Saudi Arabia has said it will host a high school for students from the Arabian Peninsula as part of a bid to diversify its educational system amid regional tension.
The Saudi Education Ministry said it had agreed to host a program at the Al Azhar University of Islamic Studies in the capital Riyadh for students between the ages of 16 and 18 from the kingdom and neighbouring countries.
“We have reached an agreement to host the program in the kingdom,” the ministry said in a statement.
“This is the first time we have agreed to an agreement in this field,” it said.
“The program will include courses in English and Arabic, and will focus on the development of young people and the Arab-Muslim world.”
Egypt has long been an ally of Saudi Arabia, and Egypt is home to many of Saudi’s Shia Muslim minority, who are seen as a major obstacle to Saudi reforms.
The kingdom’s main opposition group has criticised the plan, which it described as “un-Islamic” and a violation of its strict laws on gender segregation.
Saudi Arabia has been struggling to diversiate its educational systems amid regional tensions, with students from some Arab countries, such as Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
It has also faced criticism for restricting women’s access to education.
Saudi foreign ministry spokesman Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Jubeir has dismissed the idea as a “stupid idea”, saying that “there is no place for any type of Islamic institution”.
“We support all forms of education, whether it is secular, political, or religious,” he said.
“Education is an important tool in the country’s development, and we hope that the Arab world will not forget this lesson.”
The move comes as Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman takes office in the wake of the death of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has taken over the crown.
He was widely criticised for his handling of the kingdom’s financial crisis and other social issues, and for a decision last year to ban women from driving for three months.