Saad al-Faqih has told Aljazeera.net he expects to return to the Arabian kingdom by next Ramadan.
“I don’t think the current situation can be contained by the royal family for very long because of their internal problems, and because of impending attacks which might involve the royal family themselves.”
The non-violent opposition leader also dismissed King Fahd’s latest promise to crush the Jihadi bombers with an iron fist.
“I don’t think they can do anything more than the immense security measures they imposed last May. The only thing that would work is proper reform, and that they cannot do.”
“The Jihadi groups are flourishing and people are very agitated. They want massive civil action and I think within the next few months, we may witness either a drastic reform by some wise member of the royal family or else, their complete collapse and departure.”
It was a call on Saad al-Faqih’s al-Islah TV station that sparked the recent wave of protests in Saudi cities for political reform.
“I don’t think the current situation can be contained by the royal family for very long because of their internal problems, and because of impending attacks which might involve the royal family themselves”
Saudi opposition leader
Eighty-three people were arrested in the turmoil that followed and al-Islah was taken off the air by "pirated uplink devices".
But the genesis of al-Faqih’s Movement for Islamic Reform goes back farther.
It was set up in the aftermath of a high profile split with Muhammad al-Massari’s Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights (CDLR) in 1996 on the question of whether the House of Saud could be peacefully reformed.
Al-Massari said no, al-Faqih said yes.
He still believes in the path he set out on then. “We think we can achieve comprehensive change in a peaceful manner,” he said. “We will not be deflected by the events of the last few days.”
“When we come back on air, if we find the occasion appropriate, we will call another civil action. Our peaceful actions at Ramadan proved our argument, that the more they silence our opposition, the more violence will be in the pipeline.”
Violence in the Saudi kingdom has not been a one way affair. The repression of dissent by the regime has been legendary over the decades, and condemned by human rights groups of every hue.
Aljazeera.net also understands that in the 1990s, Saudi intelligence in London disrupted CDLR meetings, put the organisation’s leaders, including al-Faqih, under full surveillance, and explored all options to neutralise the work of Muhammad al-Massari.
Al-Massari, who is in the final stages of completing his own radio studio for broadcasts into the Saudi Kingdom, said that his CDLR was still influential in opposition circles.
“The groups affecting the Saudi street are ourselves, Dr Saad al-Faqih, the Jihadi movements led by Shaikh Usama bin Ladin and some other smaller groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“The main difference in the past was that we were for a more radical solution than Dr Saad, who thought he could offer the royal family a reform course. I think he has slowly been coming to the conviction that revolution is the only way forward.”
Al-Faqih maintains that he has always argued for the peaceful removal of the royal family.
But it was al-Massari who attracted the ire of Riyadh in the mid-1990s, and was subsequently targeted in an unsuccessful deportation bid by the British authorities.
It is perhaps surprising then that he has made no concessions to domestic sensitivities on the most explosive issue of the day: al-Qaida.
Al-Massari is prepared to praise
Usama bin Ladin (above)
“Shaikh Usama bin Ladin is doing commendable and excellent work,” he told Aljazeera.net.
“He is the military for a nation that has no army, a substitute for the ineffective armies of the Arab regimes.”
“People may disagree about the finer points and whether certain targets are 100% the ones that should be chosen but this is a futile intellectual exercise because the one in the field will decide what the target should be.”
If that target is to be a woman or child, so be it, says al-Massari.
“Under global positions of retribution and deterrence, bin Ladin had the right to attack US civilians because if a state does not respect the civilian life of another population, they cannot expect their own civilians’ lives to be respected,” he said.
To a Western audience, and to most Arabs, such views will strike a chilling note.
But as a politician first and foremost, al-Massari may be addressing a Saudi street that is tormented by repression at home and the seeming impotence of its leaders in the face of Israeli and US occupations.
It may not make his views on the Geneva Convention more palatable, but al-Massari insists that he believes in full democratic elections, a universal franchise, and the independence of the judiciary.
He is not alone in dismissing attempts by the Saudi cleric Muhsin al-Awaji to negotiate a truce between Jihadi forces and the authorities.
Al-Faqih described the reported talks as "meaningless" and an exercise in wishful thinking. “Neither the government nor the Jihadis has any intention of going into this sort of a deal,” he said.
“The only thing the government would accept would be if they unconditional handed themselves in and the only thing the Jihadis would accept would be if the royal family eradicated themselves.”
Al-Massari put it more vividly. “The authorities now are weaker but as they told someone involved in past negotiations with them, ‘Whoever has corn in his head, we will grind it’. This means ‘we will crush your resistance if you stand.’”
Observers and oppositionists alike expect the unrest to continue.