Sharon Visit to Bush Ranch Followed By That of Saudi Ruler

Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is due to meet US President George W. Bush at his ranch in Texas, barely two weeks after a visit by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

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, | updated: 18:33

The close proximity of the Saudi de facto ruler's visit to that of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's dilutes the claim that Sharon's visit to the Bush ranch was a special privilege granted only to close allies. The visit was touted by the Israeli press as an indication of the special relationship granted Israel due to plans to withdraw from Gaza and the northern Shomron.

Bush has urged Saudi Arabia to expand "the role of its people in determining their future." But, despite muted US State Department criticism, the Saudi Kingdom has largely ignored US encouragement to become democratic.

Saudi Arabia is far from backing away from Islamic rule, as militant Wahabi Islamists swept the latest municipal elections. Women were not allowed to vote or take any part in the local elections.

Just this weekend, Saudi Arabia detained 40 Christians for praying within the country, which has made the practicing of any non-Islamic religion illegal. The Christian men, women, and children from Pakistan were found praying in a private residence and were immediately arrested according to Al-Jazeera. The Arab news station also reported that Christian tapes and books were found and confiscated.