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

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"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.  

His prominent role as a commentator got him invitations to a number of social forums, including the Saudi Intellectuals Forum sponsored by the Ministry of Culture. “We were talking to him, and we told him, ‘Kashgari you are [a] known, famous person,’ the friend recalled. " 'Be careful with what you are writing.’ I remember the look in his face when one of my friends told him that: He [was] staring at the wall, like he doesn’t want to accept this fact [that he could be in danger.]”

His tweets on the prophet's birthday were not new ideas; he had shared them before on his blog. But when he sparked public uproar this time when he wrote, "On your birthday, I shall not bow to you," according to a translation by Menoret. "I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more."

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