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Saudi Religious Leader Warns Twitter Users of Consequences in the Afterlife

BY Jessica McKenzie | Friday, May 17 2013

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia via Wikipedia

In late March, Saudi Arabia's top religious cleric said Twitter was for clowns and corrupters. Earlier this week, he said anyone using social media, in particular Twitter, “has lost this world and the afterlife.” His comments might be laughable, if they did not come at a time when the Saudi government is looking into monitoring or blocking social media sites and eliminating user anonymity.

At a gathering of other Saudi clerics in March, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al-Sheikh said that Twitter was “a gathering place for every clown and corrupter who post tweets that are illegitimate, false and wrong.” Al Jazeera reported that that same day an “imam at Mecca's Grand Mosque said people had the right to express themselves, but should do so cautiously in order to protect the nation's prestige and unity.”

The Grand Mufti's statement in March could be interpreted as singling out specific, corrupt users – which at least one local journalist argued, according to Al Jazeera. However, the statement this week clarified things: he meant all the Twitter users. The BBC reported that in addition to saying tweeters have lost the afterlife, the sheikh said Twitter is the platform for those who do not have any platform.

An article in The Atlantic Wire rightly points out that 'Saudi Twitter users have more to worry about than going to Hell for tweeting.'

Last October The New York Times reported on the Twitter revolution taking place in Saudi Arabia, in which dissent can take place “in real time, via shared subject headings like “Saudi Corruption” and “Political Prisoners,” known in Twitter as hashtags.” Although the New York Times was behind the times with the Twitter lingo, they probably jumped the gun when they reported that, “With so many people writing mostly under their real names – there are some 2.9 million users in the kingdom. . . and it is the world's fastest-growing Twitter zone – the authorities appear to have thrown their hands up.”

In addition to the religious condemnation being heaped on the social media platform, Al Jazeera also reported that a security spokesman for the Interior Ministry described the site as “a tool used by fighters to stir social unrest.”

The Saudi government has already been accused of reaching out to a telecom for assistance monitoring encrypted data and other online protections of social media users.

Although the sudden explosion of Twitter users may have caught the Saudi religious and political authorities by surprise, they have by no means thrown their hands up. Saudi netizens surely have an uphill battle coming their way, the Grand Mufti's comments this week were just a few warning shots.

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