December 23, 2003

Saudi Schisms Reader MD kindly

Saudi Schisms

Reader MD kindly forwards an article that will be appearing in the next issue of Foreign Affairs.

Doran well sketches out the split between reformist oriented Crown Prince Abdullah and Interior Minister Nayef (who controls the secret police). Doran indicates the key flashpoint dividing the two camps revolves around "a single question: whether the state should reduce the power of the religious establishment."

On that score, note this interesting part of Doran's article (that policymakers need to grapple with more):

"According to al-Ayyiri, the United States and Israel are the leaders of a global anti-Islamic movement -- "Zio-Crusaderism" -- that seeks the destruction of true Islam and dominion over the Middle East. Zio-Crusaderism's most effective weapon is democracy, because popular sovereignty separates religion from the state and thereby disembowels Islam, a holistic religion that has a strong political dimension. In its plot to denature Islam, al-Ayyiri claims, Zio-Crusaderism embraces three local allies: secularists, Shi`ites, and lax Sunnis (that is, those who sympathize with the idea of separating religion from state). Al Qaeda's "near enemy," in other words, is the cluster of forces supporting Taqarub." [emphasis added]

This schism is worth keeping in mind too:

"This is particularly true of the Shi`ite question in Saudi politics. Radical Sunni Islamists hate Shi`ites more than any other group, including Jews and Christians. Al-Qaeda's basic credo minces no words on the subject: "We believe that the Shi`ite heretics are a sect of idolatry and apostasy, and that they are the most evil creatures under the heavens." For its part, the Saudi Wahhabi religious establishment expresses similar views. The fatwas, sermons, and statements of established Saudi clerics uniformly denounce Shi`ite belief and practice. A recent fatwa by Abd al-Rahman al-Barrak, a respected professor at the Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University (which trains official clerics), is a case in point. Asked whether it was permissible for Sunnis to launch a jihad against Shi`ites, al-Barrak answered that if the Shi`ites in a Sunni-dominated country insisted on practicing their religion openly, then yes, the Sunni state had no choice but to wage war on them. Al-Barrak's answer, it is worth noting, assumes that the Shi`ites are not Muslims at all." [emphasis added]

Look for potential troublemaking, by some in Saudi, should a crude Shi'a majoritarianism emerge in Iraq (particularly one with major religious stripes). This would then in turn, of course, precipitate heightened Iranian-Saudi Arabian frictions/rivalries in the region.

Anyway, be sure to read all of MD's piece.

UPDATE: More from Saudi here:

"Saudi Arabia's crackdown on terrorism will be tested as militant Islamic groups apparently shift focus from foreign to domestic targets, officials and diplomats in the kingdom say.

The shift was underscored on December 4 when a group called the Two Holy Mosques Brigade claimed to have shot Brigadier General Abdulaziz al-Huwairini, a senior interior ministry official involved in the counter-terrorism campaign, while he was driving his car. The attack has not been officially confirmed.

The group has since declared in a statement that "since our brothers in al-Qaeda are busy fighting the crusaders, we took it upon ourselves to cleanse the land of the two holy mosques of the crusaders' agents" - a reference to the Saudi government.

Experts conclude from this that parallel groups may be active in Saudi Arabia, with varying ties to al-Qaeda. "Earlier al-Qaeda statements had referred to purifying the kingdom of crusaders. This statement suggested that they had shifted their campaign to targeting the 'tyrants'," a diplomat said."

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