Terrorism: December 6, 2003


Saudi Arabia has apparently penetrated al Qaeda operations in their country to the extent that they are getting more information on planned attacks. Also, increased security around housing compounds has resulted in the detection of al Qaeda members scouting neighborhoods inhabited by foreigners. There are about 30,000 Americans, and about the same number of Britons, in the kingdom. American diplomats and citizens are on alert for the possibility of attacks. Embassy personnel have been ordered to stay in their compounds between 6 PM and 6 AM (unless on official business.) American citizens have been advised to do the same. British subjects have been given similar warnings, and all non-Moslems in the kingdom have increased their security measures.

So far, the al Qaeda attacks have killed mostly Arabs, which has made the terrorists very unpopular in Saudi Arabia. While the country is a monarchy, it is one based on aristocrats who respect and cultivate family and tribal relationships. To a point, these relationships can be exploited to make people change their behavior, if not their minds. Osama bin Laden lost his citizenship, and contact with most of his family, when he refused to back down on his call for establishing an "Islamic Republic" throughout Arabia. But most other Saudis, including many Islamic radicals, can be reached by the family and tribe connection. There's also a practical way to rein in al Qaeda support among the conservative, and often radical, Islamic clergy. Most of these guys are on the government payroll. The royal family uses this angle sparingly, as too much pressure on the clergy could turn them against the Sauds. Still, uncles can be called on to "control" radicalized nephews. Each of the thousands of Saudi princes has many men who owe them favors. If "your" prince calls you in for coffee and a little chat, it is considered very bad manners to lie to him. In the past, these connections have been used by families to get radicalized sons and nephews out of trouble. Now it gets the kids on a list of people to be watched, searched, or arrested and interrogated.

The Saud family also takes their role as "protector of the holy places of Islam" seriously. Much oil wealth has gone into religious activities and support for the millions of Moslems who make the pilgrimage to Mecca each year. While the Saud family is much hated for the corruption, they do get respect for their religious works. However, a lot of that money went into supporting radical Islamic causes that resulted in organizations like al Qaeda. The recent spate of bombings has convinced the Saudis, more than years of complaints from Western diplomats, that supporting radical religious beliefs can backfire. But this is nothing new for the Saud family. The founder of the dynasty, Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud, had to crack down on armed Islamic militants shortly after the kingdom was founded in the 1930s. There was much bloodshed. After that, the family played a cautious game of supporting Islamic conservatives they thought they could control. This led to comic (to Western eyes) situations like the Saudi princes working hard at convincing Islamic scholars that radios and non-religious programming was not "un-Islamic." But persuasion does not  work with the hard core Islamic radicals. So far, the sons and grandsons of Abdul Aziz have shown that they can fight back. But can they win?


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