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09RIYADH81 2009-01-13 14:37:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Riyadh
Cable title:  

SAUDI GOVERNMENT STAYS A STEP AHEAD OF PUBLIC

Tags:   IS KU PGOV PREL SA 
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1. (C) SILENT PRAYERS: The League of Muslim Scholars, a
respected group of regional religious figures, declared
Friday, January 9 the "Gaza Day of Anger." As a result,
worshippers attended Friday prayers expecting messages about
Gaza. Instead, they heard sermons addressing other themes,
with Gaza only mentioned in the supplications. The
experience was repeated in multiple mosques, indicating that
the government had instructed imams not to make Gaza the main
subject of their sermon. According to a witness, some
worshippers criticized the lack of support for Gaza after
prayers. In one mosque, a man pointedly asked the Imam to
make a special prayer for Gaza victims, but was told martyrs
need no special prayer. Meanwhile, Saudi religious leaders
publicly extolled the virtues of "qunoot" (silent prayers)
over less civilized public protests.



2. (C) OFFICIAL ACTION: King Abdullah remains publicly
visible on Gaza. The King chaired a January 12 Council of
Ministers meeting which focused on Gaza. A subsequent
statement harshly criticized Israel and did not mention
Hamas. The King reportedly will attend a summit of Arab

RIYADH 00000081 002.2 OF 002


heads of state January 19-20 in Kuwait. The January 9
wedding of his son occurred as planned, but the King
postponed a customary sword dance out of respect for Gaza
Palestinians. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) announced that
the airlifting of humanitarian aid will commence January 12,
although one flight with medical supplies departed January 8.
Saudis have donated 175.4 million riyals (US$46.7 million)
and 144 tons of in-kind relief to the official campaign for
humanitarian aid (Reftel D). Saudi Aramco kicked off its own
Palestinian Relief Campaign, allowing donations by payroll
deduction. The Ministry of Health announced a January 13
Arab Health Ministers Extraordinary Meeting in Riyadh to
discuss humanitarian assistance.



3. (C) STILL THE TOP ISSUE: Gaza continues to hold the
public's attention. A Saudi cleric has called for a boycott
of U.S. restaurants and products (Reftel A), a message
rapidly disseminated via text messaging and door-to-door
flier distribution. A few Mission contacts have shown a cold
shoulder to the USG. The president of the National Society
of Human Rights flatly declined to engage on a separate
issue, noting "now is not a good time to talk to the United
States Embassy." Some invitees to an event at the
Ambassador's residence took issue with the timing.
Organizers of the Jeddah Economic Forum cited Gaza as a
reason for its postponement, although this might be only a
convenient excuse (Reftel B).



4. (C) EASTERN PROVINCE QUIET(ER): EP has witnessed no
demonstrations since the beginning of the year. A human
rights contact reports that approximately 30 individuals have
been arrested following the December 19 and 29 demonstrations
in Qatif and Safwa (Reftels C, E). The SAG has not publicly
commented on the arrests. The demonstrators have not been
charged, but some have been allowed visits by family members.
Ashura celebrations reportedly concluded peacefully, though
Gaza weighed on worshippers' minds. One report held that
unknown parties raised a large Palestinian flag on Tarout
castle, a local historical site, which police reportedly
rushed to remove.

RUNDELL