Saudi Arabia strives to roll back Muslim Brotherhood influence in education

Pro-Brotherhood teachers are transferred to non-teaching tasks.
Saturday 16/05/2020
Saudi students sit for their final high school exams in the city of Jeddah. (AFP)
Value-system. Saudi students sit for their final high school exams in the city of Jeddah. (AFP)

RIYADH –The Saudi ministry of education is pushing ahead with efforts to roll back Muslim Brotherhood influence in the country’s educational system.

The authorities recently decided to remove teachers who persist in teaching extremist and intolerant ideas which are inherited from the previous school curricula dominated by Muslim Brotherhood thinking.

Such  ideas, they point out, run counter the current Saudi choice of cultural and religious values of openness and moderation.

Saudi Minister of Education Hamad al-Sheikh granted regional education directors the power to “immediately remove school teaching personnel who commit intellectual breaches and assign them to administrative tasks outside schools on a temporary basis pending a decision on the case.”

But some analysts described the move as coming too late. They noted that the ministry’s previous decision to remove books by Muslim Brotherhood ideologues from the curriculum did achieve its goals in light of the continued presence of teachers imbued with the Brotherhood’s extremist ideas, including an inclination to accuse others of apostasy and call for jihad against rulers.

The ministry’s new decision does not provide for the dismissal of the pro-MB teachers from their jobs but only bans them from classrooms. The United Arab Emirates had long implemented similar measures to rid its educational system of extremist ideologies.

In March 2018, the Ministry of Education decided to exclude some teachers in primary, middle, and high schools, in addition to members of the teaching staff in universities, on charges of “being influenced by the ideas of banned groups classified as terrorist, including the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Saudi Arabia is implementing a long-term plan to dismantle all aspects of the Muslim Brotherhood’s control of Saudi society, especially in vital sectors such as education, media, and religious affairs, areas that have been targeted by “Brotherhood empowerment” programme since the 1960s.

In recent years, the Brotherhood has targeted reform moves made by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, by seeking to incite conservative Saudi groups against Riyadh’s new culture and entertainment policies. The policies included promoting tourism and hosting foreign artists.

Observers believe that the Ministry’s decision to transfer teachers imbued with the Brotherhood’s ideology to non-teaching tasks reveals an official Saudi awareness of the group’s nature and strategy.

The Muslim Brotherhood was aware of the importance of education in influencing the ideological orientation of the society and that is why they took control of it for decades despite its shaky relation at times with Saudi authorities.

At the end of 2015, Saudi Arabia decided to withdraw from school and university curricula and libraries 80 reference books promoting Muslim Brotherhood thought, among them books by key Brotherhood ideologues such as Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Abu al-A’la al-Mawdudi.

Muslim Brotherhood members flocked to Saudi Arabia from Egypt in the 1960s after a showdown they had with the government of then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Their persecution and trials in Egypt led hundreds of them to migrate to Gulf states, mainly Saudi Arabia.

The second wave of the Brotherhood migration to Saudi Arabia came after the 1991 Kuwait war, which opened the Gulf countries gates for Egyptian teachers of all levels.

The Muslim Brotherhood found in the Sarouri ideological current in Saudi Arabia a golden opportunity to re-establish its influence in the vital institutions of the country and keep their activities from being scrutinised.

The Sarouri current, introduced to Saudi Arabia by the Syrian scholar Muhammad Zain Al-Abidin, is an ideology that mixes Salafism, in order to satisfy the official orientation of the state in Saudi Arabia, with the Brotherhood’s own thinking which politicises religion.

A known figure of the Sarouri current in Saudi Arabia is Salman al-Ouda, currently in detention in Saudi Arabia on charges of illicit relations with Qatar and the International Organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood formerly led by Yusuf al-Qaradawi.