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Terrorism in Saudi Arabia: Who is Developing it and Who Can Explain it? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Just before Ramadan, the Saudi security body revealed that it had discovered a network that supports and funds terrorism, according to a statement released by the Ministry of Interior.

What’s different in this case, in comparison to the discovery and detainment of other cells in the past, is that the Interior Ministry’s statement focused on the high academic qualifications obtained by the detainees, their experiences and mature ages, and this is evident in the positions they held. The statement mentioned that some of those suspects abused the trust that had been placed in them.

However, in my opinion, the most important issue that the statement tried to highlight was that those suspects did not only encourage and support [terrorism] but are in a more advanced stage of violent activity by religious groups; a stage in which there is experience and high-level qualifications. Some of them work as lecturers, some are established employees and others are businessmen. In other words, they are unlike the zealous young people who we used to watch read out their wills just before embarking on suicide operations – young people overwhelmed by religious zeal who would brandish their machine guns or hand grenades with passion.

The significance of all of this is the invalidation of the belief that terrorism is merely an expression of the frustration of deprived and poor young people. Even though this belief is not completely erroneous or far removed from the truth, this link, between terrorism and poverty and political despotism, is incorrect and misleading when presented as the perfect explanation for the existence of terrorism in Islamic societies.

There is no doubt that the economic situation, affluence, and the availability of job opportunities – in other words a good economic situation and development – is one of the most important engines of politics and society. It also serves as the economic gateway to interpreting historical and current events and is important and indispensable to those who want to understand past events and the reasons they took place. The objection I do have here however is when the explanation [for terrorism] is limited to the economic situation and development. There are other reasons for political opposition and going against public order; these may be emotional, sentimental reasons directly linked to religion and to the extent to which you are content with your inner self. This is reached at the moment when the call for establishing the lost model becomes a reality; in our Islamic and Arab case this would be the dream of an Islamic state based on Sharia and the [reestablishment of the] absent caliphate, and how to make this dream a reality.

In other words, Osama Bin Laden didn’t become enraged with everybody and call for militarization and revolution because of an economic crisis or out of anger or envy as a result of suffering financial depravation. The same goes for Ayman al Zawahiri, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the relatively well-off Egyptian student Mohammed Ata, who led the 9/11 attacks. This also applies to some of Al Qaeda’s leaders in Saudi Arabia such as the first-in-command Yusuf al Ayiri or Isa al Awshan and others.

There have been numerous explanations for terrorism ever since it flared up in 2001. Many Western experts and scores of people who oppose the regimes in our region argued that the main reason for terrorism was the absence of democracy, which led to despotism. To be honest, it is very easy to argue against this theory. Suffice it to say that democracy is not what the fundamentalists are concerned with. Their real issue is identity and how to meet the legitimate requirements of this identity. Fundamentalist groups, from the Muslim Brotherhood all the way down to Al Qaeda, reject the concept of democracy in truth relativism. I am not this up; we do not need to see any more proof of Al Qaeda’s rejection of democracy, as it is enough to look at the literature, by Ayman al Zawahiri for example, or to look at Al Qaeda’s official mouthpiece in Saudi Arabia, Sawt al Jihad online magazine.

With regards to the Muslim Brotherhood, despite their superficial and short-lived enthusiasm about practicing democracy, deep down they do not approve of it. They believe in the state of righteousness, truth and Islamic Shariaa law. The former Muslim Brotherhood General Guide Mustafa Mashhur once said during a forum entitled ‘Islam and Political Pluralism’ that “it is important to distinguish between the propagation stage where there are de facto conditions imposed on the Islamists and between the model state conceived by them. I can see no opportunity in the Islamic reality for the door to be opened to secularists,” as quoted by Fahmi Huwaidi in his book, ‘Islam and Democracy’ published in 1993.

The whole matter has exceeded all interpretations. We are facing an actual conflict between two currents: a revolutionist current that might reconcile for a while whilst at the same time manoeuvring and developing its tactics on the one hand, and a counter-current on the other.

This does not mean that we reject the economic and political interpretation; rather we are taking a complete bird’s eye view of fundamentalist ideology into perspective so as not to put words in their mouths.

In that respect, I read a comment by the veteran Yemeni politician Abdul Karim al Iryani on the reasons behind the unrest and rebellion that has struck Yemen from north to south under the leaderships of Zaydi and Sunni fundamentalists. The former is represented by the al Houthis and the second by Al Qaeda in Marib and the south. Between them of course, there is a southern regional revolution that has incorporated Al Qaeda spectrums.

Al Iryani said, “Yemen needs to get out of the economic crisis it is experiencing in order to solve its continuous problems.” He pointed out that “If Yemen gets out of this economic crisis then the calls made by separatist movements in the south and the problems with the al Houthis in the north would all come to an end.”

Though the connection between financial depravation and revolution in the Yemeni context is well founded, we cannot fully rely on this interpretation, even in Yemen. It might apply to the southern separatist movement, and it might have applied to the al Houthi rebellion at an earlier period when it first emerged and the al Houthis bore a grudge against the government for neglecting their areas in the Saada province and elsewhere. However, this interpretation is no longer valid now that the opposition has grown stronger and has been enriched with revolutionary declarations as well as clear political and ideological objections.

The aim of all this is to show that after discovering a group of 44 academics and middle-aged men in Saudi Arabia accused of supporting and funding terrorism, we are actually facing another fundamentalist group in Saudi Arabia that is far smarter in its approach than the previous youth of Al Qaeda. It is the middle-aged and old men who are now playing, not the youngsters.

We are talking about middle-aged and old men with terrifying skills. We know that they have up-to-date abilities whereby they can detonate bombs from afar, even from overseas. According to the experts I have spoken to, this is shocking and represents an object of new evil in “creating” local terrorism.

Saudi Arabia is now confronting a new virus that is constantly evolving and developing in the face of all counter security measures. This is because the ideological doctor who is holding onto the surgeon’s scalpel to remove the tumour is yet to enter the operating theatre.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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