It was unlikely that Salman al-Odah’s open letter to the government would receive an official response, but pundits in the government-controlled newspapers were quick to react with what one outside observer described as a smear campaign. Former editor-in-chief of the semi-official Asharq al-Awsat Tariq Alhomayed wrote a strongly worded article Sunday where he accused al-Odah of “revealing his blatant Muslim Brotherhood agenda.” He says:
It is strange that Ouda speaks about Saudi Arabia as if the country is a volatile powder keg, whereas the truth is that his open letter is shameful, almost like blackmail, and full of his bloated ego. Ouda says, “With mounting anger, Saudi Arabia’s social, political, and legal symbols are losing their value, and leadership is falling into the hands of the street.” He adds, “Amid such anger, calls for calm are replaced by accusations of treason or weakness, and this will only lead to a more aggressive and divisive scene, given the current conditions.” Simply put, Ouda is calling on the Saudi state to consecrate him as a ‘symbol’ or a ‘guardian’ in order to calm the anger on the street and placate the masses. Yet this is contrary to the very concept of institutions, systems, and reform that the Saudis are demanding. The Saudis themselves refuse to revive those harmful symbols that have damaged Saudi society since the 1980s, one of whom is Salman Ouda. He has forgotten that Saudi Arabia will not be led by a guide!
Similar ideas were echoed in an article penned by Salman al-Dosary, editor of the financial al-Eqtisadiah daily. Al-Dosary called al-Odah conceited for allegedly speaking in the name of 19 million Saudi citizens, and accused him of taking contradictory positions over the years. A common theme in the criticism of al-Odah’s letter in local newspapers was to remind readers of his past as a rebel cleric who challenged the government as part of the Islamist awakening movement after the Gulf war. Such reminders appeared to be an attempt to discredit him as he was later jailed for five years. When he was released in 1999, al-Odah has transformed himself into a moderate religious figure which gave him a great influence over the youth in the country.