In spite of repeated crackdowns by state authorities, the threat to institutional stability remains with fringe organisations such as the Freemasons
here exists in parts of the Arab world an undisclosed number of individuals who belong to a highly clandestine organisation called the Freemasons. While they operate freely in some other parts of the world, this organisation has been banned in a number of Arab countries because of its dubious agendas.
Freemasons claim to be one of the world’s oldest and largest non-religious, non-political, fraternal organisations with the present version of this body taking hold in England sometimes at the end of the 14th century. In the beginning, the informal group would regulate and grade the qualifications of the stonemasons as well as their dealings with the authorities and their clients. As they grew, they evolved. They recruited members through participation in a progression of secretively held ceremonies, which included a series of rituals following ancient forms and using the customs and tools of the stonemasons of yesteryears as their guide.
In 1961, President Jamal Abdul Nasser violently abolished Freemasonry in Egypt. It was an organisation that had taken hold in the North African enclave by the early British settlers in the 18th century. But they did not disappear so easily. Samir Raafat, a well-known Egyptian, wrote: “On 4th April, 1964, the Masonic Temple on Alexandria’s Toussoun Street was shut down by order of the Ministry of Social Affairs. The reason given was ‘Associations with undeclared agendas, which were incompatible with rules covering non-profit organisations.’ Sufficiently disturbing evidence for the state to be concerned about, Freemasonry’s political goals would turn up the following year in Damascus when master spy Eli Cohen was apprehended. Having eluded Syrian intelligence for many years, posing as an Arab, it was discovered that Eli had been a Freemason in Egypt where he was born.”
Despite the 1964 government decree, declaring the demise of Freemasonry in Egypt, some were not so convinced. Ahmad Abdullah’s 1985 book titled Freemasonry in Our Region suggested that Freemasonry was alive and well in the guise of Rotary Clubs and other like-minded associations. “Having accomplished their earlier mission to establish a Jewish state, Masonic conspirators now intend to undermine Islam using charity work and community outreach as their tools,” charged Abdullah in his opening chapter. The rest of the book went about defining and equating the ‘new Masonic cancer’ with Rotary and Lions organisations and with Jehovah’s Witness, Freedom Now, Solar Tradition, New Age and several other fringe outfits.
In Iraq, Masonic lodges existed as early as 1919, when the first lodge was opened in Basra, and later on when the country was under British Mandate just after the First World War.
However, the position changed in July 1958 following the Revolution. The licences permitting lodges were rescinded and later, laws were introduced banning any further meeting. This position was later reinforced under former Iraqi president Saddam Hussain, the death penalty was prescribed for those who promoted Zionist principles — including Freemasonry. With the fall of Saddam in 2003, a number of lodges have begun to meet at military bases within Iraq. These lodges primarily cater to British and American military units stationed in the country.
With the discovery of oil in the Arabian Peninsula came the influx of companies to exploit the production of the natural resource in this area. The Bahrain Petroleum Company Ltd (Bapco) in Bahrain and the Standard Oil of California (Socal) in Saudi Arabia took firm hold in the 1930s in search of black gold. Workers began arriving and among them were Freemasons. Research suggests that during the early 1940s, the Freemasons in Bahrain formed themselves into a Masonic Club while those is Saudi Arabia did likewise and there were many informal functions that were attended by Freemasons and their partners. It was inevitable that in due course, a group of Freemasons would meet to explore the possibility of forming a lodge, both on the island and also in Saudi Arabia.
They succeeded first in Bahrain and formed their own lodge. Membership went from strength to strength until at the end of March 1975 when the political climate towards Freemasonry was no longer conducive. The Bahraini Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs issued a prohibition notice on the practice of Freemasonry in all of Bahrain. This led the members into holding their meetings in secret.
In Saudi Arabia, the American Canadian Grand Masonic Lodge was formed in 1962. It was followed by four others. All these lodges were formed to cater to foreigners in the country — mainly North American and British Masons in Saudi Arabia as part of the workforce exploring oil. However, today, following successive crackdowns by the Saudi police, none of these lodges are operational, except as secretive fraternal groups. There have been allegations that a global British aerospace company stationed in the capital has a sizeable membership that continues to practice their rituals today.
In 1978, the Saudi Fiqh Academy, that releases Islamic edicts, formally outlawed the Masonic group, charging that “It is, in fact, in its hidden aims, against all religions, its intentions being the destruction of all of them in general, and Islam in the hearts of its adherents in particular. It concentrates on the recruitment of persons in positions of authority in finance, politics, community, science and any other position they can utilise in order to further their power in the community. Its aims are political and they have a hand — either open or hidden — in most political and military insurrections and major changes. For this reason, and many other detailed facts concerning the dangerous activities of the Masons, their evil deception and cunning designs, the Fiqh Academy has determined that the Masons are one of the most dangerous, destructive organisations to Islam and Muslims”.
How significant are those words indeed! Beware of the perils within. The Masons will go at great lengths to promote their own interests even now.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@talmaeena