Faqih, Sa'd al- (1957–)

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Faqih, Sa'd al-

Sa'd Rashid Muhammad al-Faqih is a prominent Saudi dissident. He is the head of the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA), based in London, England.


Faqih was born on 1 February (some sources say 2 January) 1957 in Zubayr, Iraq. A Saudi national, he was a surgery professor at King Sa'ud University before fleeing the country in 1991. He gained notice as a cofounder, along with Muhammad bin Abdullah al-Mas'ari, of the relocated London headquarters of the Saudi Islamist opposition group, the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR), a Saudi Islamist opposition group. Its name is more accurately translated as the Committee for the Defense of Shari'a [Islamic law] Rights. He had also served as a physician with the Islamic mujahideen who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s. He was one of the organizers of the 1991 "Letter of Demands" and the 1992 "Memorandum of Advice" presented to the office of King Fahd that called for political changes in Saudi Arabia.


The committee was originally formed in Saudi Arabia in early May 1993, with al-Mas'ari, a retired judge of the grievances court, as its leading figure. Within days of its founding, the six committee members were relieved of their duties and the spokesman, al-Mas'ari's son Muhammad, was arrested. Upon his release Muhammad al-Mas'ari fled to London and opened the headquarters of the CDLR there with Faqih. The CDLR quickly became effective in smuggling leaflets into Saudi Arabia and bombarding the kingdom with dissident faxes.

But Mas'ari aroused the ire of British authorities for controversial statements, including allegations that he felt that U.S. soldiers killed in Saudi Arabia in November 1995 were "legitimate targets." The Saudi government allegedly threatened to abstain from new commercial contracts with Britain unless it did something about Mas'ari. As a result the British Home Office ordered Mas'ari's deportation to the Caribbean island of Dominica in early 1996. Mas'ari mounted an appeal but in the midst of the appeal process in March Faqih challenged him for the CDLR leadership. Faqih claimed that the committee's leaders in Saudi Arabia had ordered him to relieve Mas'ari because of the latter's ties to other radical Islamist groups.

Following a confrontation between the two at the CDLR offices, resulting in the intervention of London police, Faqih formed a new group—the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA) in 1996. When Mas'ari gained permission to remain in Britain, he and Faqih became serious rivals until Mas'ari was declared bankrupt in January 1997. Mas'ari's links to Islamist extremists became more pronounced as a Web site he operated carried statements and videos of suicide bombings by groups linked to al-Qa'ida.

But as Mas'ari's star seemed to be fading, Faqih's was on the rise. His MIRA launched a satellite radio station in December 2002, Sawt al-Islah (Voice of Reform) to reach Saudis in Saudi Arabia. The station soon added television capability with Faqih appearing live to take telephone calls, faxes, and e-mails from Saudi listeners. Six months later in June, Faqih was stabbed outside his London home, and he accused the Saudi government of ordering the attack. Riyadh denied the accusation and a few months later claimed that an al-Qa'ida cell captured in Riyadh had ties to Faqih.


Name: Sa'd al-Faqih

Birth: 1957, Zubayr, Iraq

Nationality: Saudi


  • 1991: Involved with issuing "Letter of Demands" to King Fahd; leaves teaching job at King Sa'ud University and begins self-imposed exile in London
  • 1992: Involved with issuing "Memorandum of Advice" to King Fahd
  • 1996: Forms Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA) in London
  • 2003: Calls for antigovernment demonstration in Riyadh
  • 2004: Calls for demonstration in Riyadh; Saudi government charges him with collaborating with a plot to assassinate Crown Prince Abdullah; U.S. government issues orders freezing his assets in the United States


Further evidence of Faqih's influence inside Saudi Arabia occurred on 14 October 2003 when he called for a demonstration outside a human rights conference in Riyadh. Several hundred people, including a few women, responded to his call and the demonstration was broken up by police. Some eighty demonstrators were arrested. Thirty-six were sentenced to two months in jail for their actions. The police blocked roads in major Saudi cities on 23 October to prevent a second demonstration called by Faqih. A heavy security presence throughout the kingdom thwarted a subsequent call for demonstrations by Faqih on 16 December 2004.

Faqih has denied supporting al-Qa'ida or similar groups and has claimed that he is working for a peaceful transformation to an elected leadership in Saudi Arabia with an independent judiciary and a constitution based on the shari'a. However, the Saudi government brands him a terrorist. In July 2004 Riyadh charged Faqih with collaborating with a Libyan intelligence officer to send an American Muslim to Riyadh to assassinate then-heir apparent Crown Prince Abdullah and other prominent members of the Sa'ud family.

The U.S. government also has voiced concerns about Faqih, claiming that he has ties to fellow Saudi usama bin ladin and other al-Qa'ida operatives—including some the United States claimed were involved with the 1998 bombings of American embassies in east Africa. The American and British governments also claimed that MIRA Internet message boards were used to post "al Qa'ida-related statements and images," although the Americans conceded that MIRA posted disclaimers online asking users not to post such messages. Still, on 21 December 2004, the U.S. Department of the Treasury froze Faqih's assets in the United States and asked the United Nations (UN) to add his name to the "specially designated global terrorists" list. Two days later, the UN-imposed sanctions against Faqih led the British government to freeze MIRA's assets as well.


It is too early to predict Faqih's long-term legacy. He is a senior Saudi dissident heading the most influential public Saudi opposition organization, and his message resonates among certain Saudi citizens. His legacy will depend on his success in effectuating lasting change in Saudi Arabia, as well as his ability to navigate the volatile Middle East political landscape.


Abedin, Mahan. "The Face of Saudi Opposition." Asia Times Online. Updated 20 April 2006. Available from http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/HD20Ak02.html.

Faqih, Sa'd al-. "Which Way for the Kingdom?" Middle East Dialogue, no. 10 (10 May 1994).

Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia. Available from http://www.islah.tv/index.php?/english.

                                               J. E. Peterson