When I was internal political officer at the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia, Mansour Al-Turki was my liaison with the Ministry of the Interior. I recall from our frequent conversations that he himself is a soft-spoken, friendly "good cop" who discusses things on background in an intelligent manner. However, his boss, Minister of the Interior Prince Naif bin Abdul-Aziz is, in my personal experience, NOT so nice. He and his full-brother Ahmed run the Ministry in a very strict fashion.
He was almost openly unfriendly when I and the US Ambassador paid him a courtesy visit. This is very un-Saudi, and his full brother King Fahd was as friendly and cordial as any VIP I've ever met. The present King Abdullah is also personally warm, though less congenial and more businesslike than his predecessor.
Farhan's problem may be not that he called the Saudi government a liar, but that he accused them of lying about certain arrested persons being "terrorists." This is a hyper-sensitive subject, as Naif has not been openly cooperative with the US in the past with the hunt for the Khobar Barracks bombing, for instance. The fact that Farhan accuses the Ministry of the Interior of playing a double game and arresting opponents under the guise of terrorism is okay in the First Amendment environment of the USA, but might not even pass muster in other western countries, where libel suits could ensue.
The international ramifications increase when it is remembered that the US had been very angry that monies from wealthy Saudis are somehow finding their way into the coffers of anti-US terrorists in Iraq. Now that the US has patched up with the Sunni Sheikhs of Iraq, there are fewer conduits and in-country terrorists to funnel funds to. Sunni Al Qaeda is severely diminished in Iraq and Iranian IEDs are no longer finding their way to insurgents and terrorists in Baghdad. The Saudis are already on the hot-seat for the 15 passport holders [most of Yemeni extraction] in the 9/11 attack, a clever move by Osama bin Laden to put a wedge between the US & Saudi Arabia. And the flow of religious Saudis into Iraq as suicide bombers was a major irritant, but now has evidently ebbed.
Farhan denies that he is taking up the cause of the political prisoners:
“The issue that caused all of this is because I wrote about the political prisoners here in Saudi Arabia, and they think I’m running an online campaign promoting their issue,” the letter continued, saying that Mr. Farhan had been asked to sign a statement of apology. “I’m not sure if I’m ready to do that,” he wrote. “An apology for what? Apologizing because I said the government is a liar when they accused those guys to be supporting terrorism?”
Complicating things is that Fouad Al Farhan may be a member of the Al Farhan cadet branch of the Royal Family, meaning that he could have buddies in his own extended family and perhaps other branches like the Thunayyan and bin Jiluwi or Saud al Kabir who sympathize with the opponents to the direct line of descendents of King Abdul-Aziz. At least his name has a ring of nobility in Saudi readers' eyes who have some knowledge of the complex Royal Family geneologies, a family that could comprise way over 100,000 members.
Also increasing the affair's complexity is the support of Robert Lacey, who wrote an excellent book The Kingdom, which along with The House of Saud by David Holden is one of the two best books, IMHO, by westerners on Saudi Arabia. I've had the privilege of having extensive conversations with both Lacey and Holden [whose 1976 tragic murder in Egypt remains a mystery, though the Saudi CIA station chief told me Holden was killed for getting too deep inside the PLO, and a PFLP Syrian murderer killed him using the PFLP's signature machine-pistol with multiple shots between clavicle & shoulder-blade vertically downward into the heart].
Lacey is updating The Kingdom and is soliciting international support for Al Farhan, something which might give him problems getting a visa back into Saudi Arabia!
More later, as this story may still be in its early stages of development!