Cablegate: Banning of Saudi Salafi Books at Brotherhood Book

DE RUEHKU #0775/01 1360948
P 160948Z MAY 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 KUWAIT 000775




E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/08/2027

Classified By: Ambassador Richard LeBaron for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C/NF) Summary and Comment: Salafi MPs and their
supporters have stepped up their threats to subject Dr.
Abdullah Al-Ma'touq, Minister of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs to
a parliamentary grilling. The proximate cause was the
banning of several books by former Saudi Grand Muftis
Abdulaziz Bin Baz and Muhammad Ibn 'Uthaymin from an annual
Islamic book exhibition. However, Kuwait's Salafis have long
wanted to oust Al-Ma'touq from the Ministry of Awqaf since
they see him as reducing their influence in the ministry
through his hiring practices. The various Salafi groups
showed rare cohesion in turning the issue into the major news
story in Kuwait. However, they failed to convince many of
their other Islamist colleagues, especially the Muslim
Brotherhood, to join their cause. The episode shows the
divisions between the Islamist groups in Kuwait, who barely
managed to keep their parliamentary bloc together after an
ego clash between the Muslim Brotherhood and tribalist MPs
earlier this year. It also demonstrates the Salafis' greater
appetite for ideological confrontation than the ICM/Muslim
Brotherhood MPs, who have a better understanding of the
compromises necessary to be effective political players. End
Summary and Comment.

Books By Saudi Salafi Ideologues Banned

2. (C/NF) Over the past several weeks, Kuwait's Salafis
launched scathing attacks on Dr. Abdullah Al-Ma'touq,
Minister of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs. The proximate cause
of the attacks was the banning of several books containing
the writings of former Saudi Grand Muftis Abdulaziz Bin Baz
(d. 1999) and Muhammad Ibn 'Uthaymin (d. 2001). (Note: Both
are popular among Kuwaiti Salafis but enjoy respect
throughout Kuwait society for providing religious legitimacy
for U.S. and other non-Muslim forces to stage in Saudi Arabia
in order to oust Iraq from Kuwait. End Note.) The books were
banned from an annual Islamic book exhibition organized by
the Social Reform Society (the social wing of the Muslim
Brotherhood in Kuwait) from April 21 - May 4. An Awqaf
source told PolOff that the reason for the bannings was that
the books contained fatwas declaring Muslims to be infidels
for minor offenses such as neglecting prayer out of laziness
(i.e. as opposed to the more severe offense of neglecting
prayer because of a lack of faith). The vast majority of the
writings of the two sheikhs have not been banned and were
selling briskly at the book exhibition; one vendor told
PolOffs that a book they co-authored was his second best
seller this year.

3. (C/NF) As the controversy heated up, the ministries ran
for cover. The Information Minister publicly criticized the
Awqaf Ministry for committing a serious error in banning the
books. Meanwhile, the Awqaf Ministry asserted that it only
makes recommendations on books that should be banned, but
that the Information Ministry makes the final decision.
Awqaf held a press conference on May 8 to say that it
recommended that the Information Ministry lift the ban on the
books in question. Even after extensive media coverage over
several weeks, there is still confusion among the public
about which books were banned, who was responsible, and
whether the books are still banned. The Government itself
has not clarified the contradictory positions of the
Information and Awqaf Ministries.

Salafis Use Controversy to Attack Awqaf Minister
--------------------------------------------- ---

4. (C/NF) The three MPs associated with Kuwaiti Salafi
groups led the attack on Al-Ma'touq. Dr. Ali Al-'Omair and
Dr. Waleed Tabtaba'i, both associated with the more hardline
and political Scientific Salafi Movement (Al-Haraka
Al-Salafiyya) joined forces with Ahmad Baqer, who is
associated with the more socially-oriented Traditional Salafi
Grouping (Al-Tajammu' Al-Salafi) in daily press statements
aimed at forcing Al-Ma'touq to resign. The various factions
of Kuwait's Salafis movement banded together for seminars and
rallies criticizing the minister. Participants in the
rallies are a who's who of the Kuwaiti Salafi community,
including: the three aforementioned MPs; Khalid Sultan, the
U.S.-educated leader of the Traditional Salafi Grouping;
firebrand Islamist tribal MP Khalid Al-Adwa; MP Hussein
Mezyed, a tribal Islamist who received Salafi backing in the
2006 elections; former Salafi MP Fahd Al-Khanna; Muhammad
Hayif Al-Mutairi, the Secretary General of a vocal Salafi
group called the Nation's Invariables; and Scientific Salafi
Secretary General Turki Al-Dhafeeri.


KUWAIT 00000775 002 OF 002

5. (C/NF) Salafis have long made their disapproval of
Al-Ma'touq clear. They lobbied to block his reappointment
when the new cabinet was formed in March and many political
observers had expected the Prime Minister to exclude
Al-Ma'touq rather than provoke the ire of the Salafis. Among
the accusations hurled at Al-Ma'touq is the charge that he is
a Sufi. The movement, anathema to most Salafis, emphasizes
spirituality over strict adherence to legal rules. For
instance, Nation's Invariables leader Muhammad Hayif told
attendees at a rally on May 13 that the Al-Ma'touq era has
led to some imams leading prayers to Muhammad rather than
Allah. However, the Sufi accusation is more likely a Salafi
shorthand for someone who is not sufficiently committed to
their particular strict interpretation of Islam. One Muslim
Brotherhood-affiliated Islamist contact told PolOff that the
Salafis see Al-Ma'touq's emphasis on the ministry's
moderation project, with its declared focus on tolerance and
combating extremism, as a not-so-thinly veiled attack on them.

6. (C/NF) Behind the charged rhetoric, many observers
believe the Salafis' main objection to Al-Ma'touq is his
hiring and firing decisions, which the Salafis believe have
lessened their influence in the Awqaf Ministry since
Al-Ma'touq became minister in July 2003. The Awqaf Ministry
is responsible for hiring imams and assigning them to
mosques. The ministry also suspends imams if their speeches
violate the "mosque compact," a document which binds imams
and restricts their right to talk about politics during their
sermons. The Salafis have publicly accused the ministry of
suspending 30-35 imams during Al-Ma'touq's tenure, most of
whom have Salafi leanings.

To Grill or not to Grill?

7. (C/NF) The Salafi MPs loudly threatened Al-Ma'touq with
an imminent parliamentary grilling if he did not resign.
These threats came, however, less than two months after the
Government resigned en masse over conflicts with the
parliament and increasing rumors of a parliamentary
dissolution if the "two authorities" could not cooperate
better. Most parliamentarians agreed that the
confrontational relations were unproductive and that the new
government should be given some time to govern. The
Government also reportedly worked out a backroom deal with
the ICM to appoint an ICM member as a minister in exchange
for the ICM's cooperation in easing Government-parliament
relations. The ICM -- without whom the Salafis could not hope
to sway the Islamist bloc in parliament to support the
grilling -- therefore opposed further confrontations with
the Government.

8. (C/NF) While some Salafis no doubt opposed the book
banning on principle, others saw it as a political
opportunity. Politically ambitious Salafi MP Ahmad Baqer
told a local newspaper that he thought the ICM and liberals
could not oppose the grilling because both Islam and the
freedom of speech were at issue, while the populist Popular
Action Bloc would always support grilling to embarrass
ministers. Baqer also argued that Al-Ma'touq would not have
any parliamentary support since he is an independent Islamist
with no connections to any organized political group.

9. (C/NF) Baqer and the Salafis likely miscalculated. To
date, no Muslim Brotherhood member -- whether from the
political wing (the Islamic Constitutional Movement) or from
the social wing (the Social Reform Society) -- has joined in
criticizing the book banning. As one Brotherhood contact put
it: "Why should we fight for their (i.e. the Salafis) issue?"
The Salafis toned down their rhetoric following a meeting
with the Prime Minister May 12. In the end, they found only
tepid support from one or two isolated tribal Islamist MPs to
join their crusade against Al-Ma'touq. On May 14, Salafi MP
Tabtaba'i announced that both the Popular Action Bloc and the
Islamic Bloc had requested that the grilling be postponed
until the next legislative session begins in the fall. He
insisted that he and Al-'Omair would pursue it at that time,
but this is a clear defeat for the Salafis.

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