The July coup in Egypt, that took down an unpopular and recently elected Islamic conservative government, was approved by most other Arab nations, including the notoriously Islamic conservative Saudi Arabia. Not surprisingly, that approval was not universally popular in Saudi Arabia and there has been some unrest. An example of this is a brief cell phone video going around the Internet showing a brawl inside a major Saudi mosque, triggered by a sermon criticizing Saudi support for the new Egyptian military government. Saudi officials quietly, and a few times openly, warned senior clergy to be careful about criticizing the government position on Egypt. Al Qaeda criticized the Saudi government for all this but then, from the beginning (in the 1980s), al Qaeda has striven to topple the Saudi monarchy and replace it with a religious dictatorship. Al Qaeda has a lot of supporters in Saudi Arabia, but these fans have learned to keep their heads down. For many Saudi fans of Islamic radicalism, their government’s support for the Egyptian military was too much.
Over the last decade Saudi Arabia has become increasingly aggressive in dealing with clerics, or any Saudi, who favors Islamic terrorism. Four years ago this policy reached the ranks of senior officials when the kingdom's senior judge, along with the head of the religious police, were fired and replaced with men who are less cozy with Islamic conservatives. The judge, Sheikh Salih Ibn al Luhaydan, went over the line in 2008, when he declared that it was permissible to murder the owners of satellite TV channels that broadcast material Islamic conservatives considered sinful. The head of the religious police (officially, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice), Sheikh Ibrahim al-Ghaith, refused suggestions from the king that he clean up his force. There were too many instances of the religious police using violence, either on the street or in their police stations, against those accused of "un-Islamic behavior." The religious police have been particularly aggressive in going after users of drugs (heroin and opium from Afghanistan) and alcohol (either smuggled in or produced locally in makeshift stills). The religious police had taken to raiding the homes of suspected users or dealers, and many of these suspects have turned out to be innocent. The population, including many Islamic conservatives, are terrified of the religious police and their arbitrary use of violence.
These two dismissals are just a continuation of a policy that has been in play for over a year. In 2008, the Interior Minister ordered the most pro-terrorist clerics to shape up or shut up. The Interior Minister also assembled all the senior clerics and told them that they were not doing enough to fight Islamic terrorism. This terrorism is not popular in Saudi Arabia, not since al Qaeda attacks have killed 264 Saudis between 2003 and 2008.
While the Saudi leadership does not like to dwell on it too much, their country is the place where most al Qaeda recruits come from. The conservative form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia (Wahhabism) forms the basis of al Qaeda ideology (that non-Moslems are scum and that everyone must be persuaded or forced to become Moslem). Although the Saudi government expelled most known al Qaeda members in the 1990s (and drove many others underground), there are still many Islamic conservatives in Saudi Arabia that support Islamic terrorists directly or indirectly, via contributions to Islamic charities.
What has been most embarrassing has been the Saudis who continued to be identified as suicide bombers in Iraq or elsewhere. The U.S. strove to identify the dead bombers in Iraq, and the Saudis help, if only to get the remains returned to their families for proper burial. But then word got out that the sons of some prominent clerics had gotten themselves killed as suicide bombers. The Saudi Interior Minister was quite scathing about this when he chewed out the senior clergy.
The Saudi royal family presides over a kingdom of very conservative Moslems and the royals believe that Islam has to change, to reform, if it is to survive. The Saudi royals have their own share of bad apples (corrupt, decadent, or religious fanatics), but the majority see the problems that Islam faces (corruption, bad government, feeble economic and scientific progress) and have backed efforts to change things. This includes seemingly radical efforts, like the Arab Reform Movement, to more mundane ones, like more education and personal freedoms for women.
From the founding of the kingdom 80 years ago, the Sauds have been pushing the Wahhabis to loosen up. There's been a lot of progress, but not enough to prevent the creation of al Qaeda (which got going with a lot of help from Egyptian Islamic radicals). While the royal family pushes for change, many Saudis are content to blame the West for all their problems and openly, or secretly, cheer on the Islamic terrorists. But the removal of the judge and religious police commander sends a signal to the Islamic radicals, and their supporters, that the times, and attitudes, are changing.
One aspect of the Islamic terrorism is still alive and well in Saudi Arabia. That is the Wahhabi charities that have over the last three decades financed thousands of Saudi Arabian Wahhabi missionaries overseas. Since the 1980s, nearly a hundred billion dollars of Saudi money (from the government and private donations) has been used to send Wahhabi missionaries to (mostly Moslem) foreign countries and recruit new adherents to this conservative and intolerant form of Islam. The money went to build mosques and madrassas (religious schools) and pay Islamic conservative clergy and teachers to convert more people to the Wahhabi way of thinking. While this source of funds has been sharply cut in the last decade, it is still a major source of funds for Islamic terrorists.
Al Qaeda started as an organization of Wahhabi militants, and Wahhabi believers still form the core of most Islamic terror organizations. The Saudis deny that they are subsidizing Islamic terrorism, but the Wahhabis preach hatred of non-Moslems and violence against those who do not accept the Wahhabi way. Examples of how this is still at work can be seen from the many Islamic radical missionaries active in Mali for over a decade and, although less than ten percent of Mali Moslems adhere to Wahhabi beliefs, they were among the most active Moslems and did not get upset when, in 2012, Islamic terrorists in the north began destroying the holy places of the majority Sufi Moslems up there. Wahhabis were busy in the south as well as the north, and police subsequently discovered and arrested southerners who had formed terrorist cells as a result of their Wahhabi beliefs.
The Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood, which was deposed by the July coup, was given shelter in Saudi Arabia when it was driven from Egypt (for trying to overthrow the secular government) in the 1960s. But once in Saudi Arabia the Moslem Brotherhood began plotting to overthrow the Saudi monarchy because it was not Islamic enough. That ended badly and most Saudis have not forgotten.