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Opinion: Saudi Arabia is protecting itself | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah speaks with US Secretary of State John Kerry before their meeting in Rawdat Khurayim, a secluded royal hunting retreat in Saudi Arabia on January 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowsk)

Last week, the Saudi Interior Ministry issued a statement designating a number of groups as terrorist organizations among other things, in accordance with the royal order issued by King Abdullah last month that led to the formation of a joint committee to officially designate terrorist groups. The royal decree was part of a broad effort to confront any and all parties that might pose a threat to Saudi Arabia or its people, and the Interior Ministry’s statement was an effective means of implementing that decree.

Perhaps some people were apprehensive about this decree, hoping it would not be implemented in any real way and keeping in mind the Arab proverb “keep your head down until the storm passes.” Any such hopes have now been dashed.

The committee’s statement is not the result of internal investigations within the Interior Ministry alone, as some have suggested. No, the committee includes representatives of the ministries of the interior, foreign affairs, Islamic affairs and justice, as well as the Court of Grievances and the Bureau of Investigations and Public Prosecution.

The historic statement has 11 articles, which criminalize a range of offences in a number of fields, from politics to religious sermons to media and finance. The first list of terrorist organizations announced by the committee included the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, all branches of Al-Qaeda, including Syria’s Al-Nusra Front, Hezbollah’s activities in the Kingdom and Yemen’s Houthi Movement.

The classification of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates is nothing new, and the Kingdom has been in a state of continuous war with the terrorist organization for several years now. What was notable was the classification of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, which represents both a serious challenge and a major shift in Saudi society, especially if we consider the ambiguous and indefinite nature of the Brotherhood’s membership, which includes everyone from youths to elderly gentlemen.

As for Hezbollah, some might ask why only its activities “in the Kingdom” have been prohibited. What about Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement? Well, the Gulf Cooperation Council has already issued a statement designating Lebanese Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Furthermore, Hezbollah “in the Kingdom” includes Hezbollah Al-Hijaz, the Saudi local chapter of the party, as well as anyone else in Saudi Arabia with ties, whether financial or political/ideological, with Lebanese Hezbollah.

The royal decree and the joint committee formed under its auspices are different from anything in Saudi history. This is a decisive time in Saudi Arabia’s history and we are witnessing a huge shift in the structure of Saudi society, including in the fields of education and culture.

The committee’s decision is a massive change akin to the ones introduced by Saudi Arabia’s Founder, King Abdulaziz, when he dealt with the hardline separatists and “armed” Muslim Brotherhood of his time. After he exhausted all possibility of peaceful dialogue with these groups, King Abdulaziz held a large assembly in the capital, Riyadh, in 1928 to alert his subjects to the danger in their midst. Then, when such talk was no longer useful, King Abdulaziz delivered a fatal blow to the Ikhwan [Brotherhood] Revolt and the Battle of Sabilla in 1929, thereby safeguarding the future of the state. His son, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, is now protecting the Saudi state and its people just as his father did before him.