‘Source of all evil’: Top Saudi cleric slams Twitter

‘Source of all evil’: Top Saudi cleric slams Twitter
In the latest attack against Twitter in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf state's leading cleric criticized Twitter as "the source of all evil and devastation," triggering a social media firestorm.

Saudi Arabia finds itself in a rather complicated relationship with Twitter, the popular social media platform. With the highest percentage of active Twitter users in the world among internet subscribers, Saudi Arabia, with its ultraconservative, authoritarian Islamic regime, also ranks as one of its most ardent critics.

"If it were used correctly, it could be of real benefit, but unfortunately it's exploited for trivial matters," Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh remarked on his "Fatwa" television program on Monday, as quoted by AFP.

Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh. (AFP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Twitter is "the source of all evil and devastation," he exclaimed.

"People are rushing to it thinking it's a source of credible information but it's a source of lies and falsehood."

Twitter users quickly took to the platform to express their opinions on the cleric's views.

"This is why I will repent, and close my account to distance myself from this great evil," one Twitter user wrote with apparent sarcasm.

Some users came out in support of the cleric, including this one who wrote: "I swear the mufti has spoken the truth; the evils of Twitter are many."

This is certainly not the first time a high-ranking Saudi cleric has come out against the microblogging site.

In March, a Saudi court sentenced an unidentified man to eight years in prison on a number of charges, including inciting protests and mocking the monarch on Twitter.

The offender had been charged with inciting "families of those arrested for security reasons to protest by publishing Tweets and videos on YouTube," Justice Ministry spokesman Fahd al-Bakran was quoted by official news agency, SPA, as saying.

In February, Riyadh passed new counter-terrorism legislation that makes it an act of terrorism for any person to “insult the reputation of the state or its position,” thus forcing Saudi Twitter users to choose their 140-character messages very carefully.

In the same month, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which serves as a religious police to monitor peoples' activities in accordance with Islamic law, announced surveillance of Twitter accounts in an effort to crackdown on people engaged in sorcery.

Reuters/Susan Baaghil

The religious watchdog is monitoring those accounts which “are spreading vice and witchcraft” through the community, said Ahmed Al Jardan, the Commission’s spokesman, as quoted by the Saudi news network Al Arabiya.

Jardan said that every fourth network user owned a Twitter account and that the total number of internet subscribers in the Gulf state is estimated at around 7 million - surpassing the combined population of Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar.

The majority of internet users in Saudi Arabia does not own PCs, but use their mobile phones to access the system.

Experts say Saudis are increasingly attracted to microblogging platforms like Twitter and Facebook in an effort to express themselves and their occasionally radical opinions in the ultraconservative Muslim country.