Associated Press Writer
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) -- When Muslim fundamentalists inspired by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah of Iran, one of their most powerful weapons was the cassette recorder.
Sixteen years later, dissidents trying to dethrone another Middle Eastern monarch -- King Fahd of Saudi Arabia -- are waging their struggle with an updated revolutionary arsenal: fax machines, video camcorders, mobile phones and electronic mail.
Many of the dissidents belong to the London-based Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights. The group is considered the best organized in opposing the 72-year-old king, a key U.S. ally in the region.
``They are ahead of the government in the technology spectrum,'' said Aziz Abu-Hamad, a former Saudi government lawyer now with Human Rights Watch-Middle East in New York. ``The government is concerned.''
As the oil-based economy of the desert kingdom sputters with cash-flow problems and rising unemployment, the committee is increasingly spreading strident calls for resistance.
Its faxes purport to expose stories of corruption, misrule and allegedly un-Islamic sex lives of the royal family. The group also has smuggled in videotapes of protest demonstrations not shown on state-run television.
The group's leader, Mohammed al-Mass'ari, said many of his associates are middle-class intellectuals and technocrats who believe in a pristine form of Islam modernized with human values they learned on Western college campuses.
He said the committee does not envision an Islamic system based on Iran's restrictive model -- ``even marginal groups like Shiites would have their place.'' It also would jettison the current Saudi version of a religious state and replace it with an elected republican government, he said.
That puts the group at odds with another activist community -- conservative young clergy who are pro-monarchy but want stricter conformity to Islamic codes of old. They have blocked limited attempts by the royal family to adopt Western practices to appease the growing and often foreign-educated middle class, such as allowing women to drive.
Although the committee does not advocate violence, some analysts draw parallels to early 1970s Iran, when smuggled tapes of the exiled Khomeini's fiery sermons primed the masses for the upheaval that ousted the shah.
``It is 1976-77 all over again. But this time we are in the Arabian Peninsula,'' said Hans-Heino Kopietz, a Middle East specialist in London.
Kopietz and Abu-Hammad said they could not quantify the committee's support, but both said information from sources within Saudi Arabia indicated it is addressing a broad audience.
``I don't know if it is 50 percent or 60 percent, but there is a mass of growing disaffection or disillusion,'' Kopietz said.
A Saudi resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the group's faxes are copied and circulated across the kingdom.
Mass'ari, a German-educated professor of theoretical physics, and other committee members left Saudi Arabia last year after the group was banned by religious decree. The group was formed in 1993 by six religious scholars.
Mass'ari, who is seeking political asylum in Britain, said he was detained for six months and tortured before he fled.
He and his colleagues bombard the kingdom with faxed and e-mailed newsletters almost daily, giving accounts of strikes, mosque sit-ins and crackdowns on dissidents.
The group's sources in the kingdom get the news to the committee by dialing new toll-free numbers that connect directly to the United States or Britain. Mass'ari believes the government has been unable to monitor much of the communications because these contacts have been used to coordinate the smuggling out of dissidents.
------ EDITOR'S NOTE: Computer address for CDLR: 100043.1420(at)compuserve.com.
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