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Page last updated at 10:01 GMT, Monday, 5 October 2009 11:01 UK

Saudi university critic loses job

Opening of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)
The high-tech centre is meant to break through conservative constraints

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has sacked a senior cleric who criticised a new science and technology university which opened in September.

The cleric, Sheikh Saad al-Shethry, said the mixing of sexes in any university was evil and a great sin.

He demanded the curriculum should be vetted by Islamic scholars to prevent teaching of "alien ideologies".

The $7bn university near Jeddah, named after King Abdullah, is a key project of the reform-minded Saudi monarch.

In what is being seen as a rare intervention, a royal decree removed Sheikh Saad from Saudi Arabia's most senior council of religious scholars, or ulema.

No reason was given publicly for the removal.

The timing follows the sheikh's stringent criticism of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), whose administration lies outside the control of the cleric-dominated ministry of education.

"The recommendation is to set up Sharia (Islamic law) committees at this university to oversee these studies and look into what violates the Sharia," Sheikh Saad was quoted saying last week in the Saudi press.

The government hopes the technologically advanced centre with its relaxed social constraints will help modernise the kingdom's deeply conservative society.

In contrast to the strict rules outside the sprawling campus, women are allowed to drive and are not required to wear veils in classes.



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