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Don’t tell King Abdullah how to run King Abdullah University

Don’t tell King Abdullah how to run King Abdullah University

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah will apparently only put up with so much from his clerics. Sheikh Saad al-Shethry has been removed from the kingdom’s highest council of religious scholars by royal decree, after he criticized a newly-opened multibillion-dollar university for being un-Islamic. Shethry had a particular problem with co-ed classes:

“Mixing is a great sin and a great evil,” al-Shethri was quoted as saying. “When men mix with women, their hearts burn and they will be diverted from their main goal (which is) … education.”

Abdullah has acquired a reputation as an unlikely reformer after this year’s Valentine’s Day reforms, in which he sacked the head of the infamous religious police and appointed a woman to his cabinet for the first time. But as Saudi Arabia expert Toby Jones argued at the time, Abdullah is probably less interested in liberalizing Saudi society than he is eliminating threats to his family’s power.

The firing of Shethry certainly seems to be an example. The university — which is named after the king, of course —  is something of a legacy project for Abdullah. He has touted it as a “beacon of tolerance” and as part of his plan to make Saudi Arabia a center of technological innovation. His patience for unsolicited sharia advice from the peanut gallery is likely to be pretty low.

Scott Nelson/KAUST via Getty Images