Tag Archive | "Al Saud"

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The Consequences of Saudi Intervention in Bahrain

Posted on 10 May 2011 by hashimilion

A lot of people were overjoyed when Saudi Arabia’s military intervened in Bahrain and saved the Al Khalifa regime from collapse. Some even considered the intervention a Saudi victory over its regional rival Iran.

The real reason behind the Saudi intervention (or occupation) was to stop democracy from spreading in the Gulf, especially the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis were prepared to intervene with or without the invitation of the Al-Khalifa family. They could not bear the sight of democratic revolutions encircling them from every side.

The Saudis have succeeded in manipulating the Bahraini revolution, which was a conflict between an authoritarian family  and pro-democracy movement, to a regional and sectarian conflict between the persian shiites and the arab sunnis.

The Saudis helped the Al-Khalifa regime militarily, politically, economically, and by raising the issue of sectarianism in their media. Saud al-Faisal travelled to Egypt, Turkey and Moscow in order to get support for repressing the Bahraini democratic movement. An agreement was made between Washington and the West, whereby the West overlooks the events in Bahrain in exchange for unlimited Gulf support in Libya. The Gulf countries provided the political cover for Western military intervention, which was then followed by support from the Arab League and the Security Council. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE must pay the full costs of overthrowing Gaddafi, as well as financing and arming the rebels when necessary. On the media front, both Al-Jazeera and Al Arabiya channels neglected the repression in Bahrain and concentrated on Libya. The media coverage in the Gulf had a sectarian stench to it!

On the economic front, the Gulf states announced their readiness to support the government in Bahrain with billions of dollars. The Saudis told the Al Khalifa that they were prepared to compensation Bahrain for all its loses if the international financial institutions decide to leave the country.

The Saudi support provided the Bahraini Government with enough motivation to suppress its people. The consequences of Saudi intervention are as follows:

Firstly, Saudi Arabia perceives democracy in Bahrain as a threat which must be removed immediately. In the mid 1970s Saudi Arabia pressurised the Al Khalifa to annul the Constitution and abolish Parliament, which lead to uprisings that forced Bahraini royal family to undertake reforms in 2000.

The Al-Saud family cannot accept the fact that Bahrain is demographically and politically different from their kingdom. They exerted enormous pressure to slow down and eliminate the reforms process in the past and will continue to do so.

Some members of the Al-Khalifa family support Saudi Arabia’s policies in their Kingdom, especially the Prime Minister. The Al-Khalifa have lost their decision making powers once they accepted Saudi Arabia’s intervention. Bahrain has lost its independence to both Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Secondly, those who supported the suppression of the Shiites will be the next victims to Saudi’s military presence. The Saudi military presence will last for a long time and the House of Saud will not waste this opportunity to impose Saudi’s will on Bahrain’s internal affairs. The Saudis will be little the Al-Khalifa family in the not too distant future.

Moreover, the Saudi forces will cause tension in Bahraini society by supporting the Bahraini salafis against the majority shiites. The Bahraini sunnis will be pressurised by the Wahhabis, who will interfere in their daily lives just as they did in Iraq.

Today Saudi Arabia, its religious clerics and sectarian satellite channels serve the Al Khalifa regime. All of them want something in return for their efforts and the al-Saud in particular believe that in order to have a strong political influence in Bahrain, they most proliferate their Wahhabi ideology. Wahhabi thought and discourse was never accepted by the majority of Bahrainis.

In summery: Saudi intervention may have been viewed as a blessing by the Al-Khalifa family in the beginning. But those who think that they’ve won today will soon realise that they were never the winners, and that the loss is huge for all Bahrainis, shiites, sunnis and the Royal Family.

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Fading Mirage: Illusory Reform in Saudi Arabia

Posted on 04 May 2011 by hashimilion

In the eyes of many Westerners, the idea of reform in Saudi Arabia is a contradiction. The Al Saud dynasty has long held a monopoly of political, religious, and social power over its citizens. The government currently bans all opposition political parties and tightly controls domestic media outlets. Saudi Arabia has also gained notoriety around the world for its strict interpretation of Sunni Islam called Wahhabism. Despite the apparent lack of freedom, Saudi Arabia has in fact experienced some movements toward reform and modernization over the past few years. Unfortunately, they do not represent a trend toward liberalization and political reform. Rather, they have only appeared in response to events such as lowered oil earnings and threats of terrorism. Given Saudi Arabia’s recent economic successes, it seems unlikely that the kingdom will move toward substantial reform in the near future.

The years of 2001 and 2003 were marked by significant drives for political reform in Saudi Arabia. Concerns over declining oil revenues and rising unemployment formed the basis for domestic dissatisfaction. The participation of 15 Saudis in the September 11, 2001, attacks left the government with a new combination of US pressure and internal calls for reform. In January 2003, 104 Saudi liberal reformers created a “Strategic Vision for the Present and the Future,” which consisted of detailed proposals for democratic changes such as separation of power and elected legislative bodies at the national and provincial levels. This document used religious and legal arguments to justify citizens’ supervision of government actions.

Pressures for reform reached a peak when 12 suicide bombers attacked the capital of Riyadh in May 2003, killing 30 people and wounding 200. Saudis refer to the attacks as their own September 11, and the bombings seemed to initially push the Saudigovernment to reform its authoritarian practices. The Riyadh attacks were followed by unprecedented criticism of religious extremism in the media. The Crown Prince himself made speeches acknowledging the problem of Islamic extremism–acknowledgments that would have been unthinkable just a few years prior. In 2005, Saudis also witnessed their first municipal elections in almost a half-century. That same year, women were even allowed to participate in elections for the board of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce. The start of the 21st century, thus, seemed a positive one for Saudi reform.

The impact of these reforms, however, should not be overstated. In many cases, they have been overshadowed by continued authoritarian behavior. Despite the optimism of the 2003 petitions, signatories to more recent appeals for reform have faced stiff government resistance. In March 2004, 13 pro-reform activists in favor of a constitutional monarchy were arrested, some of whom are forbidden to travel abroad even today. Perhaps most tellingly, the lauded 2005 municipal elections excluded women, and only half of the seats were contested. Political parties are still banned, and the government retains power over the municipal councils’ budgets. Sadly, even this encouraging glimmer of democracy has proved to be strikingly limited.

Economic growth in the country also suggests that substantive political reform may not arrive any time soon. As the oft-cited maxim goes, the higher the oil prices, the lower the prospect of democracy in the Middle East. The histories of Europe and the United States show that heavy taxation often leads to agitation for reform and greater demands for government accountability. However, the Saudi government’s high oil revenues allow it to forgo all income or corporate taxes. Indeed, owning a quarter of the world’s oil reserves permits the Saudi government essentially to buy off domestic demands for reform. Since revenues flow to the Saudi government directly, it has the option of exercising patronage to benefit political or social actors who demand change. Ways of placating interests include giving land gifts or supplying public services such as education and health care. Furthermore, the high concentration of wealth in the monarchy makes it harder for political groups outside of the government to find financial support. Additionally, since oil production does not necessitate mass labor mobilization, the potential power of unions dissolves. Even if demands for change were to remain strong within certain groups, the middle class’ demonstrated preference for economic stability over political freedom dampens the probability of widespread demands for change.

Current economic indicators may portend a negative political climate for Saudi citizens. In the years leading up to 2003, rising unemployment led to widespread dissatisfaction among the population. The Saudi Arabia of today faces no such problem. In 2006, the country saw a US$100 billion current account surplus and a GDP of US$350 billion. With plans to increase its oil production to 12.5 million barrels per day by 2009, there is little sign that the Saudi government will lose economic control, and thereby political control, over its citizens.

It is certainly possible that a downturn in the Saudi economy will once again spark the possibility for reform. Such reforms, however, would reflect the monarchy’s pragmatism rather than its conviction. Without firm government commitments to political change, it is unlikely that the Saudi government will make permanent, substantial improvements to its citizens’ rights. Reform in the Saudikingdom may not be the hopeless cause it once was, but the prospects for lasting, substantive changes remain illusory.

By Julia  Choe

 

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Iranian Police Disperse Anti-Saudi Demo

Posted on 04 May 2011 by hashimilion

Iranian police dispersed hundreds of youths Tuesday at an Asian Champions League match between Iranian and Saudi sides protesting Saudi military aid to Bahrain in crushing a pro-democracy movement.

At the match between Iran’s Persepolis and the Saudi team Al-Ittihad, some 300-400 youths dressed in black and carrying Bahraini flags began protesting. They were first rounded up and isolated in a section of the stands before being expelled from the stadium shortly after the second half began.

The protesters, some of whom were arrested, shouted “Death to the Al-Sauds” and “Death to the Al-Khalifas” in reference to the ruling dynasties in Saudi Arabia and its tiny neighbour Bahrain.

Saudi Arabia had already unsuccessfully sought to have the match, won 3-2 by Persepolis, to be played in another country for security reasons.

Iran is a predominantly Shiite Muslim country that repeatedly expressed its solidarity with protesters in Bahrain, a Shiite majority country, as they demanded reforms from the Sunni Muslim dynasty ruling them.

In mid-March, a Saudi-led Gulf military force entered Bahrain at its government’s request. That freed up Bahraini security forces to crush the protest movement.

Manama, for its part, accused Tehran of supporting the demonstrations.

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Saudi Arabia’s Political Risks

Posted on 04 May 2011 by hashimilion

The world’s No. 1 oil exporter faces the twin challenges of creating jobs for a young population at a time of unrest in the Arab world, and pursuing economic reforms with a royal succession looming.

The stability of Saudi Arabia is of global importance since the kingdom sits on more than a fifth of oil reserves, is home to the biggest Arab stock market, is a major owner of dollar assets and acts as a regional linchpin of U.S. security policy.

King Abdullah, who is around 87, unveiled $93 billion in social handouts in March, on top of another $37 billion announced less than a month earlier.

But this apparent effort to insulate the kingdom from Arab popular protests sweeping the region has not stopped activists, including liberals, Shi’ites and Islamists, calling in petitions for more political freedom. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy with no elected parliament.

Riyadh has not seen the kind of mass uprisings that have shaken the Arab world this year, but Shi’ites in the kingdom’s oil-producing east have staged a number of protests.

Almost no Saudis in Riyadh answered a Facebook call for protests on March 11 in the face of a massive security presence.

Saudi Arabia has been ruled by the Al Saud family for 79 years, with influence from clerics following the austere Wahhabi school of Islam, and many oppose the very reforms the king has started.

However, slowing down reforms to modernise education might affect government plans to create jobs — unemployment last year reached 10 percent.

And with around 70 percent of Saudi Arabia’s almost 19 million people under the age of 30, the pressure to find them gainful employment is huge.

SUCCESSION

King Abdullah returned home in February after spending three months abroad for medical treatment, during which he underwent two surgeries after a blood clot complicated a slipped disc.

With the slightly younger Crown Prince Sultan also in poor health, the throne could eventually go to Interior Minister Prince Nayef, a conservative who could put the brakes on some reforms started by Abdullah, analysts say. Nayef, around 77 years old, was promoted to second deputy prime minister in 2009.

He has supported the religious police who roam the streets to make sure unrelated men and women do not mix in public and that shops close during prayer times.

To regulate succession, Abdullah has set up an “allegiance council” of sons and grandsons of the kingdom’s founder but it is not clear when, or how, it will work in practice.

So far only sons of the kingdom’s founder Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud have ascended the throne, and the remaining 20 or so are mostly in their 70s and 80s. Leaders have been reluctant to hand senior jobs over to the next generation.

If a younger generation were unexpectedly to come into play, prominent potential candidates include Nayef’s son Mohammed, who as the anti-terror chief was the target of an al Qaeda suicide attack in 2009. Another leading face among the grandsons of Ibn Saud is Sultan’s son Khaled, the assistant defence minister.

WHAT TO WATCH:

– The health of senior royal family members and their involvement in day-to-day affairs of running the kingdom

– Any sign of abrupt cancellation of scheduled programmes such as foreign visits by senior leaders

– Any signs that the elder generation is passing on more responsibility to the grandsons of Ibn Saud, and to which ones

REFORMS

Officials who back Abdullah say they fear that young Saudis frustrated over their failure to find work could provide potential recruits to violent Islamists who want to overthrow the House of Saud.

Abdullah started some narrow reforms to overhaul education and the judiciary after taking office in 2005 but diplomats say his reform drive has run out of steam.

He has not altered the political system of an absolute monarchy that analysts say has fuelled dissent, with democracy activists, liberals and Islamists calling on the king in petitions to allow elections and more freedom.

Abdullah’s handouts focused on social largesse and a boost to security and religious police, but included no political change.

The kingdom in March also announced it would hold long-delayed municipal elections but said women will not be allowed to vote. With no elected assembly, Saudi Arabia has no political parties.

Saudi analysts say the king could reshuffle the cabinet, where some ministers have been on board for decades, or call fresh municipal elections, a plan that was shelved in 2009 due to the opposition of conservative princes.

WHAT TO WATCH:

– Any signs of protests or petitions by activists demanding political reforms

– Any signs of a cabinet reshuffle or plan to hold fresh municipal elections

– Any approval of a much-delayed mortgage law, which aims to ease pressure on the housing market

SHI’ITE MUSLIMS

Saudi Arabia, a Sunni-led regional diplomatic heavyweight, has sought to contain Iran’s influence since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq produced a Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad.

With majority Shi’ites in neighbouring Bahrain having protested against the Sunni government there, analysts say there is a risk that unrest could spread to Saudi Arabia’s own Shi’ite minority, which lives in the oil-producing Eastern Province just across from Bahrain.

Shi’ites in the east have held a number of protests calling for prisoner releases and a withdrawal of Saudi forces sent to Bahrain to help put down the unrest.

Saudi Shi’ites have long complained about marginalisation and have started small protests to demand the release of prisoners they say have been detained without trial. Riyadh denies any charges of discrimination.

Riyadh also shares U.S. concerns that Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons in secret. The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action against Iran, which says it is developing nuclear energy only to generate electricity.

Saudi Arabia has publicly tried to stay out of the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear programme but a series of U.S. diplomatic cables released by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks portrayed Riyadh as pressing for a U.S. attack.

King Abdullah was said to have “frequently exhorted the U.S. to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear programme,” a cable printed in Britain’s Guardian newspaper said.

WHAT TO WATCH:

– Any signs of further protests and a deterioration in the eastern province

– Any possible military action against Iran and its impact on the Gulf region

– Any Saudi diplomatic moves to tighten sanctions on Iran and any signs of Saudi facilities offered for military action

AL QAEDA THREAT

Saudi Arabia, with the help of foreign experts, managed to quash an al Qaeda campaign from 2003 to 2006 that targeted expatriate housing compounds, embassies and oil facilities.

Riyadh destroyed the main cells within its borders. But many militants slipped into neighbouring Yemen where al Qaeda regrouped to form a Yemen-based regional wing that seeks, among other things, the fall of the U.S.-allied Saudi royal family.

The Yemen-based al Qaeda arm shot to the global spotlight after it claimed responsibility for a failed attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound passenger plane in December 2009.

Despite the U.S. killing of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden on May 1, the Yemeni wing of the militant Islamist group is expected to remain active, and exploit political instability in Yemen as well.

WHAT TO WATCH:

– Whether al Qaeda’s resurgent Yemen-based branch mounts more operations in Saudi territory, as it has within Yemen

– Riyadh wants to build a fence to seal the mountainous 1,500-km (930-mile) Yemen border, which could help stop militants from crossing.

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The Al-Ahmar Family

Posted on 20 April 2011 by hashimilion

Abdullah Al-Ahmar

Man reacts in one of two ways after God saves him from poverty. Either he remembers his poverty and uses his newly acquired wealth to assist those in need, or forget his past and become overtaken by greed. Abdullah Hussein Al-Ahmar is a prime example of the latter case.  He lived a miserable life before the Yemeni Revolution but fate and the Al-Saud family had other plans. The Al-Saud family picked Abdullah Al-Ahmar as their man in Yemen by showering him with money from all directions, and enabled him to control the wealth of Yemen. He is primarily responsible for ruining and weakening Yemen.

After the 1990 Yemeni civil war and unification, Abdullah Al-Ahmar used his vast wealth to control the Yemeni politics and society. He gained control by setting up companies that bore his family name, Al-Ahmar, which lead to the monopolisation of Yemen’s resources. He set up businesses such as restaurants, wedding halls and garages, which outcompeted average Yemenis and multiplied his wealth tremendously.

Abdullah Hussein Al-Ahmar and his 10 sons

Banks often complained about the multiplicity of accounts belonging to Al-Ahmar family. This forced the Al-Ahmar family to set up new Banks, whether at home or abroad, through partners such as Bank of Sheba so that the movement of their money avoids detection.

It is a well known fact that Abdullah Al-Ahmar was an extremely selfish man. Not once has he ever contributed towards any charity, but many analysts expected his sons to be different, especially Hamid and Hussein. Many people expected them to provide assistance for those affected by war in Saada excluding Harf Sufyan. Any assistance to Harf Sufyan would be impossible given the historic hostility between the Al-Ahmar family and Harf Sufyan. No assistance was given by Hamid or Hussein and to add salt to the wounds, both rejoiced at the sight of death and destruction in the Saada wars, which was caused by the Popular Army (set up by Hussein Al-Ahmar and funded by Saudi money).

Money gained through corruption won’t last forever. The Al-Ahmar family spend most of their money on mobilising the masses, but never invest on those that suffer and are in dire need. They wish to mobilise the masses so that they can pressurise Ali Abduallah Saleh’s regime into accepting them as a partner in power. One shouldn’t be surprised if Saleh bows down to their demands, especially after Hamid became the opposition leader, which has given their family the opportunity to control both sides of the same coin, the Government and the opposition.

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U.S. May Lose Either Way In Bahrain Crisis

Posted on 16 March 2011 by hashimilion

Reporting from Washington As a standoff between troops and protesters in Bahrain teeters near violence, the Obama administration is facing a difficult choice between maintaining support for an increasingly unpopular monarchy or pushing for change that could weaken the U.S. strategic position in the vital Persian Gulf.

Administration officials have been struggling for a month to persuade Bahrain’s royal family and its Saudi backers of the need to enact political reforms in the island nation that would offer greater standing to the impoverished Shiite majority but also keep the Sunni royal family in power. Jeffrey Feltman, the chief U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, arrived in Bahrain on Monday for a new round of talks.

But Bahrain’s decision to invite in hundreds of Saudi troops on Monday signaled that the two governments have grown impatient with the U.S. approach and are focused on reasserting control over the streets. Much of the Bahraini opposition, meanwhile, has spurned the monarchy’s American-backed offer of a dialogue and remains suspicious of the government’s intentions.

The hardening of the two sides’ positions suggests that the Obama administration may face a setback no matter how the crisis is resolved. If the Bahrainis suppress the protesters, the United States may be seen as siding with an autocrat against his people. If the government falls and the Shiite majority takes control — which appears to be the less likely outcome — Washington will lose a key ally and Shiite-led Iran may gain one.

U.S. officials acknowledge that they are worried about the increasingly sectarian cast of the conflict, which deepened when the troops of Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and police forces from the Sunni-led United Arab Emirates entered the island kingdom.

On Tuesday, Iran sharpened the tensions, condemning Bahrain for inviting the Saudi troops. Bahrain recalled its ambassador to Iran and complained that Tehran was meddling.

U.S. officials are trying to avert a struggle between Shiites and Sunnis that could spread, potentially threatening the stability of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

The Obama administration is taking pains not to alienate the Bahrainis, who provide a home for the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, or the Saudis, a strategic partner on oil, counter-terrorism and regional diplomacy, such as the containment of Iran.

Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy, said the administration already is perceived as supporting the Bahraini and Saudi governments’ approach, a perception that would be strengthened if the protests were snuffed out.

As the Saudi troops moved in this week, “the perception on the street has been, ‘This would not be happening without U.S. support,’ ” he said.

The White House stepped up its criticism of the military intervention Tuesday but stopped short of condemning Saudi Arabia.

“There is no military solution to the problems in Bahrain,” Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement. “A political solution is necessary, and all sides must now work to produce a dialogue that addresses the needs of all of Bahrain’s citizens.”

Despite the cautious U.S. language, the crisis comes at a time when the historically close American relationships with the Saudi and Bahraini governments are under stress.

Saudi King Abdullah was angry with the Obama administration for pushing former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign in February. Saudi officials also have been displeased that the White House has prodded them to accelerate their own reforms, a process they insist cannot be rushed because of the kingdom’s change-resistant clergy.

The Saudis appear to have again signaled their displeasure this month, cancelling planned visits to the kingdom by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. Saudi officials said the king was too ill, but U.S. officials acknowledged that the recent tensions may have prompted the move.

The Saudis, like the Bahrainis and other governments of the Gulf Cooperation Council, also are “angry that Washington has let staunch allies such as President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt be forced from power, while doing little to push Col. Moammar Kadafi of Libya from his position,” wrote Simon Henderson, a specialist on the Arabian Peninsula at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Last month, U.S. officials said the Saudis were supportive of their plans for political change in Bahrain, and appeared willing to provide massive financial aid to help relieve the poverty of its Shiite population. But the Saudi government changed course as the protests continued and the opposition’s demands increased.

On Saturday, Gates had made a public appearance in Bahrain and called for an acceleration of the reform effort, saying “baby steps” weren’t enough.

Two days later, Bahraini authorities asked the Saudis to send military help.

Pentagon officials said Gates had no advance notice of the move. In a clear sign of the Saudi willingness to ignore U.S. advice, State Department officials said they were “advised but not consulted” on the intervention.

With the political complexion of Egypt’s new government uncertain, it may become even more important to the United States to be able to rely on its partnership with Saudi Arabia.

But “there are clear signs that a Washington-Riyadh rift is emerging,” said Ayham Kamel of the Eurasia Group risk analysis firm.

LA Times

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Gaddafi’s Sons Tried To Get Saudi Cleric Help

Posted on 01 March 2011 by hashimilion

Sons of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have failed to persuade prominent Saudi clerics to issue religious rulings against a revolt that is threatening to bring down the veteran leader, Al Arabiya television said on Monday.

The Saudi-owned channel said on its website that Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam had contacted one cleric, Salman al-Awda, and Saadi Gaddafi had reached out to a second, Ayedh al-Garni, but both rejected their calls.

“You are killing the Libyan people. Turn to God because you are wronging them. Protect Libyan blood, you are killing old people and children. Fear God,” Garni said he told Saadi.

Garni made the remarks on air on Sunday, the website said, adding Awda gave the same message to Saif al-Islam.

Awda has a weekly television show on Saudi-owned pan-Arab channel MBC1 and has been praised by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden before as a religious scholar he felt did not toe the government line. Garni gave lectures in Libya last year.

Gaddafi’s forces have been trying for days to push back a revolt that has won over large parts of the military and ended his control over eastern Libya. Gaddafi has accused followers of al Qaeda of staging the protests in the east, where Islamists have clashed with government forces in the past.

Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and the ruling al-Saud family see the clerical establishment, who have wide powers in society, as the leading authority in mainstream Sunni Islam.

The world’s top oil exporter is nervous that protests sweeping the region, which have included its neighbours Bahrain, Oman and Yemen, could ignite dissent on its own territory.

Activists have set up Facebook pages calling for protests on March 11 and 20 in Saudi Arabia. These have attracted over 17,000 supporters combined. Last week King Abdullah, a close U.S. ally, ordered wage rises for Saudi citizens along with other benefits in an apparent bid to insulate the kingdom from the wave of protests.

Gaddafi has long been an unpopular figure in Saudi Arabia, which once accused him of plotting to assassinate the king.

Clerics close to the government have said it is not the place of religious scholars to back protests or otherwise. But others have said Gaddafi is an illegitimate ruler and denounced him as an apostate.

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King Abdullah ‘to return to Saudi on Wednesday’

Posted on 21 February 2011 by hashimilion

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah is to return home this week after convalescing in Morocco from operations in New York, a source close to the oil-rich Gulf monarchy said on Sunday.

“The king is expected to return Wednesday and preparations are underway” to greet Abdullah, the official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

Another source said the heads of Saudi state media, especially television channels, have been instructed to begin from Tuesday to broadcast special programmes on the king’s return.

The streets of Riyadh have already been decorated with national flags for the monarch’s return.

Riyadh’s ambassador to Rabat told AFP on Friday the king would soon return to his country. “I was talking to him 15 minutes ago and I can assure you he is very well,” Mohammed ibn Abderrahman al-Bishr said.

King Abdullah, 86, arrived in Morocco on January 22 after surgery on his back in the United States and will return home to a Middle East rocked by anti-regime uprisings, although his own country has been spared.

In his absence, mass street protests led to the departure of Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak, Saudi Arabia’s close ally whom the king has backed in a phone call from Morocco.

Before Mubarak’s ouster on February 11, Tunisia’s strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah after protests toppled his regime in mid-January.

Tension has also reached the conservative Gulf monarchy’s neighbour Bahrain, where Shiite protesters have taken to the streets to push for reform in the Sunni-ruled state.

King Abdullah flew to New York on November 22 and was operated on two days later for a debilitating herniated disc complicated by a haematoma that put pressure on his spine.

That surgery was declared a success, as was a second operation to repair several vertebrae.

The monarch’s advanced age combined with health problems have raised concerns about the future of Saudi Arabia, which has been ruled by the Al-Saud family since 1932.

Abdullah’s half-brother, Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, who has held the post of defence minister ever since 1962, is 83 and has been slowed by what is believed to be cancer.

Little seen at home for the previous two years, Sultan himself flew back from Morocco on November 21 to take over the running of the government in Abdullah’s absence.

Prince Nayef, 77, third in line to the Saudi throne, was appointed second deputy prime minister in March 2009.

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