Rafha (Northern Borders Province), Asharq Al-Awsat—With the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq and the continued predations of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, Saudi Arabia faces instability to its north and south, refocusing attention on the security of the Kingdom’s borders.
In response, Saudi National Guard Minister Prince Miteb Bin Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz paid a visit to troops stationed on the country’s northern border with Iraq on Wednesday, and hailed their preparedness and morale to deal with any threat from ISIS.
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to Prince Miteb about the government’s efforts to secure the border, efforts to tackle extremism more generally, as well as the situation in the Arab world today and the ongoing rift between Riyadh and Doha.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Tell us about the directives which Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz has issued regarding the threat represented by groups with extremist ideologies?
Prince Miteb Bin Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz: In his last speech, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz called on scholars to continue urging young people to return to their tolerant religion and to communicate and open dialogue with them to promote correct [Islamic] thought. [This is] so we do not leave them hungry for ideology from figures that have no connection with correct Islamic Shari’a law. The special Royal Order [issued by King Abdullah] gives [only] members of the Senior Scholars Committee the right to issue fatwas. I pray that the youth will calm down and look to correct sources for Islamic fatwas, and to the right people who can issue these fatwas.
Q: What kind of condition are the Saudi armed forces in?
Thank God, I am very happy and pleased with what I have seen in terms of the readiness and willingness of our soldiers. Morale is very high and this is something that I felt for myself in my conversations and meetings with them. Their field commanders and officers told me that their soldiers are dedicated to carrying out their duty with honor and courage, to protect the holy sites and the nation from anyone trying to cause harm. I passed on the greetings of the Commander-in-Chief, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, to them, as well as those of Crown Prince [Salman Bin Abdulaziz] and Deputy Crown Prince [Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz]. All the soldiers wished the best to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the people of the Kingdom, and this is proven by their presence here on the fields of honor and their pride in defense of our true and tolerant religion, renewing their pledge of allegiance to the nation to continue their duty to defend our country and protect its borders and holy sites.
Q: In your speech you said that it is the task of armies to confront other armies, but that it is the common mission of all Saudi citizens to confront intellectual attacks and secret plots. What did you mean by this?
Of course, armies confront other armies and protect borders; this is the responsibility of our armed forces, of which the National Guard is an integrated part. We are coordinating with our colleagues in the ministries of Defense and the Interior in order to defend our homeland and, thank God, they are ready and prepared for any emergency.
As for our intellectual forces, these are the ordinary citizens everywhere who must be the bulwark in the face of illicit organizations that are operating, and being operated from abroad, with the objective of destabilizing security and sowing sedition [in Saudi Arabia] and distorting the ideas of Saudi youth. There can be no doubt that the task of confronting these groups and ideas rests on the shoulders of our scholars; we expect them to play a prominent role in educating the people and warning them against such calls, urging the youth, intellectuals and opinion-makers to contribute to warning people against deviant thought, and raising awareness of what is being plotted against the homeland and our people.
Q: How do you respond to press reports about Egyptian and Pakistani forces being deployed in northern Saudi Arabia to protect the border from ISIS?
I have heard such talk. We are in the northernmost part of the country; have you seen any foreign troops? Of course, we are proud of and respect our relationships and partnerships with friendly and fraternal states; however, it is our own sons who are working to protect and defend the borders and the homeland, whether those in the armed forces, the National Guard, or the Interior Ministry. Perhaps this is the right occasion to warn anybody who wishes evil [to Saudi Arabia] that they will be confronted not just by the armed forces, but also by 27 million soldiers—every Saudi citizen—ready to defend our holy sites and our homeland. We all recall what the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques said in his historic speech that he would be the first to stand in defense of the homeland.
Q: How do you assess the general situation in the Arab world and the diplomatic and humanitarian efforts that are being made by Saudi Arabia to resolve its conflicts?
To be frank, what some friendly and fraternal states are witnessing is painful and saddening. This, of course, is something that does not please any Muslims or Arabs, who only want development and goodness. This is why the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz and his wise government have exerted sustained political and diplomatic efforts to contain these conflicts and divisions, based on our moral and humanitarian duty and the Kingdom’s central position and weight in the Arab and Islamic world, and on the international scene.
Q: Speaking of Saudi Arabia’s efforts, you visited Doha last week and you met with the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani. Can you tell us when the Saudi ambassador to Doha will return to his post?
Of course this visit came in the framework of fraternal consultation and cooperation between Arab Gulf states, and was commissioned by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. This visit was the continuation of talks that I began with the Emir of Qatar in Jeddah. The issue of the ambassadors is in the process of being resolved thanks to the efforts being made to remove all the obstacles and difficulties between the two diplomatic sides. The people of the Gulf are one people, united by a common destiny.
This interview was originally conducted in Arabic.