That Saudi Arabia is stuck in the Middle Ages is not news. What is news is that a prominent Saudi cleric is taking on what has become a major cultural trend in the Arab world, as reported by Reuters:

A senior Saudi cleric has said purveyors of horoscopes on Arab television should face the death penalty, a paper said on Sunday, days after another cleric argued death for TV owners.

“Sorcerers who appear on satellite channels who are proven to be sorcerers have committed a great crime … and the Muslim consensus is that the apostate’s punishment is death by the sword,” Sheikh Saleh al-Fozan told al-Madina daily. …

Many of the hundreds of Arab satellite channels have sprung up in recent years specialise in horoscopes and other advice to callers on solving problems that is seen as “sorcery.”

In their capacity as judges, clerics of Saudi Arabia’s austere form of Islam often sentence “sorcerers” to death.

Fozan, a member of the Higher Council of Clerics, was responding to a controversy ignited by a Council colleague, Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan, who said last week that owners of Arab TV shows should be tried and face death over some shows. …

Lohaidan, who is the head of Saudi Arabia’s Islamic sharia courts, told Saudi radio: “I want to advise the owners of these channels that broadcast programmes with indecency and vulgarity and warn them of the consequences … They can be put to death through the judicial process.”

He was referring to comedy shows and soap operas airing in Ramadan, a month of fasting when Muslims are supposed to focus on God. Critics say Ramadan has become an orgy of food and television consumption once the fast ends at sunset. …

The Reuters article concludes by explaining the tension between state and religion in Saudi Arabia that drove these clerics to lash out:

The owners of Arab entertainment channels, including MBC, ART, Orbit, Rotana and LBC, are mostly Saudi royals and businessmen closely allied to them.

Concerned about the country’s international image, some key members of the Saudi royal family have promoted liberal reforms. The clerics fear plans to limit their extensive influence in what is the world’s largest oil exporter.

Like little children, when faced with opposition, the Saudi clerics react in typical immature fashion — by stamping and fuming and making threats. Nice, huh?

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