DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – A Saudi dissident was arrested Tuesday after a nightlong siege of his Riyadh home, where he was planning what would have been the kingdom's first public meeting of independent reformists, an exiled opposition figure said.
The Saudi government has traditionally resisted allowing open debate of the way the country is run or criticism of the ruling family. But Saudis are increasingly demanding more freedom of expression and participation in the country's affairs.
The standoff with police outside the home of Abdel Aziz al-Tayyar (search) began at about midnight Monday, according to Saad al-Fagih, the exiled director of the London-based Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (search).
Police repeatedly asked al-Tayyar to surrender, but he refused to come out. They finally raided the house Tuesday afternoon, arrested al-Tayyar and confiscated documents and personal belongings, al-Fagih told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Al-Tayyar's wife confirmed the arrest in a telephone call to AP. Saudi officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
Al-Tayyar was a commentator on the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia's radio station, which is broadcast by satellite from Europe. Reformists regularly make anonymous calls to the station to convey their beliefs and criticize the ruling Al Saud family (search), but al-Tayyar was the first to reveal not only his identity, but also his telephone number.
Al-Fagih said reformists were planning to hold a public meeting by the end of September at al-Tayyar's house in the Saudi capital.
"It was intended to be an open meeting for everyone who has a complaint or criticism to come forward," al-Fagih said. "Judging by normal standards, nothing is wrong with such a meeting, but by Saudi authorities' standards, it is deemed a challenge."
Al-Tayyar's fallout with the Saudi government started six years ago, when he was dismissed from his job at the chamber of commerce. Al-Tayyar, 44, maintained the "arbitrary dismissal" was a result of his complaints about corruption in the institution.
"When he first called in to the station he was complaining about his personal grievance, but then he went on to become an avid criticizer of the obsolete leadership and the absence of transparency and accountability in the kingdom," al-Fagih said.
Al-Tayyar's wife said she and their four children could not go to work or school Tuesday because of the standoff. Identifying herself as Umm Mishaal, she said she did not know the reason behind her husband's arrest but that she believed it was caused by his talk about reform.