Saudi Arabia Releases Leading Islamists

Crown Prince Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz, who has run the affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the ailing King Fahd since November 1995, released four of the country’s leading Sunni radical fundamentalists on June 25; they had served nearly five years. The most well-known of them, Shaykhs Salman bin Fahd al-Awdah and Safar bin Abd al-Rahman al-Hawali, were arrested in September 1994 after anti-government demonstrations in the central Arabian city of Burayda. The release of the dissidents indicates that Abdallah, as he prepares himself to become king, wants to begin a new chapter in the regime’s relations with the Islamic opposition. Although these Islamists pose no direct threat to the United States, Abdallah’s decision to release them indicates that the crown prince is interested in improving relations with the Saudi populace. This preference means, inter alia, that the future king may not always be as supportive of American policy as King Fahd has been.

Full Text: “Saudi Arabia Releases Leading Islamists,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy Policywatch, No. 397, July 7, 1999.