Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Terrorism is a problem facing the Persian Gulf counties that are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, and Saudi Arabia. Destabilisation of the regional situation as a result of events at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries (such as the entry of the Soviet armed forces into Afghanistan, ‘the Islamic revolution’ in Iran, the 1980–88 Iran-Iraq War, the 1990–91 crisis in Iraq, and the 2003 American-British invasion of Iraq) created the conditions for the emergence of anti-systemic armed groups calling for the establishment of religion-based statehood.

The aid that was then given to political Islam in certain Gulf states (to Saudi Arabia as well as to Qatar and Kuwait) and the diplomatic support (in the case of the Taliban movement[1]) was motivated by the need to check Soviet ‘expansion’ in the Near and Middle East. Subsequently, the anti-systemic opposition (initially represented by Al-Qaeda, founded by Osama bin Laden, and its ‘practical spearhead takfeer of getting rid of infidels or unbelievers’) turned the Gulf region into an arena of its activity. The so-called ‘Arab Spring’, followed by the crises in Syria, Libya, and Yemen (as well as the chronic destabilisation in Iraq, inherited after the downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime), gave fresh impetus to the activity of that opposition, which brought to life the infamous ISIS.

  1. Gulf States: Terrorist Threat Parameters

However, it must be conceded that the degree of the terrorist threat emanating from various Gulf States is not the same; this has been confirmed, in particular, by events that unfolded between 2011 and 2016. Within that period, no terrorist acts were registered in Oman or Kuwait; such acts remained exclusive phenomena in Kuwait and the UAE. An underground ‘terrorist’ cell was uncovered in Abu Dhabi in June 2013; it consisted of Egyptian followers of ‘the Muslim Brotherhood’ who emigrated to the UAE after Mohammed Morsi was ousted as president (Katzman, 2013, p. 7). Two years later, in August of 2015, an investigation of the 41 detainees was concluded (among the detainees were several men from the Emirates). All of them were accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as of establishing a terrorist organization linked to ISIS (“UAE’s terror fight,” 2015). A follower of ‘the Islamic State’, who was sentenced to prison in October 2016 for preparing terrorist actions against foreigners in the territory of the UAE, was born in ‘one of the Arab countries’ (“Prison confinement,” 2016). ISIS claimed responsibility for the 26 June 2015 terrorist bombing of the Shia Imam Al Sadiq Mosque, while Kuwaiti authorities alleged that Saudi citizens had also participated in the terrorist act, along with several Kuwaiti citizens (“Kuwait: Terrorists,” 2015).

In August of 2014 the UAE, together with Kuwait, passed a law on fighting terrorism by prohibiting the organisation of terrorist groups in the respective countries. According to this law, the creation of, leadership of, or membership in a terrorist organisation is punishable by death or life imprisonment. In mid-November of 2014, Abu Dhabi published a list of terrorist organisations that included 83 groups. Among them are the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (as well as in Yemen and Iraq), ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the Yemeni Hussite movement (“Kuwaiti Interior Minister interview,” 2014). A blacklist of 68 terrorist organisations (both Shia and Sunni) was drawn up in Bahrain at the beginning of April 2016. The GCC plans to draw up a singular law combating terrorism (“The Gulf between,” 2016).

The situation in Bahrain, in view of its specific confessional structure (Bahrain has a considerable, if not predominant, majority of Shia Twelvers), against the backdrop of its neighbors, is unique, to say the least. The authorities in Bahrain have always accused the opposition of pursuing an Iran-backed extremist course. Confirmation of such a course, it was claimed, could be seen in the events that unfolded in June 1996, when the authorities arrested members of the Bahrain-Hezbollah group, who were striving to establish Islamic rule. The massive demonstrations in 2011 demonstrated that Shi’ite political groups acting in Bahrain not only aimed to overthrow the monarchy and to establish an Islamic republic, but were also resorting to terrorist methods, such as violence against law enforcement and attacking military structures and state establishments.[2]

However, this destabilisation of the regional situation was not the only due to the terrorist threat. It was also the result of serious changes in the social structures of local societies, stemming from the industrial development of hydrocarbon resources. However, the transformations taking place in that sphere were not identical in the time, duration, or depth of these processes. If in Bahrain (where the oil fields were exhausted by around 1970) the beginning of the transformation of local society dates back to around 1930, then in Kuwait it dates to 1950, and in the UAE and Oman (which cannot be considered ‘heavyweight’ oil and gas producers) to 1960 and 1970, respectively.

The considerable influx of manpower to Qatar, the UAE (where the share of the local population vacillates between 15–20%), and, to a lesser degree, Oman did not bring about any significant changes in the status of their citizens. In spite of the emergence of contemporary strata in these countries, those citizens who became the main beneficiaries of the state’s distribution of oil royalties were far from appearing in the ranks of militant opposition groups calling for a change in the ruling system. Even if Kuwait was similar to the societies of Qatar and the UAE (the share of labour power there is comparable to its citizens receiving oil royalties), then the level of political activity in that country can in no way be compared to that of its neighbours. The permanent nature of the threat from Iraq, which emerged long before the 1990–91 occupation, opened Kuwait to all significant regional ideological currents – from Arab nationalism to political Islam – that were spreading not only among the Sunni majority, but also among the Shia minority, those who were totally integrated into local social structures and politics.

The rapid development of the oil-producing industry radically changed the local situation in Bahrain, modernising local society, including the Shia Twelvers community that had acquired a contemporary, educated, entrepreneur class. But at the same time, the transformations taking place were not accompanied by a more prominent political role for that social community – it participated minimally in the process of adopting national political decisions. The outcome of this developing situation was visible in the increasing radicalisation of Bahraini Shi’ites, and a consequence of this was internal destabilisation and the formation of an anti-systemic opposition. However, the case of Bahrain is an exception – the sphere of activity of the local anti-systemic groups never extended beyond the territory of that country.

The Gulf States are an inseparable part of the worldwide system of international relations and world economic ties, which has an impact on the modernising changes and reforms that are taking place in the region. However, this has not changed the main point: their systems of governance were based on the principle of ba’yah – a political agreement among the ruling dynasties and elite of other social strata. This steadfast principle ensured the conditions for legitimatising rule by the dynasties as well as the very existence of these states, which emerged (when internal circumstances allowed) thanks to the fact that the families of the present rulers became the leaders of these political formations.

At the same time, the historical road traversed by each of these countries was determined by the limits according to which ba’yah was implemented. Such an alliance was quite broad in Kuwait, where the dynasty concluded an alliance with the leading groups of local society. The result of this was a freedom of action that also appealed to the Islamic dogma of the steadfastness of society (in its Sunni and Shia variants), which was fixed in the constitution adopted in 1962 and helped to support an efficient National Assembly for the opposition. The specific religious structure in Oman, where leading positions are held by the Kharijite movement of the moderate Ibadi doctrine – the budding third branch of Islam (after Sunni and Shia) –, made local variants of ba’yah dependent on the loyalty of the leaders of tribes and confessional groups. With the passage of time, beginning in 1970 with Sultan Qaboos – in an alliance of the monarch and the leading groups in society, including the traditional families –, the Dhofar Rebellion for the secession of South Yemen became a reality. In Bahrain, even after the adoption in 2002 of the current constitution that provides for the establishment of an upper chamber of the parliament (Senate) appointed by the monarch, the decisions of which could be blocked by the elected lower chamber, the ba’yah principle affects only the leading Sunni families and only part of the Shia community. Although the activity of Islamic public and political organisations (both Sunni and Shia) that were represented in parliament was legal, the slogan of the participants in the 2011 meetings and demonstrations – ‘to create an elected government’ – reflected their attempts to alter or ‘correct’ the political system.

As a result of the 2003 constitutional referendum in Qatar – where, just as in Saudi Arabia, the dominant interpretation of official Islam is voiced by the Sunni Hanbali school of law –, a different Fundamental Law was put forth. This law, which is still active today, provides, among other regulations, for the holding of elections for the Consultative Council. Nonetheless, elections have not yet become a reality. The Qatari version of ba’yah, as determined by local public and political life, is far from being regarded as inclusive – the ruling dynasty continues to form alliances only with the upper echelons of the religious corps, although this does not mean that religion has an impact on politics. The dynasty’s claims concerning kinship – with the leading figure, ‘the renovator’ of Arabian Islam, Mohammed bin Abdel Wahhab, basing his teachings on Ahmad bin Hanbal (780–855) school of law – allowed its representatives on the throne not only to head the local corps of theologians, but also to shape the course of domestic and foreign policy by themselves. The activity of the theologians is limited to the sphere of practical traditions of faith.

  1. Saudi Arabia: A Conflicting Alliance of Politics and Religion

The state of Saudi Arabia can be viewed as a stage for two actors (although already there is a third – a new educated class) involved in the political process. They are the Al Saud family – represented by the heirs of Ibn Saud (1875–1953), the founder of the sovereign state which emerged in 1932 – and the corps of theologians, the central link of which are the descendants of Mohammed bin Abdel Wahhab, the family of Al Ash-Sheikh. This stipulation is also fixed by the conditions of the local variant of ba’yah, dating back to 1744–45, the time of the reign of Al Saud in the Diriyah Emirate, not far from Riyadh. The Saudi version of that alliance presupposed support from Al Saud in disseminating the rigorous Wahhabi version of the Hanbali religious-judicial doctrine penned by M. bin Abdel Wahhab. If one proceeds from the present-day viewpoint of the Saudi scholar, that doctrine was based on the teaching of strictly one god (tawhid), ‘the struggle against new religious views and prejudices’, ‘the rejuvenation of kindheartedness and revulsion of sins’, and on presenting theological and juridical thoughts exclusively ‘based on Allah’ – on the Koran and the Sunnah. The emergence of the Wahhabi version ‘returned Muslims to the Islamic Sharia law and its fundamental sources’, which was a return to ‘a moderate’ (as the theologians claimed) Salafism – ‘the legacy of our noble ancestors’ (Al-Huqail, 2000, p. 56-57).

In spite of the efforts of the authorities, the alliance of the dynasty with Al Ash-Sheikh, which was disseminating the political document to broader groups of the population, continued to remain the cornerstone. In no other country of the GCC was the alliance between politics and religion so clearly and strongly emphasised as it was in Saudi Arabia. At the same time, in no other Gulf country but Saudi Arabia were there conditions in which religion could avoid control by the state, in spite of the officially proclaimed ‘moderate’ variant of the Wahhabi version of Hanbali school of law, though it was accused of breaking away from the fundamental norms of the salafi way of life in view of the internal conflicts stemming from the Saudi variant of ba’yah.

Such a conflicting situation came about because neither M. bin Abdel Wahhab nor his descendents – Al Ash-Sheikh and, even more so, members of the large corps of theologians formed under their guidance – were ever top-ranking members of the alliance with the dynasty. What is more, by supporting the rule of Al Saud, that corps of theologians viewed the existing political formation as an instrument to ensure a leading role for religion. If the dynasty’s interests required modernisation and, as a result of this, limiting religion’s interference in politics – transforming this task at the end of the 1940s, when the development of the oil industry began and new social strata began to emerge and become a vital necessity –, then the corps of theologians continued to insist on preserving the all-embracing domination of the Sharia. Crucial disagreements between the various sides of ba’yah time and again precipitated confrontations between elements of the alliance, when opponents of the dynasty resorted to a jihad for the sake of ‘restoring the purity of the legacy of the ancestors’. The line between ‘the moderates’ and jihadist Salafism proved to be quite fragile, and their juxtaposition, clearly accentuated by the dynasty and the top echelon of the corps of theologians, was also arbitrary due to their use of comparable tactics – Ibn Saud also disseminated Wahhabi Salafism by relying on jihadists as a weapon in the fight against the enemy, who were accused of breaking with the ‘true’ religion and were branded ‘infidels’.

Evaluating the situation in the country, a Saudi author wrote about the ‘religiously-based extremist political activities aimed at building a state system, legislation, foreign ties and domestic policy that were based on religion’. This implied that the essence of the disagreement between ‘politicians [authorities] and the extremists’ lies in the following: ‘Should the state be religious (dawlya ad-din) or should there be a state religion (din ad-dawlya)?’ (Kuweilyait, 2013). The decisions of the September 2013 National Unity Congress in Riyadh were very specific and concrete – its participants proclaimed that there was ‘a destructive unofficial religious discourse’ in the country that was ‘not controlled by the state’. But in equal measure, they also spoke out about ‘the vices of the official branches’ of ranking leaders in the corps of theologians, the Council of Senior Scholars (“Congress of National Unity,” 2013). A year later, an analyst and publicist, having in mind the ambivalence of the salafi basis of the Wahhabi version of Hanbali doctrine, wrote about ‘the dogmatic religion imposed by the ruler [Ibn Saud], which ensured the obedience of his subjects, but which left him indifferent to the requirements of the times’ (Khashoggi, 2014).

The Saudi situation is contradictory. The authorities continue to view the Wahhabi version of the Hanbali doctrine as an important instrument for ensuring the unanimity of society, because this version made it possible to get rid of real or potential lines of regional, social, and confessional fractures, as well as the economic diversity of the state. Time and again this has been stressed by the ruling monarch, Salman bin Abdel Aziz. In particular, while addressing the highest-ranking state and religious officials in March 2015, he stressed that the basis of the country’s development rested on the ‘Islam of the noble ancestors, benevolent Sharia and Sunnah of the best of Allah’s messengers’. Nonetheless, the authorities have gradually incorporated religion into this framework. Moreover, it experienced ever-growing pressure from the already emerging modern social strata, as the latter (by virtue of the efforts of the authorities) acquired their own centre. The Consultative Council was established in 1992, appointed by the monarch. Nonetheless, the number of members in this council increased steadily, also including women members. But even in the epoch of establishing statehood, the authorities never gave unconditional support to the total implementation of the principles of Wahhabi Hanbalism.

Supporting the unbending principle of pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina, which between 1920 and 1940 were practically the only source of revenues for the state, Ibn Saud did not allow the destruction of the holy places in those cities, such as the burial places of the followers of the Prophet, even though this ran counter to the rigid Wahhabi single-god principle that excluded any monuments in memory of the deceased. A national museum named after King Abdel Aziz (Ibn Saud) was opened in Riyadh in 2000. It included halls dedicated to the prehistoric epoch, early Arabian states, and pre-Islamic paganism – which had existed prior to the Saudi period, which began with the ba’yah of 1744–45 – while the Islamic period was preceded by an epoch of flagrant ignorance and was subjected to a radical reexamination. This reexamination or revision has become an obvious tendency – the 2016 program for economic and social restructuring, ‘Vision of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: 2030’, was geared towards tourism development not connected with Islam by creating conditions for promoting cooperation with UNESCO in the sphere of preserving historical monuments from pre-Islamic times (bin Salman, 2016).

Theologians (as well as other subjects) brought ba’yah to Ibn Saud and his descendants. The elite of the corps of theologians were included in the table of ranks, while the lawmaking sphere that included ulemas was regulated by laws made by the authorities and was subordinate to the Justice Ministry, while Hanbali law was subjected to codification. The authorities narrowed the theologians’ sphere of influence – even in the Ibn Saud epoch, modern commercial banks in the country resorted to the use of financial interest and the founder-king introduced modern technical instruments that the other side of the alliance viewed as ‘impermissible novelties’. Then came radio and television, flags, emblems and anthems; portraits of monarchs appeared in state establishments as well as in the streets, running counter to religious bans. All of this signified that the authorities were forging ahead with the process of statehood. A league for promoting kindness and rejecting sin was established in Mecca in September 1926. The league steered the activity of theologians towards fulfilling the norms of Sharia in the sphere of public morals. The first religious establishment appeared. The leadership of this establishment remains the prerogative of theologians even to this day. But having sanctioned its foundation, Ibn Saud brought religious fervour within the framework of the state – private initiative in the matter of maintaining morality became impermissible. Fixing such a situation, a 1992 Constitutional Act, the Basic Law of Governance, proclaimed that ‘encouragement of kindheartedness and denouncing of sins’ was the function of the state (Ben Baz, 2000. p.268).

Questions related to the development of modern education have time and again precipitated disagreements between the authorities and theologians. A Council of Senior Scholars meeting in Mecca in June 1930 spoke out against the king’s plan to revise the educational system. The question here was not only about the ‘impermissibility’ of including geography, foreign languages, and drawing in the school curriculum, but also concerned making religious schools subordinate to the Department of Education (Ibrahim, 2009. p. 58). A compromise was reached between the king and the leading figure in the corps of theologians, Mohammed bin Ibrahim Al Ash-Sheikh. It proposed a parallel development of state and religious educational systems, though the religious educational system was to be supervised by ulemas, but financially controlled by the state. However, it was only in 2002 that education of females was removed from the jurisdiction of theologians and placed within the framework of the Ministry of Education, where there was a woman in the rank of deputy minister.

The agreement that Saudi Arabia signed in May 1933 with Standard Oil of California regarding a concession for prospecting and extracting oil in Saudi territory triggered the most serious crisis between Ibn Saud and the corps of theologians. Expressing their point of view, Mohammed bin Ibrahim emphasised that this agreement would ‘open the doors for the infidels’. Their appearance, he added, would lead ‘to the spread of alcohol, pornography and other satanic temptations’ (Ibid), but Ibn Saud ignored the opinion of the leading figures in the corps of theologians.

The demise of Ibn Saud did not interrupt the movement to incorporate religion within the framework of the state. In the course of 1969–71 there appeared within the state system of governance – the Ministry of Justice, the Council of Senior Scholars, and the Supreme Council for Jurisdiction – a separation of religious and juridical spheres. The reforms carried out left the Sharia educational establishments, the courts, and the mosques within the sphere of activity of theologians, whose dependence on the state increased even more – as was demonstrated, in particular, by the Council of Senior Scholars.

The Council was made up of ‘specialists in Islamic Sharia of Saudi origin. Today the Council consists of 21 theologians, among whom are not only followers of the Hanbali School of law, but also followers of the three other Sunni Mazhhabs – Hanafi, Maliki, and Shafii Schools. Their task is ‘to express the point of view in respect to the questions and issues being submitted by the ruler, and to confirm that such matters are based on Sharia principles’. In equal measure, they are obliged ‘to submit to the ruler religious recommendations in respect to their decisions’ (“Main features,” 2009). To achieve this, several council members – endorsed by the monarch – were to form a standing commission on research and fatwas (legal opinions of scholars), working out such recommendations, with further discussion in the Council to be used in drawing up fatwas. The head of the Council was appointed by the Cabinet of Ministers – whose members, together with the members of the Standing Commission, were chosen exclusively by the monarch –, including himself and his colleagues in the table of ranks, giving them a ‘class’ to correspond with the office of minister. The council was not to over-exaggerate the significance of fatwas – any of its decisions could be implemented only on the condition that it was endorsed by the Cabinet of Ministers, which was headed by the monarch (Ibid).

In 1993 the situation in the religious sphere underwent further transformations; there appeared within the structure of the executive branch a Ministry of Islamic Affairs, responsible for waqfs (Islamic charitable endowments), appeals, and guidelines. Outlining its tasks and objectives, a corresponding monarchial decree stressed that the ministry’s goal was to exercise control over Muslim affairs, to supervise the work and development of waqfs, to look after mosques, and to maintain ties with Islamic institutions and centers (Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, 2009). Thus the state set up an oversight body to exercise control over religious institutions.

The constitutional act adopted in the spring of 1992 stressed that the Fundamental Law proclaimed the Saudi constitution ‘The Book of the Supreme Lord and Sunnah His Prophet’. The Saudi system of governance was based on Islamic Sharia (Ben Baz, 2000. p.265). ‘The most important functions of the state were ‘to act in defense of the Islam doctrine’ and ‘to implement Sharia’, which presupposed, among other things, ‘to furnish and look after the Two Holy Places [Mecca and Medina]’ (Ibid, p. 268). Proclaiming the descendants of Ibn Saud the only legal bearers of authority, this constitutional act obligated ‘all citizens’ to bring ba’yah to the ruler, who once again mounted the throne (Ibid, p. 265).

The threat of extremism and terrorism in different Arab Gulf states is dependent on specific features of their political system, and the possibility of ruling families controlling the religious sphere and the role of religion in the life of local societies. The example of Saudi Arabia aptly demonstrates this argument.

  1. Saudi Arabia: Stages and Aftermath of Terrorist Activity

The first clash between Al Saud and the bearers of religious dogma was during the epoch when Saudi Arabia was growing into a state. Demanding uncompromising fulfillment of the most important principles of the Wahhabi interpretation of Hanbalism, Ibn Saud’s crack military force – ikhwans – struck at him in the second half of 1920.[3] In 1926 this force compiled a list accusations against the ruler, citing ‘impermissible’ contacts between him, his sons, and ‘infidels’ – that is, diplomatic agents from Great Britain – as well as his refusal to evict ‘those believing in multiple deities’ – such as Shi’ites from oases on the Persian Gulf coast – and his bringing ‘unacceptable novelties into the life of the country’ – such as the telegraph and modern weaponry.[4] The public thus raised the following question: Was the ruler under whose banner they waged military campaigns ‘a true Muslim?’ The charges and complaints tabled by ikhwans and the jihad proclaimed against Ibn Saud represented an act of excommunication – takfeer.

Subsequently, the process of incorporating religion within the framework of the state diversified the corps of theologians. There appeared among the ranks of this corps quite a large stratum of young ‘different-thinking’ scholars, who were acquainted with the political practice of the followers of religious ideas in neighbouring countries. First of all, this concerned the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, quite a large portion of whom, in the epoch of Gamal Abdel Nasser, had emigrated to Saudi Arabia. This created conditions that promoted radicalisation of the Wahhabi version of Hanbalism. This radicalisation resuscitated the view that religion came first, before the state, which was viewed as an instrument for implementing religion’s main principles.

The second half of 1960 was a milestone in the development of the religious opposition. Coordinating the actions of those who opposed incorporating religion within the framework of the state, Juhayman al-Oteibi formed the first group of such opponents after the ikhwans resistance movement was crushed. Al-Oteibi’s group was formed in Medina from young members of the league promoting benevolence and condemning sin. Its first step was the destruction of a women’s apparel shop and photo salons in Hejaz, and its final step was the takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in November 1979.

Al-Oteibi was the son of a resistance movement member, a graduate of the Islamic University in Medina, an ikhwan (Abir, 1988. p. 150) who served in the ranks of the National Guard, with its steadfast religious indoctrination, and who died in prison (Lacey, 2012. p. 27). Organising this group of believers wanting to change the course of the state, and naming himself in memory of ikhwans, or ‘brothers’, he considered it his duty to transform Saudi Arabia into a monotheistic state – dawlya at-tawhid. The cause for which the ikhwans were fighting was distorted by the authorities and ulemas. “Calling itself ‘a monotheist’ state,” this state, wrote J. al-Oteibi, which united Muslims, Christians, and pagans (Ibid – this refers to Shiites), fought against those who did not view it as such a state, against those who called themselves Ali and Hussein. By prohibiting the destruction of burial places and cupolas,[5] the state was enforcing obedience to the riyal.[6]

The supporters of Al-Oteibi created a sort of hijra[7] in Medina. But if in the hijras of the ikhwans, the sermons on ‘pure Islam’ were conducted by Wahhabi preachers sent there by Ibn Saud, then in Medina the ‘Prophet’ – who called for ‘a reform of morals’ and the rejection of paper banknotes because they ‘bore the images of human creatures’ – had not been recognised as a true personality, since the possession of such items testified to their loyalty to an infidel state (Lacey, 2012. p. 18-20). Speaking about theologians in state establishments, Al-Oteibi labeled them ‘hypocrites demonstrating their religiousness dressed in despicable garments and audacious novelties.’[8]

The ‘Message on Governance, Pledge of Loyalty, and Obedience’ penned by Al-Oteibi, demanded that followed should not ‘take up posts (in state establishments)’ because the descendants of Ibn Saud and the sheikhs under the system of their authority had become ‘infidels’. The seizure of the Grand Mosque was an encroachment upon the most important function of the state, ‘serving two Holy Places’ and demonstrating the state’s ‘break’ from its ‘natural’ religious foundation.[9]

The result of Al-Oteibi’s actions was visible in the attempts of the authorities between 1980 and 1990 to regenerate Islamic values by encouraging the establishment of renewed courses and circles within the youth movement. This effort was geared towards restoring ‘nationwide unity’ under conditions that seemed favourable for its implementation – the Soviet military presence in ‘Muslim’ Afghanistan, and subsequently ‘Serbia’s aggression’ against ‘Muslim Bosnia and Kosovo’ as well as Russia’s so-called ‘aggression’ in Islamic Chechnya. It was there, in camps set up by Al-Qaeda at a time when Osama bin Laden was still a Saudi citizen, that participant of ‘the rejuvenated movement’ carried out ‘jihadist’ ideas they had mastered. The forces opposing the authorities were driven out of Saudi Arabia, and instead of their former ‘destructiveness’, they acquired a ‘constructive’ nature.

The events of 11 September 2001 demonstrated that the effort to regenerate Islamic values had created a situation contrary to the original intent. In Saudi Arabia there began to emerge cells of ‘the sect who went astray’[10] – the ‘epoch of terror and terrorism’ had set in.

The groundwork for ‘the epoch of terror’ was not only due to Saudi’s participation in internal Afghani events or to the processes unfolding in post-Soviet and post-Yugoslav territories; the regeneration of Islamic values brought to life an ever-increasing confrontation between the state and factions of the corps of ulemas. The corps of theologians began to split into factions of theologians of the ‘monarchial court’ and younger, ‘independent-thinking’ (Ibrahim, 2009) ulemas who called for their ousting. The most striking manifestation of that confrontation could be seen in the theologians’ petitions, which were circulated in the country, as well as in similar pamphlets circulated outside the country. These petitions and pamphlets claimed that ‘monotheism’ could triumph only by waging a jihad against the authorities, who had committed the sin of ‘infidelity’.[11]

In pursuit of a course of ‘intimidation’ against the most consistent ‘independent’ preachers, the authorities compelled them to either give up their political activities or leave the country. However, that did not prevent the first terrorist acts in Saudi Arabia. A terrorist attack against US marines was carried out in El Jubayl (Eastern province) in March 1991; another attack against US marines was carried out in November 1995, when a car bomb explosion next to the National Guard headquarters in Riyadh killed five foreign citizens and wounded 60 Saudis. Nineteen Americans were killed and 400 more were injured as a result of a parked truck exploding at a US military checkpoint in the city of Al Khobar (Eastern province) in June 1996 (“Terrorist acts,” 2005).

A police patrol came under heavy gunfire in the Al-Jazeera district of Riyadh on 18 March 2003. This was the first case of an attack against representatives of the local authorities by supporters of ‘the sect that had lost its way’. A group from the Legion of Two (referring to the holy places in the Arabian Peninsula) took responsibility for that attack. In May and November of 2003 terrorist acts were carried out in the Al Hamra and Al Mahya districts of the capital, but the police and security forces tracked down the Mujahidin in small provincial towns – in Jidda, Ha’il, and in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The state was no longer viewed as the side conducting the offensive; its opponents were now resorting to offensive tactics, and there were even women among their ranks. An explosion in the state security building in the Al Washm district of Riyadh took place in April 2004. Then there was an attack on the building of a Western intermediary company in the port of Yanbu (in Red Sea). Hostages were taken in residential districts of Al Khobar (in the eastern province) at the beginning and end of May of that same year. The number of casualties from terrorist acts grew steadily – according to official Saudi statistics, 101 persons were killed in the period from May 2003 to May 2004.[12] It was only at the end of July 2011 that King Abdulla bin Abdel Aziz was able to speak of ‘a decisive breakthrough in repulsing the “gorgon” of terror, and destructing its organizational structures’ (“Custodian of the Two Holy Places,” 2011).

The wave of terrorism began in an atmosphere in which a considerable part of Saudi society took an ‘understanding’ view, as Saudi political and social scientists noted, of Al-Qaeda – ‘sympathizing with the perpetrators of the September 11 terrorist actions was indeed great’. ‘These sympathies mounted after the strike on Afghanistan and intensified in 2003, when the operation in Iraq was launched. In the Kingdom there was growing enmity towards Western countries, which is why the first bombings in Riyadh did not result in any substantial lowering of the degree of sympathy towards the perpetrators of these actions’. And although the deaths of Muslims and Arabs in subsequent acts of this kind in the capital somewhat lowered the level of support for the actions of the Mujahidin, nonetheless there still remained ‘a stable group of people who insisted that the actions of Al-Qaeda were lawful’. These people continued to consider that the articles in the Saudi press about ‘crimes of that organisation’ were ‘not true’ and came to the conclusion that terrorists ‘could resort to the killing of Muslims if the targets of their actions were citizens of Western countries or facilities belonging to them’ (“Drop in Number,” 2003).

A distinguishing feature of this terrorism was its broad geographical swath: cells of ‘the sect that had lost its way’ could be found throughout the entire territory of the country, but Nejd – the birthplace of both the Wahhabi version of Hanbalism and Saudi statehood – was the main arena of the armed confrontation between the Mujahidin and the authorities. And there was a formidable reason for this – ‘the oil era’ differentiated the level of development among the various regions. The Sunni majority, which retained the leading role in the state, did not appear united. The steadfast rise of entrepreneurship in Hedjaz, as well as the Hedjazi educated class, and its transformation into the leading element in socio-economic relations as well as in politics, led to a watershed between that region and Nejd. If persons from Nejd retained their position at the pinnacle of the ‘power pyramid’ and among the ranks of the corps of theologians, then those from Hedjaz played the role of ‘liberal’ followers of the modernisation of the backward political system and social relations. Opposing the development of this process, the followers of ‘true’ or ‘genuine’ Salafism formed the backbone of the anti-systemic opposition. The lack of uniformity in the corps of theologians predetermined the transfer of the second and third echelons to their ranks.

On 5 November 2004, 26 religious figures – teachers of Islamic subjects from the Universities of Riyadh, Mecca, and Medina, together with the founders and leaders of Islamic Internet sites – made public ‘An Open Letter to the Struggling Iraqi People’ (“Statement by 26,” 2004). The theologians who signed this letter called upon ‘each Muslim’ to rise up in ‘the jihad against the occupants’, justifying the jihad with references to the Koran. Not a single ‘Muslim, they wrote, can refrain from acting in causing damage to any of the resistance fighters’, none of them ‘can support the military operations being carried out by soldiers of the occupation forces’. ‘It is the duty of each and every Muslim to help the struggling Iraqi people’. This was an appeal not only to Saudi charity organisations and foundations, but also to the Mujahidin fighting against the Saudi authorities; the development of events in Iraq demonstrated that in 2005 the share of Saudis among the suicide bombers in that country stood at 61% (Ibrahim, 2009. p. 134).

The authorities faced the necessity of halting the movement of part of the corps of theologians, who were aligning with the anti-systemic opposition. The methods employed for achieving this goal were traditional – arrests and expulsion from the country. Three preachers who were previously arrested in Mecca – Ahmad Al Khalidi, Ali Al Khudeir, and Nasser Al Fahd – were brought to trial in February 2004. The charges brought against them were summed up as ‘encouraging refusal to obey the ruler’, ‘spreading trouble’, and ‘founding terrorist cells and organizations’ (“Asharq Al-Awsat interviews,” 2003).

Having organised the trial and gained ‘confessions’ from the defendants, the authorities were striving to deprive supporters of the anti-systemic underground of the possibility of appealing to the corps of theologians, and in so doing, to delegitimise the actions of the supporters of ‘the sect that had lost its way’. By that time, the authorities had gained the support of the official theological structures; at the end of 2003, steps were taken to make public the fatwa ‘Terrorism: Causes and Methods of Treatment’ by the Supreme Mufti Abdel bin Abdullah Al Ash-Sheikh. The author gives his definition of terrorism, proceeding from its ‘ideological’ aspect – ‘certain ulemas stepped back from the true teachings of the true Sharia’, thereby prompting the umma to disobey the ruler. The next point in that definition concerned ‘excessiveness and extremism’ – actions taken by supporters of a confrontation with the Saudi state, which possessed ‘an undisputed right’, in the opinion of the Supreme Mufti, to counter ‘all sources nurturing terrorism’ (bin Abdullah Al Ash-Sheikh, 2003. P. 126).

The subsequent actions of the authorities were predictable: its punitive agencies consistently inflicted strikes on cells of ‘the sect that had lost its way’, cutting off weapons supply routes from the territory of Yemen and putting up ‘a barrier wall’ along the Saudi-Iraqi border. This process continued right up until 2011. The epoch of the grave internal crisis ended successfully for the authorities. But that success was not without consequences.

  1. The ‘Arab Spring’: Saudi Political Islam and Reforms by the Authorities

The ‘Arab Spring’, with its upheavals in the political space surrounding Saudi Arabia, altered the aspirations of Saudi supporters of political Islam. A report about the formation of an Islamic Party of the Nation (Hizb al Umma al Islami) was circulated in Riyadh in February 2011. The party was established by a small group of nine persons; in their founding statement, they reported that they were ‘men of science and knowledge, university teachers, lawyers, businessmen, authors, thinkers, jurists, and political activists’ (Hizb al Umma al Islami, 2011). The peculiarities of Saudi discourse lead one to assume that this newly emerged political organisation was a conglomeration of religious figures – people of science and knowledge on the one hand, and representatives of new, modernised strata on the other hand.

Proclaiming itself ‘a peaceful political party’ and confirming its intentions for legal activity (Hizb al Umma al Islami, 2011), this popular political formation declared that it saw Saudi Arabia as a country where ‘Sharia is the only basis for law-making’ and that ‘only the nation can be the source of authority’. The founders of this party emphasised the fact that they consider ‘the Sharia-guaranteed rights and freedoms, including freedom of opinion and criticism of the authorities, to be the right of all citizens’. They considered it necessary to announce their adherence to ‘the principle of consultation – al Shura, free elections, placing emphasis on the opinion of the majority and peaceful rotation of the authorities’, on ‘the belief in political pluralism and the right of the nation to form a government’. Formal striving for democracy did not change the main point – the founders of the Islamic Party of the Nation were attempting to alter the essence of Saudi ba’yah as well as the foundations of the existing state system. Their movement in that direction was determined by their interpretation of Sharia norms.

The stated goals of the party were: ‘social justice, equal rights, and equal opportunities for all’, ‘exercising the rights of women and consolidating their role in society’ (Hizb al Umma al Islami, 2011). The party’s programmatic document insisted on respecting ‘the Sharia-based Islamic values – the rights and freedoms of the individual’, with ‘political freedom’ as the ‘inalienable right of the people to elect authorities and to monitor their actions’, especially emphasising the principle of division of authority and independence of the juridical system (Hizb al Umma al Islami, 2011). Quite a formidable part of this document was devoted to questions of social justice and ‘development of mankind guided by the mosques’.

However, the authorities were far from satisfying the appeals of the party’s founders. The founders of the party, branded as supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, were thrown in prison and charged with attempting to split the nation. Responding to the appeal at that time, King Abdullah ben Abdel Aziz emphasised: ‘What we see around us is an attempt to sow hatred among the people. Everyone among the people today is trying to set up a party, but the people are a single party. Each person sees himself as the leader. Hostility has grown among the people. All this causes the Lord’s anger. May the Lord deliver us from such evil’. Continuing this thought, and referring to the past experiences and actions of the founders of the party, the monarch declared: ‘Among them are those who earlier tried to lead our children astray. They should realize that we can punish them more severely than before. They tried to lead our children away from the true path, and some of them could be killers or those who took hostages’ (“Custodian of Two Holy Places,” 2013).

Under no circumstances did the state consider it necessary to make concessions to the religious opposition. By that time, sufficient measures, including social reforms, had been taken to strengthen the position of the political elite – a National Dialogue Center was established, as well as an Anti-Corruption Committee; primary and secondary partial elections to the municipal councils were held; the socio-political role of national entrepreneurship was raised, as was that of the Trade and Industrial Chamber; and there also appeared a ‘public’ Saudi National Human Rights Committee (Kosach, 2007. pp. 86, 236). The process of throne-inheritance was institutionalised in October of 2006, when a law regarding a Committee for Taking an Oath of Office was adopted (“A Law On,” 2006). On 23 September 2005, Saudi Arabia, for the first time in its history, celebrated a ‘national’ holiday – Unification Day – restoring Saudis’ memories of the 1932 decree of Ibn Saud that gave Saudi Arabia the name it still bears today.

The authorities also acted resolutely with respect to the preachers who held high posts in the theological hierarchy. On 23 September 2009, addressing a ceremonial meeting marking the opening of the University of Science and Engineering near Jidda, King Abdullah ben Abdel Aziz pointed out that ‘science and faith could counter each other only in souls of sick people’, that the beginning of the work of this university was ‘the first line of defense against the extremists’, and that the new educational establishment ‘would become a beacon of tolerance’ (Kosach, 2009). That event was marred by a public statement by a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, Sheikh Saad Al Shathri, who spoke about the impermissibility of introducing ‘coeducation’ as well as ‘Sharia checking of curriculum subjects, in particular, the theory of evolution’ (Sheikh Al Shathri, 2009). At the beginning of October 2009, Saad Al Shathri was relieved of his post by a decree issued by the king (“Monarch’s Decree,” 2009).

In mid-February 2009, the general leadership of the League encouraging kindheartedness and denouncing sin, on orders from the political establishment, launched a strategic project to restructure the administrative apparatus and ‘upgrade the work of the league’s personnel’ (King Fahd University, 2009). At the beginning of 2010, the Justice Ministry began carrying out an ‘ideology security program’ of obligatory advanced training for imams in mosques, intended to prevent them from preaching sermons contrary to the course approved by the authorities (“Medina: Detention,” 2010). On 12 August 2010, King Abdullah ben Abdel Aziz issued a decree allowing the dissemination of only those religious-juridical ideas authored by true members of the Council of Senior Scholars (“Custodian of the Two Holy Places,” 2010).

Subsequently, responding to the developing religious situation, the authorities stepped up their offensive against the religious opposition; entering an international coalition headed by the US opposing ISIS – the formation of ‘an Islamic military coalition’ was announced in Riyadh in December 2015 – promoted the adoption of a decree outlawing ‘extremist and terrorist groups and movements’ in February 2014. A list of outlawed terrorist organisations appeared in March 2014. The list included Al-Qaeda and its branches, Jabhat Al Nusra, ISIS, and the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Hezbollah on the Arabian Peninsula and Hezbollah in Lebanon as of March 2016 (“Saudi Arabia issues list,” 2014). The authorities also tightened control over religious charitable activities. For the first time in Saudi history, in March 2016 members of the ‘police vice squad’ were brought to trial on charges of ‘exceeding their authority’ while performing their duty. Furthermore, ‘leaders and ideologists’ of ‘the sect that had lost its way’ were executed at the beginning of January 2016.

  1. The Present-day Reality: Instead of Confinement

As it expanded, ISIS announced its takeover of the vilayets of Nejd and the two Holy Places [Hedjaz] and its ‘disbelief’ of the local authorities, all of which posed a direct threat to Saudi security. Already in May 2014, the Saudi State Security Service reported it had uncovered a network of cells linked to ISIS and Al-Qaeda in the territory of Yemen, with a membership of 62 men, among who were one Yemeni, one Palestinian, and the rest were citizens of Saudi Arabia. The leader of the network was an Amir – a 40-year-old Saudi citizen to whom the rest of the members of the organisation swore an oath of allegiance, of ba’yah. The main goal of the network, as an official of the Interior Ministry pointed out, was to create ‘a situation of anarchy and violence, to inflict strikes on facilities of the economy and state establishments, including foreign embassies, police and security bodies, as well as ranking state officials’. Women (Saudi citizens) played an important role in the activity of the network by collecting donations and recruiting new members (“Disclosure of Terrorist Network,” 2014).

Responding to the ISIS threat promptly after its intrusion into Iraq, and appealing to Arab and Islamic nations, King Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz admitted the sad reality: ‘Evil has found fertile soil in the Arab and Islamic world. It has become a source from which terror and evil have started to spread over the land’. The monarch went straight to the point: ‘We must, he continued, experience a feeling of profound shame for what the terrorists are committing in the name of religion. They are killing people; they are violating the Lord’s Commandment “Thou shall not kill.” They are photographing these murders and proudly spreading the evidence of their crimes. They are distorting the image of Islam by their crimes and tyranny’. Appealing to ‘the leaders and preachers of the Islamic nation’, the monarch continued: ‘I call upon you to do your duty and to rise up and block the road of those who are trying to portray Islam as a religion of extremism. Let history be a witness to the fact that we did not become a weapon in the hands of the enemy’ (“Custodian of the Two Holy Places,” 2014).

The monarch’s words were backed up with deeds: on 23 September 2014, the Air Force, together with the planes of other members of the GCC, participated in air strikes on positions of ‘the Islamic State’ in Syria. The international coalition against ISIS – formed on 11 September 2014 at a meeting of foreign ministers from member countries of the GCC as well as Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and the United States, which took place in Saudi Jidda – began its practical action. Commenting on Saudi’s participation in that operation, ‘a responsible Saudi official’ declared: ‘The Saudi Royal Air Force participated in the military operation against the ISIS in the territory of Syria. Those actions were undertaken within the framework of the international coalition to destroy terrorism’ (“Responsible Source,” 2014). In connection with this, Prince Salman bin Abdel Aziz, heir to the throne and Defense Minister at the time, noted: ‘Our sons-pilots performed their duty to their faith, homeland and the Monarch, thereby reaffirming their professionalism and bravery in the fight against those who are distorting the purity and mercy of Islam’ (“Heir to the Saudi throne,” 2014). The grounds for the Saudi armed forces joining the operation against IS had already been justified by official theologians – on the eve of the operation, the Council of Senior Scholars made public a fatwa that branded ‘the ideas and actions of ISIS as “immoral” (“Responsible Source,” 2014).

An attack against a citizen of Denmark in Riyadh was carried out on 11 December 2014. The report issued by the Interior Ministry indicated that the attack was carried out by three ISIS supporters, and the purpose of the attack was ‘to terrorize Western experts living in Saudi Arabia’ (“Saudi Arabia announces,” 2014). In December 2014, the actions of ISIS thugs spread to districts populated by Shiites in the Eastern province, where the first bombings of Shia mosques occurred.

On 5 January 2015, the Interior Ministry reported that an armed clash had taken place on the Saudi-Iraqi border near the Suweif checkpoint, some 60 kilometers from the centre of the ‘Northern Borders’ Province, the city of Ar’ar. According to a ministry official, a border patrol stopped ‘an illegal border crossing’ by a group of four men. In the pursuit of the group, two intruders were killed, and another two blew them up. The losses of the Saudi border guards were also significant – three dead and two wounded. The report clearly pointed out that those trying to cross the border were ‘terrorists belonging to ISIS’. The evidence found at the site of the clash clearly testified to this – weapons, suicide belts, and a suitcase full of banknotes. That was the first attempt by supporters of ‘the Islamic State’ to cross the frontier into Saudi territory, even though the border with Iraq has long been protected by a wall with lookout posts and up-to-date electronic systems (“Four Terrorists Wiped Out,” 2015).

Beginning in April 2015, the Saudi State Security Service started reporting its operations to eradicate ISIS cells in Saudi territory. According to these reports, it became clear that from December 2014 to April 2015, a total of 811 men were arrested on charges of terrorism. The overwhelming majority of this contingent were young Saudis (634 men under 30 years old), and the rest were men from Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, and African countries. What is more, in April 2015 alone, 128 men were detained, among whom 62 were Saudis. Publications in the press, initiated by the State Security Service, proved that ISIS cells had storehouses of weaponry, explosives, electronic communications equipment, and had also disseminated leaflets urging citizens of Saudi Arabia and foreigners living there to come out against ‘the criminal and rotten regime’. However, the problem was the following: the Saudi program of rehabilitating those involved in terrorist activity was far from reaching the goals set out for it. A considerable number of perpetrators detained for terrorist actions (almost two-thirds) successfully completed the rehabilitation course, which did not prevent them from returning to their former activity. The attractive nature of ISIS proved to be stronger than the official propaganda exposing ‘the anti-Islamic’ essence of IISIS’s actions and slogans (“811 Arrested,” 2015). Commenting on the developing situation, a Saudi publicist declared: ‘The rebellious youth, resorting to the backward understanding of life and Sharia, negating the centuries-old legacy and achievements of the not-yet-completed modernization, are becoming revolutionaries, emirs and even caliphs’ (Khashoggi, 2014).

On 3 and 4 July 2016, during the month of Ramadan according to the Muslim calendar, terrorist acts were carried out in three cities – Al Qatif in the Eastern province, Jidda, and Medina. The timing for these acts was intentional – at sunset, when the fasting was over and it was the time for collective dinner (iftar), members of the security service were also joining in. While the bombing in Jidda took place in the eastern part of the city, not far from the building that previously housed the American Consulate, in Al Qatif the explosion took place next to the central mosque, and in Medina, right beside one of the main holy places of Islam – the Mosque of the Prophet, which gave Saudi publications reason to declare that ‘terrorism was aimed against the second most important Holy Place’, that is, after the Kaaba in Mecca. Moreover, the same publications reminded Saudi citizens of the events of 1979, when the Al-Oteibi’s group seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca (“Terrorism Targets Second Holy Place,” 2016). In December 2016, the State Security Service managed to prevent a terrorist act being prepared by twelve Saudi citizens – members of an ISIS cell – on Al-Jawhara Stadium in Jeddah (“Terrorist Act with 400 Kilograms,” 2016).

At the same time, Saudi Arabia was becoming the target of an unprecedented electronic war. At the beginning of March 2015, ‘a responsible official’ from the Saudi Interior Ministry reported that citizens using social networks ‘receive, every minute, no less than 90 messages insulting the Kingdom, meaning that on a daily basis, they receive 129,600 such scornful messages’. This ‘responsible official’ pointed out that the flow of those disgusting messages originated with ISIS, Jabhat an-Nusra, and Al-Qaeda. The messages ‘urged the citizens to resort to violence, to join terrorist organizations, to attack both with words and deeds, to destabilize the country and embark on a Jihad’. In short, ‘a vanguard of ISIS and Al-Qaeda had emerged in the Kingdom’. According to the same official, it was clear that young Saudis were in no way impressed by the regular TV programs and press reports about some of the repentant Islamists returning from Syria and Iraq. Such episodes are viewed by potential and actual supporters of ISIS as ‘dirty propaganda being far from reality’ (“Items on Terrorism,” 2015). One of the consequences of that electronic war was, as the Saudi press reported, a demonstration of 13 Saudi women in the city of Buraidah, west of Nejd, under the slogan ‘fighting the regime’. The demonstrators publically burned a portrait of the Interior Minister as well as a portrait of the heir to the throne, Prince Mohammed ben Nayef. The Criminal Court in Riyadh, specialising in the investigation of terrorism, began examining this case on 22 November 2016 (“Trial Begins,” 2016).

Speaking about the reasons why young Saudis move to neighbouring countries, Saudi officials usually single out three groups among their subjects. The first such group is classified as ‘adventure-seekers and fans’; the second group is characterised by the fact that ‘its members are tied by bonds of friendship to, or are relatives of, those in Syria and Iraq, or those who have been arrested for their views’; and lastly, the third group that goes to fight on the side of ‘the Islamic State’ are those ‘brainwashed by ISIS propaganda’. However, irrespective of how representatives of the Saudi establishment classify the disobedient youth, all the current supporters of ‘the Islamic State’ are viewed by the establishment as having departed from the principles of “moderate Islam” (“Items on Terrorism,” 2015).

The statistics of the State Security Service remain cheerless – in the course of 2016, Saudi Arabia experienced 30 terrorist acts. The perpetrators were young Saudis between the ages of 16 and 35. Commenting on this information, ‘a responsible security service official’ noted: ‘Extremist thought and the terrorist threat remain, but are changing their coating and manifestations’ (“30 Terrorist Acts,” 2016).

There are weighty and convincing circumstances leading to such a conclusion. Within the ranks of ISIS, there are no less than 2,500 Saudis – Saudi Arabia has become the Arab country supplying the second-highest numbers of Mujahidin to that organisation, after Tunisia. What is more, Saudis make up the majority of those who committed individual ISIS terrorist attacks (Barrett, 2014).

Participation in the international anti-terrorist coalition did not signify an end to the practice of privately supporting ISIS for Saudi Arabia. In June 2016, the US State Department’s annual report on the fight against terrorism pointed out that Saudi Arabia – together with Qatar and Kuwait – had failed to cope with the task of putting an end to the financing of terrorism from their territory by way of social networks and pilgrimages (Weinberg, 2016).

Moreover, speaking about the future of the phenomenon of ‘religious terrorism’ and ISIS, Saudi analysts remain quite pessimistic. In the opinion of one analyst and public figure, the explanation of this phenomenon cannot be narrowed down to ‘the absence of political freedoms, Western hegemony or Israeli occupation’ – these ‘are not factors creating terrorism’, but rather ‘factors promoting terrorist mobilization’. He noted that the struggle against this phenomenon, even if ISIS is destroyed on the battlefield, will be impossible ‘without liquidating its climate of the culture and the social life breeding it’ – that is, the climate arising from the closed-to-the-world rhetoric denying all of this. If that climate is not changed, then Saudi society will be doomed ‘to coexist with the terrorist disease, just like humanity coexists with the greenhouse effect, river floods, and forest fires’ (Al-Zaid, 2014).

The situation in the Arab Gulf states in future will be dependent on their ability to become incorporated within the modern system of economic and political development of the world, and to change their representation of different cultures and different religious activities as threats to Islam and traditional Arab values. If their reforms in all spheres of life are successful, especially in the transformation of society, the governments of these states will diminish the influence of extremist ideas and block the activity of terrorist groups. This especially concerns Saudi Arabia, where reforms began later than in other Gulf countries, which is why society is more conservative and critical of innovations, and is more ready to adopt radical Islamic ideas. At the same time, the process of modernisation is changing Saudi Arabia and it will help the country to maintain stability and to fight terrorism.


Grigory Kosach

Professor of the Department of the Modern East, Faculty of History, Political Science and Law, Institute for History and Archives, Russian State University for the Humanities


Elena Melkumyan

Professor of the Department of the Modern East, Faculty of History, Political Science and Law, Institute for History and Archives, Russian State University for the Humanities



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Statement by 26 Saudis Concerning Iraq. (2004, November 12). Asharq Al-Awsat. Retrieved from http://www.aawsat.com/details.asp?section=45&article=265236&issueno=9481

Terrorist Acts in the Kingdom: Dates and Figures. (2005, February 5). Al-Jazeera. Retrieved from http://www.al-jazirah.com.sa/2005/20050205/er5.htm

Terrorism Targets Second Holy Place. (2016, July 5). Asharq Al-Awsat. Retrieved from http://aawsat.com/home/article/682411

Terrorist Act with 400 Kilograms of Explosives Foiled in Territory of Al-Jawhara. (2016, October 31). Al-Hayat. Retrieved from http://www.alhayat.com/Articles/18249454

Trial Begins of 13 Saudis on Charges of Organizing Demonstration and Burning Portraits of Interior Minister. (2016, November 23). Al-Hayat. Retrieved from http://www.alhayat.com/Articles/18685121

UAE’s Terror Fight Begins at Home: Paper. (2015, August 3). Emirates News Agency. Retrieved from http://www.wam.ae/en/news/emirates/1395283943904.html

Vasiliyev, A.M. (1982). History of Saudi Arabia. Moscow, Nauka.

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[1] Commenting at the time when Soviet troops were present in Afghanistan, a Saudi publication noted: “The leadership of the Kingdom raised the Jihad banner against communist expansions” (Ministry of Information, 1999. p. 150).

[2] On the 2011 events in Bahrain, see E. Melkumyan, 2013, pp.242-248.

[3] Nejd religious-and-political movement that played the decisive role in the military campaigns of Ibn Saud.

[4] See Vasiliyev,1982. p. 304.

[5] A hint that Ikhwans were destructing monuments over the burial places and cupolas over the graves of the “Holy figures.”

[6] The Saudi monetary unit. See Al-Oteibi’s message concerning rule, loyalty and obedience.

[7] Settlements of Bedouins who formed units of Ikhwans.

[8] See Al-Oteibi’s message concerning rule, loyalty and obedience.

[9] See Al-Oteibi’s message concerning rule, loyalty and obedience.

[10] This term goes back to the concluding verses of the first Chapter of the Koran; “The Opener”: “Guide us to the straight path The Path of those on whom You bestowed Your bounties, Not the path of those who incurred Your wrath or those who went astray.” Koran 1:4-7.

[11] The first pamphlet of criticism “Irrefutable evidence of the Saudi state’s departure from true Islam)” appeared in January of 1992. It was published in Peshawar (Pakistan) – one of the centers for training Mujahidin. The authors of pamphlet claim that the Saudi judiciary system was based on “the practice of foreign jurisprudence” which makes it contrary to Sharia Law. In the opinion of the pamphlet authors, the “defection” of the Saudi authorities is also evident in their maintaining diplomatic relations with “infidel and multi-theist states.” (Ibrahim, 2009. p. 74-75).

[12] Changes in the tactics of terrorists have increased the number of casualties in attacks on residential districts in Saudi Arabia to 101 killed (“The change of a terrorist’s tactics,” 2004).

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the original author(s) and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views and opinions of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, its co-founders, or its staff members.
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Professor of the Department of the Modern East, Faculty of History, Political Science and Law, Institute for History and Archives, Russian State University for the Humanities, RU

Elena Melkumyan graduated from the Institute of Asian and African Studies, Moscow State University. She is now Professor of the Department of the Modern East, Faculty of History, Political Science and Law, Institute for History and Archives, Russian State University for the Humanities.Her research includes: International Relations of the Middle East; Regional Organizations; Foreign Policy of Arab States.
Grigory Kosach

Professor of the Department of the Modern East, Faculty of History, Political Science and Law, Institute for History and Archives, Russian State University for the Humanities, RU

Grigory Kosach graduated from the Institute of Asian and African Studies, Moscow State University. He is now Professor of the Department of the Modern East, Faculty of History, Political Science and Law, Institute for History and Archives, Russian State University for the Humanities.His research covers: Political Systems of Arab Countries and Central Asian Post-Soviet States; International Relations in the Middle East and Northern Africa; Regional Organizations; and Russian Muslim Organizations.