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SAUDI ARABIA -  Opposition Leader Speaks Up

MER - Washington - 30 October, 1997:

Last month Saudi opposition leader Mohammed Al Maasari was interviewed in London, we believe for The Middle East Times, an English-language paper published in Cyprus and owned by the organization in Korea associated with Sun Yun Moon.


                ...London remains the capital for Islamist
                opposition movements throughout the Arab
                world. Top on the list of dissidents is
                the Saudi Mohammed Al Maasari, who recently
                gained fame when the British government
                tried to deport him to the tiny Caribbean
                island nation of Dominica.

What's your scenario for the next few years? Do you see Crown Prince Abdullah gradually taking over?

-The king came back under American pressure. The Sudeiri brothers [Fahd and his six full brothers who dominate Saudi Arabia's cabinet] had been in control rather than Abdullah. It's possible to see Abdullah fired as crown prince, but they are afraid this would backfire. You'd see a palace coup d'etat where Abdallah and the Sudeiris use force and kill each other. The National Guard with Abdullah, the army with the Sudeiris. Whoever wins would do so with the help of praetorian force, with whom they'd have to share the power.

If Abdullah were to win any struggle for power, could he and would he rein in the excesses of the royal family?

-Abdullah's less personally decadent, more tribal, but still financially corrupt. Mr. Less Dirty. There's no capability for reform, no strong character to stop the princes from corruption. You'd need someone to line tens of them up against the wall and shoot them, they're so used to spending this amount of money. You couldn't tell them -- you don't need 20 whores for the night, just one or two. Or you've got 20 dwarves in the palace, do you need to get two or three whores for every one? Someone like Prince Bishai Ben Abdel Aziz -- that's one real debauched individual. Try to stop him and he'll come and kill you.

Feisal established his authority because of the difference of age. He was 20 years older; he could discipline them like a father. Fahd, the last who has some authority, has become ethically decadent. The only dynamic one is Salman, governor of Riyadh. He's the only one who gets up and does work in the morning. But how would he jump ten other candidates, how could you get Abdullah or Sultan to surrender to Salman? Maybe the US could jump in and put a pistol to their heads, but then if the US used direct force the whole world would be in upheaval. It would be smart for the Sudeiris to bring in Abdullah. I hope they don't do it.

Could the Sudeiris remove Abdullah from command of the National Guard, thus forestalling any civil war?

-That would mean war. Abdullah was made crown prince in 1982, asked to give up his portfolio. But he would not give up the national guard. If he gave up the National Guard, they'd eat him the next day.

What would happen if the army got more power?

-Military dictatorships are not generally a positive thing, but in Saudi Arabia's case it might be a necessary transitional period. The new generation of army officers are reform-minded. Parties licensed, that sort of thing. It would be the middle classes' day.

Do you have any other scenarios?

-If Fahd dies, the situation may explode. You may see internecine war in the next two years. The other scenario, if things go smoothly, is that we would able to make a real mass movement. Maybe at the beginning of the next century, in five or six years.

If Iraqi oil flows, it will increase their financial hardship. Every billion barrels out of Iraq is a dollar off the price of one of their barrels. And the level of popular disgust is massive. Right now our support is passive, the antipathy is passive. They're neither ready nor capable of mass action. This is changing. In the past you could not get five people together. We got several thousand together with our vigils, distributing pamphlets.

How did you do this?

-We gave people an alternative. Gave people a leadership.

Do you consider yourselves a revolutionary leadership?

- ... I leave that to your judgment.  We have the intellectual capability to defeat the regime.  Give people the information. To draft alternative legislation.  We're the only group that came up with a well-developed economic system.

How large is your movement?

-I estimate it at several thousand.

Do you need to make internal changes to get a mass movement, widen the people and ideologies involved and call yourself a national council?

-It could be down the road. That's not very imminent. Most of our people have no passports. The most relevant people would be very difficult to smuggle out.

Who are they?

-Academics, Islamic scholars, businesspeople. The leadership keeps a low profile.

Do you try to recruit leaders from the various tribes?

-We don't like to play the tribal card very much. We have some representatives in all the major tribes, respected folk in the community. But tribal politics are not really respected Islamically, and it's not really true that it's a tribal society anymore. Abdel Aziz was very active in getting the bedouin to settle down, and with the coming of oil the essential tribal structures were broken for good.

How does your fax campaign work?

-In 1994 there was a fax explosion. To own a fax became a big status symbol. Everyone in the middle class wanted one. Two to three million machines. The fax directory became three big volumes, bigger than the central yellow pages. If Saudi Arabia became like Bahrain or Dubai, the Internet might make sense. In 1993 and 1994, when I was still teaching in Saudi Arabia, there were only some few hundreds or thousands of accounts in the university.

Faxes can be received unsolicited, so we can send them  just about anywhere. We used to send around 2,000 faxes, but now we've decided that 750 is enough to saturate. We send them to government offices, Saudi Arabian airlines, which employs a number of dynamic young people, hospitals -- often they're not under supervision. In the military, [Chief of staff] Khaled Ben Sultan sends the police to get it fresh. All military bases receive instructions from Sultan to send him any of our faxes they receive right away.

You've used faxes so far to spread information, but could you use it to lead a civil disobedience campaign?

-We called vigils in 1994 and 1995. This could be the spark to a mass movement...

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