Skip to comments.Saudi Opposition, Far From Home, Makes Voice Heard
Posted on 10/27/2003 12:23:32 AM PST by Prodigal Son
LONDON, Oct. 26 A modest two-story red brick house indistinct from others along a North London street bears no signs of being the headquarters of a campaign challenging royal rule in Saudi Arabia.
The marks of the exiles' activity are very noticeable, however, in the streets of Saudi Arabia itself, where hundreds of people have been arrested by antiriot police this month for taking part in a protest demonstration, a rare occurrence in the monarchy's history.
Government alarm at the dissidents' influence was reflected Sunday in a Ramadan-eve address in Riyadh from the country's senior religious leader, the grand mufti, Sheik Abdul Aziz al-Sheik.
Warning people to shun such demonstrations, he said, "Seeking to undermine security or destabilize Muslim lands is prohibited, and a Muslim should not get involved in this."
The protesters are being inspired by the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, a group of London-based Saudis who have transformed a back room in the suburban house into a broadcasting studio with a jumble of computerized transmission equipment, faxes, mixers, mobile phone hook-ups and video screens.
They represent the first opposition voice broadcasting into the kingdom, which maintains a tight control on information and bans demonstrations.
Their summons to two street protests in Saudi Arabia, the first on Oct. 14 and the second on Thursday, emboldened so many people to take part that the police ended up arresting more than 350 people. The head of the movement, Saad al-Fagih, said he was as surprised by the turnout as the government was alarmed by it.
"I thought it was too early to call Saudis into the streets, that people needed their confidence built up to face the regime," he said.
"I thought they were convinced individually, but since our culture is not one of demonstrations and vigils or opposing the government in a public manner, I never imagined they would appear in such numbers."
He said the events gave the movement unanticipated momentum.
"For most of them, it was their first collective experience," he said. "They had come only with Korans in their hands and mats to kneel on, and they found themselves being treated very harshly. They are very angry about that."
Mr. Fagih said he believed the movement's Al-Islah network was reaching an audience in the millions because of the large number of individual satellite dishes in Saudi Arabia.
Screens in the dim back room flicker with hundreds of text messages from people who have heard the broadcasts and want to offer up evidence of their own of government abuse, corruption and nepotism, and surreptitious pictures of people being marched away to police vans.
People communicate with his service by cellphone and Internet chat rooms, and a device in the London studio can disguise voices if the callers want protection.
In a remarkable development for a closed society, callers from Riyadh used mobile telephones to give the station accounts of the Oct. 14 police crackdown, which were immediately played back to Saudi listeners.
One of the most graphic accounts was of the arrest and beating of Um Saud, a 65-year-old woman who had displayed a picture of her son, Saud al-Mutayri, who was killed in a prison fire, in a plea to have his body returned to her.
Her case was taken up Friday by Amnesty International, which called on the Saudi government to release her and the hundreds of others being held.
The protests have been mounted despite the Saudi royal family's announcement this month that Saudi Arabia would hold its first elections next year for local councils.
Mr. Fagih dismissed the move, the first concession to democracy advocates, as a "cosmetic" one. "Even Saddam Hussein had elections, but without freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they are worthless," he said.
Mr. Fagih, 44, is a member of a prominent Saudi family, and he and three of his six siblings are doctors who number among their patients ranking members of the royal family.
"Our father told us that only physicians are really independent of others," Mr. Fagih said. "If you are a doctor, even kings and princes will have to lie down in front of you."
He came to London in 1994 as an asylum seeker after he took part in petition drives in Saudi Arabia for three years and ended up in prison. "I was only jailed for a month," he said. "I wasn't beaten or tortured because I come from a prominent family that is distantly related to the royal family, and I was a surgeon at the main teaching hospital in Riyadh and a professor at King Saud University."
The government has jammed Al-Islah's radio broadcasts for the past five days, and satellite broadcasts have repeatedly been shut down, but Mr. Fagih is confident his engineers will restore full transmission. He said that the demand from listeners was intense.
"They have become addicted, even if we keep repeating the same information," he said. "After 70 years of secrecy and deception, we come along with this whole load of truth, and the effect has been overwhelming."
Asked if his organization's purpose was reform of the monarchy or its removal, he said, "Before Oct. 14, even people who agreed with us thought we were talking about things that were impossible in Saudi Arabia, and they called me impractical and unrealistic. But now I am confident to say that the downfall of the regime is an inevitable result of what has started."
FEBRUARY 1996 : (UK LABOUR MP GALLOWAY FLIES TO MOROCCO ON BEHALF OF AL-FAGIH TO MEET CROWN PRINCE OF MOROCCO) In February 1996, UK Labour MP George Galloway flew to Morocco for a secret meeting with the then Crown Prince of Morocco to explore a deal between the Islamic Saudi dissidents [such as British-based Saudi dissident Saad al-Fagih, an Islamic fundamentalist who purchased a satellite phone used by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan] and the Saudi royal family. - "MP may be tried as traitor (Galloway)," by Antony Barnett and Martin Bright, The Observer (U.K.) , 04/27/03 [Galloway would later be involved in Oil for Food scandal... being paid by Iraq and his opposition to the Coalition war on Iraq of 2003]
... Two of the men contacted by Bin Laden in Britain Khaled al Fawwaz and Ibrahim Eidarous are now in prison awaiting extradition to the United States for their part in the embassy bombings, which killed 224 and injured thousands.
However, another senior terrorist suspect, Mustafa Nazar, is still on the loose. He spent up to two years in Dollis Hill, north London, recruiting for Al-Qaeda. A key figure in Bin Ladens terror training camps, he left Britain in 1998 and was last seen in Afghanistan fighting alongside the Taliban.
The telephone records have come to light following the trial last year of four Al-Qaeda terrorists who planned and carried out the bombing of the two American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
According to trial documents, the telephone [the one bin Laden used] was bought in 1996 with the help of Dr Saad al Fagih, 45, a bearded surgeon who heads the London-based Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia. This fundamentalist Muslim group is dedicated to the overthrow of the Saudi Arabian government but is not part of Al-Qaeda.
Al Fagih, who has been regularly used by the BBC as an expert on Bin Laden, has in the past explained that Muslim scholars said the killing of civilians, including children, was allowed by the Koran as collateral damage in the holy war.
It was al Fagihs credit card which was used to help to buy the £10,500 Compact-M satellite phone in the United States and it was shipped to his home in north London, according to American court documents. His credit card was also used to buy more than 3,000 minutes of pre-paid airtime.
Last week al Fagih, who has not been arrested or charged in connection with any of these actions, said: I am willing to speak to the authorities if they ask me about this or any other issue, but not to the press. ...------ "Bin Laden called UK 260 times," by Nick Fielding and Dipesh Gadhery, The Sunday Times (U.K.), 03/24/2002
U.K. Freezes Assets of Group Linked With Saudi Exile Al-Faqih Dec. 24 (Bloomberg) -- The U.K. government told its central bank to freeze the assets of an organization it suspects of having links with Saad al-Faqih, a Saudi Arabian dissident living in exile in Britain. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown instructed the Bank of England to direct British financial institutions to immediately freeze funds belonging to the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, the Treasury said in a statement. The Treasury said it has ``reasonable grounds'' for suspecting the organization is acting on behalf of al-Faqih, who was listed Dec. 23 by the United Nations as being an associate of al-Qaeda....
---------- "U.K. Freezes Assets of Group Linked With Saudi Exile Al-Faqih," by Sam Fleming in London, Bloomberg.net , December 24, 2004 08:15 EST
Al-Faqih, who advocates replacing the Saudi monarchy with a popularly elected government, heads the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia in London. He claimed in May that he was the real target when the Saudi Arabian government accused British civilians and diplomats of involvement in bombings four years ago.
According to a U.S. Treasury statement on Tuesday, Al-Faqih once shared an office in the late 1990s with Khaled al Fawwaz, who served as an operative for bin Laden in Britain. The exiled Saudi physician also paid for a satellite phone that bin Laden allegedly used to help carry out the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya Tanzania, it said.
While al-Faqih's movement has issued disclaimers warning users not to attribute postings on its website to al-Qaida, the Treasury statement said extremists use the site "to post all al-Qaida-related statements and images."
Information available to the U.S. and British governments "shows that the messages are intended to provide ideological and financial support to al-Qaida affiliated networks and potential recruits," it said. ...------- "U.N. asked to punish two Saudi activists," by Edith M. Lederer - AP, Bakersfield Californian, 12/21/04
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