By Jomana Farhat
February 20, 2012
A controversial campaign by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia to discredit Twitter has failed to silence @mujtahidd, a rising tweeting star exposing the corruption of the royal family. In an exclusive interview with Al-Akhbar, @mujtahidd spoke about his motives and vision for change in the Saudi kingdom.
Last month, Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Abdul-Aziz al-Sheikh issued a statement calling on Muslims to avoid Twitter. He argued that Twitter is used to “spread lies,” “issue fatwas without basis and not supported by evidence,” and “smear” important religious and political figures. Many were not convinced by this argument and began to speculate about the real reason behind the Saudi mufti issuing such an injunction against Twitter in particular, as opposed to the other websites and forums popular among Saudis.
So what is happening on Twitter in Saudi Arabia, where the highest number of users in the Middle East are found? There is indeed something out of the ordinary, and he goes by the twitter tag of @mujtahidd (studious in Arabic). Since last November, @mujtahidd has been tweeting about the most prominent members of the ruling family. In the process he has revealed a great deal about their various acts of corruption and financial scandals, in addition to details about their extravagant lifestyles supported by state coffers.
The list of individuals linked to the royal family targeted by @mujtahidd thus far includes the Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz and a number of his sons, including Royal Diwan chief of staff Khaled Tuwaijri, Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz (who @mujtahidd revealed has recently undergone bypass surgery), and Nayef’s son Prince Saud, who is currently serving as his father’s chief of staff.
Others targeted include Minister of Defense Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, Deputy Minister of Defense Khaled bin Sultan, Prince Talal bin Abdul-Aziz, Chairman of Al Hilal Saudi Football Club Abdulrahman bin Musa’ad, Prince Nayef bin Mamdouh, and head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice Abdul Latif al-Sheikh.
The biggest target of @mujtahidd’s tweets has been Abdul-Aziz bin Fahd. However, the biggest target of @mujtahidd’s tweets has been Abdul-Aziz bin Fahd, the youngest son of the late King Fahd that @mujtahidd refers to as “Azzouz” in his posts. @mujtahidd raises questions about Abdul-Aziz bin Fahd’s excesses, asking: “Is it true that your palace in Riyadh next to the Yamama Palace is larger than the king’s residence and cost the state around 12 billion riyals because it is comprised of several palaces? Is it true that it is 2 million square meters in area and [its construction] began in 1994 and work continued until 2003, and the real cost was 3 billion and the rest (9 billion) went between you and Hariri?”
The biggest question @mujtahidd aimed at Azzouz was “Did you resign or were you forced to resign from your post as head of the Diwan of the Council of Ministers?” He goes on to provide some details regarding Abdul-Aziz’s removal, saying “the three Tuwaijris [the King’s sons, Mutaib, Khaled and Abdul-Aziz] played a trick on King Fahd’s son [Abdul-Aziz] by sending him a message through which they convinced him that his dismissal from [his post] was imminent and that if he wanted to save face, he should tender his resignation. Then, they arranged a meeting for him with one of his uncles with whom they coordinated unbeknownst to the King [Abdullah], and he told [Abdul-Aziz] the same thing they had, so Abdul-Aziz bin Fahd was forced to accept the idea that he was dismissed upon his request.”
Abdul-Aziz bin Fahd has responded to @mujtahidd in recent weeks, denouncing his claims as slander and calling him a hired tool. He went as far as calling for a mubahala, a call for God to punish whichever one of them is lying, only to backtrack later.
Prince Talal bin Abdul-Aziz, brother of King Abdullah, got some criticism from @mujtahidd, who asked him: “Do you deny that the total land that you own within the country amounts to tens of millions of square meters and most of it is in the major cities?” This prompted Prince Talal to respond on Twitter, saying “I do not have any land except the 40,000 square meters, which is my house and some small plots surrounding it.”
He also hinted at the possibility of releasing documents that expose members of the ruling family, saying: “one of the owners of vast tracts of land has close to 500 million square meters!!...Everybody knows this.”
The ruling family, which is attempting to expose the identity of this mysterious person in hope of putting an end to the revelations. Among @mujtahidd’s tweets there is a good share dedicated to Khaled al-Tuwaijri, who is the chief of staff for the Royal Diwan. He is also the private secretary of the King and the director of the Royal Guard. He discussed Khaled’s expanding powers over the past years through an anecdote involving Prince Mishaal bin Abdul-Aziz and the King.
According to the story, “Mishaal came to greet King Abdullah, and asked him about His Majesty King Khaled, to which the King [Abdullah] replied that ‘Khaled [the former King] is dead, may God rest his soul.’ Mishaal then responded saying ‘I don’t mean Khaled bin Abdul-Aziz. I mean His Majesty King Khaled al-Tuwaijri,’” in an apparent jab at Tuwaijri’s rise in influence and power.
King Abdullah had to appease Prince Mishaal “verbally with kind words and in deeds with a deal for the second part of the Haramain rail project worth 30 billion riyals, which was won by the Al Shoula Group owned by Mishaal.”
The alleged corruption of current Deputy Minister of Defense Khaled bin Sultan was also touched upon by @mujtahidd. In this case the focus was on his arms deals and how he inflated their real price during the latest deal with the US, alongside his manipulation of stock prices of some companies.
These tweets helped @mujtahidd attract more than 200,000 followers on Twitter in just over two months. This phenomenon has caused a stir within the ruling family, which is attempting to expose the identity of this mysterious person in hope of putting an end to the revelations. This issue has become a top priority as @mujtahidd’s followers now look forward to reading the latest juicy details of what is taking place behind the gates of the princes’ palaces.
@mujtahidd promised many more surprises in the coming days as he takes his activities beyond just tweeting. In an email conversation with Al-Akhbar, @mujtahidd promised many more surprises in the coming days as he takes his activities beyond just tweeting. He insists on concealing his true identity as a “security precaution,” and he says “anyone can put forth their own theory.” The detail of the information revealed has led many to conclude that @mujtahidd is either one of the members of the ruling family or someone who was until recently close to the decision-making circles.
@mujtahidd says that his sources of information include “several individuals within the ruling family, among them princes and those who work in sensitive areas,” while he indicates that some of the information is his own.
As for the reason for divulging this information, @mujtahidd explains that “there are very few individuals from the family sympathetic to reform. Those few have no power but they have information” which they can leak.
This is an indication that the differences within the ruling family are peaking to an extent that certain princes are no longer afraid to go after other members of the family.
@mujtahidd rejects the notion that he is part of score settling between the various Saudi princes. About his sources, @mujtahidd says he believes in “the necessity of exposing corruption and the corrupt as part of an awareness project that contributes to accelerating political change.” He explains that it has fallen upon him in particular to reveal this information because: “I have known this group for a long time due to my position, my activities, and my work over the years” and because “I am more capable [than the others] of writing, expressing [my ideas], and facing the public.”
@mujtahidd rejects the notion that he is part of score settling between the various Saudi princes, pointing out that “if [my tweets] were focused on one particular prince, then perhaps this would be an explanation, but the fact that the issues discussed have targeted all factions [of the family] disproves this hypothesis.”
He also denies being beholden to certain interests, adding, “I use my relationships to realize my goal of making the people aware of the immense scale of corruption, and I direct the information [I gather and disseminate] at realizing this goal. Nobody can exploit me, no-matter how hard they try.” According to @mujtahidd, his goals will not be achieved until the awareness he is promoting translates into “action by the people demanding to fight corruption and implement their demands in practice.”
The goal @mujtahidd has set for his action may seem unrealistic to many but he disagrees. “If the people were not ready to believe @mujtahidd and sympathize with him, then his number of followers would not have reached 200,000.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.