PRIME Minister Najib Razak’s ally Abdul Hadi Awang has raised eyebrows for his strident criticism of Saudi Arabia, a country whose rulers Najib is close to.
Hadi, who is PAS president, has slammed the kingdom for cultivating ties with Israel. He has also become chummy with the leaders of Qatar, a Gulf country that Saudi Arabia has ostracised.
On the surface, it would seem that Hadi has put Najib in a dilemma – does the prime minister castigate Hadi and push the PAS president closer to Pakatan Harapan, or should Najib side with Hadi and strain relations with the Saudi royal family?
There is another view, said political scientist Dr Faisal Syam Hazis – Hadi is performing a balancing act.
Hadi needed to please the conservative Muslim base from which PAS draws support, while ensuring he did not upset Najib, said Faisal of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
For instance, Hadi is strident in condemning Saudi’s ties with Israel. But he stops short of calling on Putrajaya to press the Saudis to end those ties.
“He criticises Saudi Arabia but he wants to maintain ties with Najib. So, he doesn’t criticise Najib’s ties with the Saudis,” said Faisal of the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies.
“He is playing to both sides. He is appeasing his party members, who think of Israel as the No.1 enemy of Islam. But he also does not want to criticise and upset Najib,” said Faisal.
If Hadi was as critical of Saudi Arabia as he seemed, he would have protested against the visit of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud to Malaysia in June, said Faisal.
Hadi’s criticism of United States president Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia is another example.
“Trump and Saudi Arabia were criticised, but Najib’s visit to Trump at the White House was not”, said Faisal.
“You criticise the Saudis but you don’t criticise your own government’s ties with the Saudis?”
Hadi’s criticism of Saudi Arabia came under the spotlight when the Gulf nation declared that a world body of Muslim scholars, of which Hadi is vice-president, as a terrorist organisation.
Eleven members of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), which in the past had received funds from Qatar, have been put on a watch list by Saudi Arabia and its allies – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.
In his weekly column three days ago, Hadi criticised Saudi Arabia’s close ties with Israel and the country’s efforts to drum up hatred towards Shia Islam which is the majority denomination in Iran.
Hadi had also said he supported Turkey and Iran, both of which have come to Qatar’s aid when Saudi Arabia tried to isolate Doha.
Global affairs analysts have said Saudi Arabia’s efforts to isolate Qatar, its meddling in the Syrian civil war and its war in Yemen were part of a larger campaign to check Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East.
Another analyst, Hisommudin Bakar said IUMS being labelled a terrorist organisation did not impact PAS or Hadi, as neither was named in the statement carried by Saudi news agencies.
“There is not a real clear line between our foreign relations and our domestic politics. Najib does not really have to choose between PAS or Saudi Arabia.”