Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Leadership in a Time of Crisis: How King Abdullah Guided Saudi Arabia Through the 9/11 Storm. | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Terrorist attacks, deception and sabotage have drained much of Saudi Arabia’s political assets and resulted in throwing the kingdom into a historical crisis with the world’s “only superpower”.

This has pushed the kingdom to play an important role in controlling the negative impacts of such attacks and restoring its prestige in the eyes of the world.

The fierce battle began on September 11, 2001, when 15 Saudis took part in the terrorist attacks in New York that have been followed by numerous statements and video recordings by leaders of the Al Qaeda network in which they threatened the US with more attacks, declared war on the world, and promised to liberate the Arab Peninsula from the “polytheists” and the “crusaders”.

Suddenly, Saudi Arabia; a country known for its political composure and moderate positions, found itself forced to confront international events.

Al Qaeda brought down the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City as well as the face of the US economy in particular and capitalism in general. One plane hit the Pentagon [the headquarters of the US Department of Defense] setting it ablaze and this was a violation of a strong source of power in the US in particular and in the West in general. After witnessing such events, what other economic landmarks and military strongholds can America have confidence in?

Suddenly, the spotlight was on Saudi Arabia for objective reasons as the leadership of the enemy and the “soldiers and followers of Al Qaeda” were linked to Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, most of the perpetrators of these frenzied attacks were Saudi and the stated religious slogans were in line with the “Salafist” jihadist trend.

The media storm raged violently. Meanwhile, the US administration made the decision to engage in battle. However, the enemies are wandering ghosts who have no countries, armies or rules.

In addition, armies and fleets were dispatched to strike Afghanistan and topple the Taliban regime. The US achieved this target within 36 days as the military strikes began on October 7, 2001. However, attention and debate in the media, research centers and universities focused on Saudi Arabia as, according to the prevailing opinion, it was considered the incubator of terrorism, financer of terrorists, exporter of Wahhabism, protector of Salafist Jihadi groups and exporter of the culture of hatred, in addition to other ideas that have been put forward in earnest for discussion. For example, American writer Maureen Dowd called for waging war “in a Kingdom that gives medieval a bad name” in her article that was published in the New York Times, August 28, 2002, and was republished the next day in the British newspaper, the Guardian.

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia was not ready for this encounter and took time to recover from the shock of being embroiled in a historical confrontation, in which it had no previous experience. Past confrontations that it has experienced have been with Arab and Islamic countries such as Egypt, Yemen and Iran. The scope of dispute was limited and confrontations were, in most cases, on a media level with a few exceptions. Undoubtedly, the current confrontations are with the world’s superpower, namely, the United States, with all its military, economic, political, media and scientific potentialities, not only with the US administration.

Over 6,000,000 Saudis over 50 years have lived in the US and have witnessed distinguished bilateral relations. In addition, more than 40,000 Saudis bear US citizenship. In the early 1980s, the number of scholarships given to [Saudi] students numbered over 23,000. Universities and institutes in western America were replete with Saudi students and tourists because of its beauty and mild weather. Meanwhile, the Saudi embassy in Washington served as a reference to Arabs and Muslims, where it supported and shared their concerns and aspirations. Arab ambassadors believe that the reason Prince Bandar bin Sultan was celebrated in Washington was due to the fact that he understood US policy. He confidently and professionally used it to consolidate Saudi-US relations and to serve his country and the issues of Arabs and Muslims.

Storms have raged in the aftermath of the disastrous events of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Consequently, Saudi Arabia has been forced to confront the US despite the close relations between the political leaderships of the two countries, the distinguished relations during the Cold War, the cooperation during the liberation of Kuwait, and the history of the distinct fruitful relations for over 70 years. Saudi Arabia has been thrown into the eye of the storm that weakened its diplomacy and subjected it to investigation, pursuit, and formidable media coverage.

HRH, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, comprehended – before others – these events. He never hesitated in taking an honorable Saudi position towards these events. He knew that his country was being targeted by the powers of deception, sabotage and terrorism. He has realized that Saudi-US relations are at risk and that terrorists have seized Islam and appointed themselves the representatives of the Muslim nation. Furthermore, he had ascertained that the declaration of war against the world by these desperate isolated groups is not in the interest of the nation as it serves the interests of enemies.

The Saudi king has consciously and responsibly realized all of these matters. Therefore, he is determined to be part of the confrontation. In these costly, complicated conflicts, victory is in his favor. King Abdullah has sought to mobilize internal potential, including writers, media figures, intellectuals, scientists and security experts in order to crystallize a unified national position against corruption, terrorism and armies of deception and destruction. As a crown prince, he made opportunities available to the private sector, intellectuals and professionals, both men and women, to participate in the battle of liberation from the ideologies of extremism inside and outside of the kingdom. In addition, he paved the way for Saudi media and all leading intellectuals and educated individuals to take part in the local, regional and international media without restriction along with a structural acceptance of analysis and criticism.

King Abdullah, the sincere and confident man, has participated in highlighting the culture of his country and clarifying the views of the government, to the point that his meetings and interviews in the written and visual media have become fundamental news received by those who are keen to know what is taking place in Saudi Arabia, which – according to their point of view – has exported terrorism to the world for example, his interview with Thomas L. Friedman, a writer for the New York Times (February 17, 2002) and his interview with the leading media figure Barbara Walters on the American ABC channel (October 14, 2005). In fact, King Abdullah has been successful in rebalancing media reports and positive initiatives that provide media with factual information about the kingdom.

Saudi delegations that included businessmen and businesswomen as well as intellectuals and writers met with their counterparts, politicians and members of parliament to represent and explain the reality of the kingdom that differs to their opinions of Saudi Arabia. These efforts, supported by King Abdullah in person, have permanent and commendable effects. King Abdullah has called for openness and reform. He relentlessly declared war against extremism, terrorism and supporters and financiers of the forces of deception, sabotage, and the Takfir ideology. As a result, Saudi society has progressed and come to life again.

The King has activated Saudi diplomacy to clarify the Saudi position towards events. He has instructed the concerned departments to facilitate communication with all media and to ease visits to the kingdom by experts and media figures by removing the previous constraints that have deprived Saudi Arabia for several decades of enjoying permanent relations with those interested in Middle Eastern issues in general and Saudi Arabia in particular. The two Saudi embassies in Washington and London served as a springboard for effective diplomacy and fruitful communication. In 2004, Riyadh had received approximately 600 media figures. While in 2005, it had received roughly 1,000 media representatives from all over the world. The Counter-Terrorism International Conference that King Abdullah called for and was held 5-8 February, 2005 in Riyadh with the participation of delegations from 62 countries and organizations, and the Riyadh Declaration, had a great impact regionally and internationally, due to the fact that the Conference was highly organized, credible and realistic.

King Abdullah, who is leading the march of openness and reform in his country and heading the march of moderation in the Middle East with his charisma, has culminated these efforts in successful trips to a number of countries around the world.

His historical visit to the US in April, 2005 had tangible results in re-establishing solid Saudi-US relations. Then Crown Prince, King Abdullah met with key players of US policy in a calm atmosphere at the presidential ranch in Crawford, Texas. This meeting was different, in its formalities and contents, from the usual political meetings.

King Abdullah has brought back warmth to Saudi-US relations, competently represented the kingdom of humanity and peace and convinced the US administration, despite its diverse structure, that his country is not anti-US and not an “axis of evil”. This was the conclusion sought by studies and reports by Laurent Murawiec, which were submitted to the US Defense Policy Board in 2002, and by Richard Perle and his colleague David Frum in their book entitled, ‘An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror.’ Moreover, the king was able to present his nation as a friend to the American people by highlighting the common factors between the two nations in the interest of their two countries, and to achieve peace and security in the world.

During this visit, King Abdullah was able to rebuild the foundations of a partnership that is based on common interests and mutual respect. As a result, a joint commission for strategic cooperation was set up. Saudis have returned, in large numbers, to study in American colleges and universities. Meetings have continued between the Saudis and Americans in the economic, scientific, political fields and others.

Saudi-US relations have surpassed the historical crisis and balance has been restored to these relations. Saudis have new feelings towards the importance of Saudi-US ties. In parallel, the Americans share the same feeling with respect to the significance of ties with Saudi Arabia, along with the determination to develop and maintain these ties.

Saudi Arabia has settled its position towards the powers of deception and sabotage, which encroached upon its security, prestige and civil achievements. The firm leadership declared war against these powers and aborted the projects of those who abused its national interests, proving to everyone that this country, along with its leadership, people, culture and institutions is capable of assimilating crises and achieving more moral and material gains.

*Khalil bin Abdullah Khalil is a writer and member of the Saudi Shura [Consultative] Council.