Just one day after Saudi Arabia’s minister of culture shut down a Sunni religious television station that he determined was inciting sectarian hatred against the country’s Shiite minority, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz has stepped in, firing the man.
Minister of Culture Abdulaziz bin Mohiuddin Khoja wrote on Twitter Wednesday, “I had ordered the shutdown of Wesal channel’s bureau in Riyadh and banning it from broadcasting in the kingdom.” On Tuesday, he announced that the Wesal channel would get axed.
Khaled al-Maeena, editor-at-large of the Jeddah-based Saudi Gazette, told Al Jazeera that the subsequent firing of the minister was mere coincidence and unrelated to his previous actions. He said that Khoja, who is seventy-four years old, left for health reasons and old age.
He did add, however, that it was long overdue for the government to crack down on sectarian strife. “As for the question of sectarian killings … this is the first time this has happened on that scale, and it has caused a lot of people concern,” al-Maeena said. There was a desperate need for “more dialogue” throughout the kingdom, he added.
On Monday, at least five were killed and nine wounded when masked jihadists attacked a Shia shrine in eastern Saudi Arabia.
A police spokesman said of the incident, “As a group of citizens was leaving a building … three masked men opened fire at them with machine guns and pistols.” Fifteen were arrested in connection with the issue. Shiite Muslims were celebrating the holiday of Ashura, which honors the death of a grandson of the prophet Muhammad. Some have pointed at al-Qaeda and its affiliates for facilitating the attack.
Shias make up an estimated 15 percent of the Saudi population.