KUALA LUMPUR: An attempt to reopen a Saudi Arabian-backed “anti-terrorism” centre which the Pakatan Harapan government had shut down has been cited as the “tipping point” which led to Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s ultimatum to Maszlee Malik to quit his Cabinet post, a well placed source told FMT.
Speaking to FMT on condition of anonymity, the source said the prime minister was infuriated when he heard Maszlee was behind the plan to restart the King Salman Centre for International Peace (KSCIP), on the back of a long list of complaints against the former education minister’s handling of his portfolio.
“It was the last straw for Mahathir, and coming as it did on the heels of the Saudis’ snub of the KL Summit earlier in the month, this was a big no-no for him,” the source said, referring to the Kuala Lumpur Summit attended by leaders of Turkey, Iran and Qatar last month, which drew strong opposition from Riyadh.
An aide to Maszlee has denied the claim, saying “this is malicious”.
Plans for the centre, mooted after a visit by Saudi King Salman Abdul Aziz to Malaysia in 2017, were called off in August 2018, three months after PH came to power.
Critics had questioned the move to partner with Riyadh in the fight against terrorism, saying Saudi Arabia was not qualified to lead such a centre in view of its bombing campaigns in Yemen, as well as its official doctrine of Wahhabism being linked to the IS ideology.
The former government had agreed to allocate a massive plot of land in the administrative capital of Putrajaya for the centre.
FMT has learnt that during a meeting on Dec 31, the prime minister made it clear to Maszlee he would not tolerate any attempt at reopening the King Salman centre.
The source said Mahathir was particularly incensed that the Saudis had applied economic pressure on Pakistan which forced its Prime Minister Imran Khan to cancel his attendance at the KL Summit.
Maszlee, a former lecturer at the International Islamic University, announced his resignation on Jan 2, some 20 months after he was appointed education minister with expectations of major reforms in the education sector.