Masari ejected from own dissident group

JOHN LICHFIELD

Within hours of his legal victory over plans to deport him from Britain, the leading Saudi dissident Mohammed al-Masari has been ejected from his own organisation.

A spokesman for the Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights said yesterday that Mr Masari - the man at the centre of the arms-and-bananas row - had been asked to leave after "differences" with his co-founder, Dr Saad Faqih.

Other sources within the organisation suggested that Mr Masari had been fired as the committee's spokesman for taking too extreme an Islamic view, at the expense of purely Saudi and political concerns.

But this was denied by another source close to the dissident group who said the arguments were "personal and administrative". "This is just the kind of personality clash and split which all exiled political organisations are subject to from time to time," the source said.

A spokesman for the Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights, Abu Haas, said "mediation" was in progress. It was hoped to repair the rift between the two men within two to three days. One of the mediators is George Galloway, the Labour MP for Glasgow Hillhead, who has championed Mr Masari since he was ordered by the Government to leave Britain for the Caribbean island of Dominica in December.

It was this decision to deport Mr Masari, in response to Saudi pressure, which was challenged on Tuesday at the Immigration Appellate Authority, in north London. Judge David Pearl ordered the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, to reconsider Mr Masari's claim for political asylum. Judge Pearl accused the Government of trying to "circumvent for diplomatic and trade reasons" its obligations under the UN convention on refugees.

It remained unclear last night why Mr Masari was thrown out of his group so soon after a court ruling. Saudi dissident sources suggested that his colleagues might have hoped that the British Government was going to do the job for them.

Mr Galloway confirmed yesterday that he was trying to "expedite a reconciliation". He said the differences were personal but declined to comment further.

The CDLR, the most prominent Saudi opposition group, campaigns for democracy and against alleged corruption in the Saudi royal family. It was formed in 1993 by Mr Masari, 49, a professor of theoretical physics, Dr Faqih, and four other scholars. They left Saudi Arabia for Britain in 1994 after Mr Masari and others were arrested and allegedly tortured.

The British Government said it had decided to expel Mr Masari because his attacks on the Saudi royal family jeopardised billions of pounds in British exports - mainly of arms.

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