In conjunction with the release of the new bin Laden tape, Saudi dissidents today, Thursday December 16, 2004, demonstrated against the Saudi royal family in Jeddah and Riyadh. The goal of the demonstration is the overthrow of the Saudi royal family, a government rejected by many radical Islamist groups including al-Qaeda. Organized by Dr. Saad al-Fagih, a Saudi dissident currently living in London, the demonstration was expected to draw as many as 50,000 people.
Organized by Fagih?s organization, Islah, also known as the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA), the demonstration directly breaks Saudi laws banning demonstrations. Islah has defied Saudi laws repeatedly, broadcasting a list of supporters of the demonstration on its satellite television station. However, the validity of the names has been called into question in the Arab media, which has reported that many of the names were posted without the permission of the individuals in question.
According to Fagih, the exact date of the demonstration was delayed as long as possible in an effort to prevent Saudi police from organizing a defense.
On December 11, Saudi authorities arrested Saud al-Dughaither, a leader of the Islah demonstration, in an effort to dissuade the dissidents. In response, Islah members called for the release of political dissidents in Saudi Arabiaand for their participation in the demonstration.
There has also been opposition to the demonstration beyond government circles. 35 Islamic scholars, including the prominent Saudi dissident Safar al-Hawali, have signed a statement calling for a halt to the demonstration. Hawali, whose activism led to his imprisonment during the 1990s, has since argued that reforms in Saudi Arabiaand other parts of the Islamic world are required, but must be consistent with Islamic law, or Sharia.
A member of a radical Islamist message board (www.tibyanpubs.com) dismissed Hawali?s stance:
?He was once amongst the rightly guided and was even praised by the Mujaahid Sheik Bin Ladin (hafidulllah Ta ala). But, as you can see, things have changed. How can we have change without using the Sword??
This morning, prior to the demonstration and following the release of the new bin Laden tape, Fagih claimed that 90% of the Saudi Royal family had left Riyadh.
Demonstrators have called the Islah satellite channel throughout the day in support from the streets of Jeddah with cheers of ?Allahu Akbar! (God is the Greatest).?
However, al-Jazeera has reported that the protest has failed. Roadblocks set up by Saudi forces obstructed participants from joining the demonstrations. Islah organizers had attempted in vain to make a last-second change of location before the protest began in Jeddah. According to postings on Islamist message boards, although mass demonstrations may not have materialized as planned, Fagih has proclaimed that other protests will be sure to rise before long.
As the day ended, Fagih issued a statement to his demonstrators, hundreds now jailed in Jeddah according to message boards, praising their efforts. Those who were not jailed were thanked and told to go home. Fagih stated that demonstrations will soon be held in all the cities of Saudi Arabia. He stated that the demonstrators will pray in local mosques and then move to the local governing office, cautioning however that not all of the demonstrations will succeed.
Prior to the demonstration, Islah released a statement with specific requests directed to individual groups, including the people of Saudi Arabia, who are called on to denounce the royal family; oil workers, who are asked to prevent the Saudi government from concealing financial or other administrative documents; and airport employees, who are asked to ?prevent the royal family (about 6-7,000 people) from escaping and stop them by all means necessary.?
A translation of the directive as posted on an Islamic message board is provided to our Intel Service Subscribers.