- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2005

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — Saudi reformists, still reeling over the tough sentences handed to three of their members two weeks ago, are looking ahead hopefully to what many think is the impending enthronement of Crown Prince Abdullah.

The ailing King Fahd, who handed over the day-to-day running of the kingdom to Abdullah in 1995 after a debilitating stroke, was admitted to a hospital in Riyadh on Friday with symptoms of pneumonia. Water reportedly was drained from his lungs and the 82-year-old monarch was said to also have an infection.

“If God decides to take King Fahd, then Crown Prince Abdullah will be the king. We hope that it will help reform in the kingdom,” said Khalid Al-Dukhayil, a professor of political sociology at King Saud University in Riyadh.

“When Abdullah went to Texas and met President Bush last April, he hinted that further reforms would take place, but others in the royal family foiled him, stopping the reforms from happening,” lawyer Bassim Alim told The Washington Times.

“It would certainly help reform if Abdullah were a full king, with full powers,” said a Saudi commentator with close ties to the government, who asked for anonymity. “I think it will make a big difference.”

The sentencing of Ali Al-Dumaini, Abdullah Al-Hamed and Matruk Al-Faleh to jail terms of six to nine years each on May 15 was the low point in a two-year-long campaign by democracy activists to get the Saudi government to introduce elections, reform the judiciary and limit the powers of the ruling family.

Limited municipal elections were held earlier this year, but women were excluded and all members of the Shura Council, a body that proposes legislation to the Council of Ministers, still are appointed by the government.

Most Saudis were surprised at the harshness of the sentences, but many still think the government may redeem itself by pardoning the reformists or having their sentences overturned by the appeals court.

“Everyone was expecting Abdullah to pardon them. All of their judicial avenues have not yet been exhausted,” said the commentator. “The appeal court could overturn the decision as the appeal court has more reasonable judges.”

Mr. Al-Dukhayil was also hopeful, saying, “I don’t expect the reformists to stay in jail as long as their sentences. There is no law that says they should stay in jail for so long.”

But Mr. Alim was doubtful about the government’s intentions.

“I don’t believe there is a real push for reform. Reform as it is right now is only cosmetic and extremely slow,” he said.

“The government is between a rock and a hard place right now. If they try to pardon the reformists, it will seem that the judiciary is not independent. If they do nothing, then it will make our judiciary seem unfair.”

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