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Why a Saudi blogger faces a possible death sentence for three tweets

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He fled, but only got as far as Malaysia before being deported back home to face charges of blasphemy, apostasy, and atheism – charges that carry a death sentence in Saudi jurisprudence. But Kashgari's trials are not just about three phrases of 140 characters or less. They stem from broader tensions in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where the monarchy has in recent years pushed back on the more conservative religious establishment but is now – in the wake of Arab revolts around the region – anxious to shore up support.

"Certainly since the upheavals, there’s been even more concern on the part of the regime to appeal to religious constituencies," says political scientist F. Gregory Gause, author of "Saudi Arabia in the New Middle East."

Kashgari was an easy target, says Pascal Menoret, professor of Middle East Studies at New York University Abu Dhabi.

“This is a very characteristic story of repression in Saudi,” says Professor Menoret, author of The Saudi Enigma: A History. “Get rid of a young man – it’s costless, and everybody’s scared.”

A willingness to push against limits

Kashgari’s friend described him as someone who was always walking close to the edge. Several years ago, he started attending meetings of intellectuals in the city who gathered to read and discuss religion and philosophy. Not long after, he became a columnist for the local paper Al Bilad, where his writing was sometimes critical of the government. He criticized flood relief when his city of Jeddah was overrun with water last year; he raised questions about the religious police.  

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