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Saudis swarm Twitter to mourn king

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia | Friday 1/23/2015

Joining a swarm of Saudis taking to social media on Friday, veteran news broadcaster Abdullah al-Shihri said he would have preferred not to deliver the official announcement that King Abdullah was dead.

"I did not wish to announce this news," said Shihri, who wore a dark robe and traditional shemagh head covering to deliver the announcement from the royal court.

"May God have mercy on Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. Sincere prayers for his successor and crown prince," he wrote. 

The ailing Abdullah died early Friday aged about 90, after almost a decade on the throne.

Many Saudis took to the Internet to praise the deceased monarch but some, including campaigners for free speech and women's right to drive, were less flattering.

Abdullah was "loved by the Saudi people and the entire Muslim population. We did not lose a king today, we all lost a father", Ameera Al Taweel said in one of thousands of Twitter messages.

Saudi Army News, an official account, expressed condolences and said: "This Twitter account will stop tweeting for three days in mourning of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, may God rest his soul".

Many tweeted a hadith, or saying of the Prophet Mohammed, that death on a Friday means that one's life ended well.

Some talked of the development Abdullah fostered in the kingdom.

"Spending was generous and golden projects in all regions," wrote Naif al-Qarni.

In a country where official media are tightly controlled, the Internet offers more freedom for Saudis to communicate.

But the kingdom's record on free speech was highlighted in the final weeks of Abdullah's rule by the case of Raef Badawi, a blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail.

Badawi's Twitter account retweeted a comment on Abdullah's death saying: "God forgive him and have mercy on him."

Rights group Amnesty International said earlier that Saudi Arabia had postponed for a second time on medical grounds Badawi's flogging, which had been due to resume on Friday. He has already received 50 lashes.

Campaigners for women's right to drive referred only in passing to the king's death, saying on their Twitter account: "For all creatures whether big or small -- nothing remains but your deeds and your grave -- and only God lasts forever".

They posted a picture of the king but then followed it with photographs of Loujain Hathloul and Maysaa Alamoudi, two women's rights activists detained since early December.

Saudi Arabia, with a population of about 29 million including around 20 million Saudis, is the only country where women are not allowed to drive.

Abdullah had challenged conservatives with moves such as including women in the Shura Council, an advisory body.

A minority of those posting comments were unimpressed by his accomplishments.

He was "neither a reformer nor leader" Usamah Mohammad said in a tweet.

Abdullah is succeeded by his half-brother Salman, 79, whose Twitter account had already been updated.

"The official account of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, King of Saudi Arabia", it said, referring to the kingdom's hosting of Islam's holiest sites.

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