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Saudi Arabia Vows to Purge Muslim Brotherhood Influence from Schools

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Daniel Berehulak/Getty

The education ministry of Saudi Arabia has promised to purge every trace of Muslim Brotherhood ideology from textbooks and fire anyone sympathetic to the group who works for the school system.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Education Minister Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Isa said that school curricula and books would be reviewed to “ensure they do not reflect the banned Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda.”

Isa said that materials in violation of these standards would be removed from schools and universities, as would employees who “sympathize with the group its ideology.”

Haaretz notes action has already been taken along these lines, as one Saudi university announced it would sack employees suspected of ties to the Brotherhood in September. This raised understandable concerns about civil liberties, which the Saudi government addresses by saying the problem of extremist ideology is so serious that stern measures must be taken to combat it.

That was effectively Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s response when 60 Minutes asked about his anti-extremism program last week.

“Saudi schools have been invaded by many elements from the Muslim Brotherhood organization, surely to a great extent. Even now, there are some elements left. It will be a short while until they are all eradicated completely,” he promised. “Of course, no country in the world would accept that its educational system be invaded by any radical group.”

The cynical view is that Saudi Arabia already has an extremist ideology, the Wahhabis, and they do not like the Muslim Brotherhood muscling in on their turf. Haaretz was a bit more generous in its assessment, arguing that the Wahhabis “espoused a political philosophy that demands obedience to the ruler” in addition to extremist lunacy.

This clearly made them more appealing to the Saudi monarchy than the Muslim Brotherhood, which “advances an active political doctrine urging revolutionary action” – in other words, overthrowing the government.

The Brotherhood threat is not fanciful paranoia—the group really has held a substantial position in the Saudi education system, although its high-water mark was back in the Nineties. The Education Minister explained that Brotherhood members fled Egypt in the Seventies, settled in Saudi Arabia, and sought teaching positions at public schools and universities as well as organizing student groups.

The New Arab points out that while human rights groups have been critical of “hateful and incendiary language” toward religious minorities in Saudi educational materials, including some “violent and intolerant teachings,” they were largely attributed to Wahabi influences rather than the Muslim Brotherhood.

There is no question that Crown Prince Mohammed has made major progress toward modernizing Saudi life and pushing back against all sorts of extremist influences. The next step might require letting the Saudi establishment pretend they are thrashing the banned Muslim Brotherhood while they clean up all manner of extremist junk, move closer to the West, and put the looming threat of sanctions due to religious persecution behind them for good.

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