrorism, which produced the animated video, deleted the tweet. Then Al Watan took down its Monday article. Finally, the head of Saudi’s State Security told Saudi-owned Al Ekhbariya TV that the news was “baseless” and that the video had “many mistakes … defining extremism.” The video, he said, was published by an unauthorized “individual.”