Jeddah Asharq Al-Awsat- Abdulaziz al Shanbari has returned from London, and is living these days in complete freedom together with his family in a hotel in Jeddah, after having spent two years with what is known as the Reform Movement (Harakat al-Islah) which is led by (Saudi dissident) Saad al-Faqih in the British capital.
Those two years have changed everything; even the image of his oil-rich country became distorted. Those days were also full of many stories and narratives, some of which he confirmed and some he denied, while he expressed reservations on other matters, in view of their sensitivity and also in view of his desire not to disclose them in order to ward off many problems that may arise as a result of what he says.
Asharq Al-Awsat met with him at his hotel. We tried to find out many of the details, despite his reservations in answering many questions of interest to the reader. Following is the text of the interview:
(Asharq Al-Awsat) There have been some rumors about a deal between you and the Saudi Government, something which your brother denied when he spoke to us. However, what is the truth? Did a deal really take place?
(Al-Shanbari) What my brother said is true: There is no such deal. For your information, so far I have not talked to any official quarter or any Saudi official in the Kingdom or outside it, with the exception of the Saudi embassy in London for the purpose of making the travel arrangements. If there has been a bargain or a deal, then why with me specifically? I reaffirm that what I did is no more than having realized the truth after I have seen many changes.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) But what are those changes?
(Al-Shanbari) The current action that is taking place in Saudi Arabia on all political, economic, and especially social levels — and the social level was originally the basis of our activity in the Islamic movement — and the fast changes that are taking place in the Kingdom. Every day we see new projects that augur well for the future. All those changes have compelled me to reconsider my personal views and decisions. The country has begun to witness an awakening on all levels.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Have you been subjected to pressure from the Reform Movement to which you belonged in the past to make you go back on your decision to return to Saudi Arabia?
(Al-Shanbari) Not at all. In fact, I was not waiting for the approval of the (Reform) movement or anyone else because above all it is a decision based on my personal conviction. On the contrary, I find it is an opportunity to call on the youth in the movement to pause for a moment of truth with themselves.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) During the period you spent in London, what were your expectations of Saudi Arabia?
(Al-Shanbari) It would not be a secret if I tell you that I came to Saudi Arabia imagining it had become poor, and its streets have been turned into military barracks. I did not see what I had imagined. That was perhaps because I had misleading information or because members of the movement — or even I myself — had misjudged many things. That is because when a person speaks and sees things from one side only he is restricted within one circle and sees one aspect only. However, if his understanding and horizon is expanded and he was prepared to see matters from more than one side, and to view things honestly and truthfully, and look at the future and the people for whom he is responsible, then he will definitely change his beliefs.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) There are many lists of the names of persons which your movement had published. What is the truth about those lists, especially as they were condemned by some of the individuals whose names were included in the lists?
(Al-Shanbari) These are detailed matters which I do not want to go into. I believe there are competent quarters concerned to find the truth about such matters and which perhaps will be inevitably revealed later.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You mean you cannot go into them because of security considerations?
(Al-Shanbari) Perhaps, but what is important in my being reticent about the subject is to calm down many matters.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) And the attempt to assassinate the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin-Abdulaziz Al Saud when he was crown prince in which the Reform Movement was involved? Do you have any details about it?
(Al-Shanbari) You have to excuse me, but I cannot go into that matter.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) However, your brother told us yesterday that you will be providing a number of details?
(Al-Shanbari) I will not object to provide anything that serves the country and the nation and safeguards national unity to the quarters that are interested in that aspect.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you think the details you will provide contain crucial matters?
(Al-Shanbari) It is up to the officials to assess that.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you seek to engage in any political activity inside Saudi Arabia?
(Al-Shanbari) Not at all. I have not thought of that. There are many things that happened and decisions that have been made in the past period, and these were among the things that prompted me to rethink my stand lately.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Thus if you are allowed to carry out political or trade unionist activity inside Saudi Arabia you will not do so?
(Al-Shanbari) I believe such matters have been dispelled and we do not need them. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques has been clear on many issues, and there is tangible combating of the corruption and authoritarianism which we believed existed. There is no need to engage in such (political) activities.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Will the coming days see the return of others from your previous (Reform) movement, and will any of them retreat?
(Al-Shanbari) I am not sure exactly. However, I believe some of them are at a loss and I hope they will return to the right path soon.