Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is seeking to purge its school curriculum of any influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and dismiss employees who sympathize with the banned group, the education minister said. The government will "fight extremist ideologies by reviewing school curricula and books to ensure they are free of the banned Muslim Brotherhood's agenda", Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Issa said in a statement yesterday. It also seeks to "ban books attributed to the Muslim Brotherhood from all schools and universities and remove all those who sympathize with the group", he added.

The statement comes after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told CBS television in an interview Sunday that elements of the Muslim Brotherhood, designated as a "terror group" by the kingdom, had infiltrated Saudi schools. The prince, who has vowed to return the country to "moderate Islam", has cut back the political role of hardline clerics in a historic reordering of the Saudi state.

Many members of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood - who advocate toppling rulers deemed unjust - sought refuge in Saudi Arabia after being persecuted in the 1960s by then Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. The Islamists were widely employed in the education and public sectors, putting aside their proselytism and submitting to Saudi Arabia's official Wahhabi ideology that requires obedience to the ruler. Some of them helped to establish the Sahwa or "Awakening" movement which agitated in the 1990s for democracy. The Sahwa mostly fizzled, with some activists arrested and others coaxed into conformity, though admirers and its appeal lingered.

Human Rights Watch said last September that the kingdom's religious studies curriculum stokes intolerance, with "hateful and incendiary language" towards religious minorities. HRW said a comprehensive review of school books produced by the education ministry found violent and intolerant teachings, despite official promises to eliminate them. The US considers Saudi Arabia a country of "particular concern" when it comes to religious persecution, but successive administrations have waived the potential sanctions that come with such a designation. HRW has urged the US, a key Saudi ally, to end the waiver. - Agencies