Some Saudi royals furious at U.S. support for democrats

Thursday, January 22, 2004

ABU DHABI Leaders of the democratic movement in Saudi Arabia have reported that members of the royal family are angered by the support their movement has received from the United States. The Saudi democrats said Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz was furious that a U.S. consul in Jedda, identified as Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, accepted an invitation by dissident for a discussion on Saudi democracy.

In an open letter to the Saudi people, the Saudi democrats warned that the kingdom is rapidly deteriorating. The letter also reported on division within the leadership and plans for a crackdown on reformists. The Jan. 3 letter blamed Nayef for blocking efforts for reform.

The royal family has also forced out a reformist editor from a leading newspaper, opposition sources said. Abdul Rahman Al Rashid, editor of the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat newspaper, resigned after disputes over his editorials, which called for reforms in the kingdom, Middle East Newsline reported.

Nayef has blocked the implementation of reforms pledged by Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, the letter said. The Saudi democrats portrayed a divided ruling family uncertain of how to quell rising unrest and Al Qaida attacks in the kingdom.

The letter also reported The Saudi reformers met Nayef on Dec. 22 and said the interior ministers called them terrorists and tools of foreign governments. Nayef said he was empowered by the crown prince to order a crackdown and insisted that the reformers sign a pledge to end their activities. The democrats refused.

The letter said despite official harassment and interrogations by security agencies, the democrats would continue to press for reforms in the kingdom. The democrats said Nayef has threatened to imprison the reformers, some of whom were already fired from their jobs and banned from travel abroad.

"I am one of those who were oppressed," Abdullah Al Hamed, a former professor and Saudi democratic leader, said. "I was arrested, fired from my job and banned from travel for setting up a human rights organization."

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