When New York city’s twin towers collapsed under the shock of the diverted planes that hit them with all the power of their engines launched at flying speed, nobody in the immediate aftermath would have ever thought of the Kingdom of Saud as the possible birthland of the terrorists. Such a thought would have sounded to the Americans as absurd than its corollary already spread in hints and whispers among the Arabs pointing out to Israel’s Mossad as a suspect. For the logic, the historical links, and the economical interests naturally dismiss these two important allies of the USA from being suspected.
But soon, with the investigation getting on and unveiling the identities of the suspects, people began to have second thoughts.
Seven out of nineteen suspects, according to the FBI, are Saudi citizens. Seven others may also be Saudi, if we consider their names: Ahmed and Hamza al-Ghamedi, Fayez Ahmed… Otherwise, the majority of the alleged terrorists would be Saudi citizens, if they were not from other Gulf states, all of them allies of the U.S. A.
Though this is quite a blurring statement, the fact that such an unprecedented attack on America might have been caused by people coming from the Middle East cannot be due only to a bad chance. Here is the heart of the matter. For as America got deeply entangled into the Middle East policies, no reasonable leader or observer would claim innocence or neutrality as regards whatever situation has been prevailing in the region since years.
Some observers have already made their mind: there is too much evidence leading to the Kingdom of Saud, not to consider it suspect! But as in all the “thrillers”, too much evidence against a party, is not always the right evidence. How can we resolve this paradox?
The fact that some suspects came from the Saudi Kingdom or the Gulf states may be incriminating these states only if we omit two points: 1- the links between the terrorists and bin Laden’s al Qaeda organization, if we consider the current statements of the FBI. 2) The fact that he is actually an outcast representing only his followers. But it seems that these statements are not obvious for everybody.
For whoever is surveying the international scene these days, it is clear enough that the Arab Gulf – particularly Saudi Arabia – is put under an unprecedented pressure. Because of what happened on Sep.11 in America, the citizens of the wealthiest Arab States became suddenly suspects in the eyes of many people in the West. Now and then, papers run stories about a so-called “Saudi connection”, and some colleagues in the Western media do not hesitate to hint to a mysterious plot concocted on the hot sands of the desert, behind the velvet curtains of an emir particularly hateful of the West!
Well, maybe they do not put it this way, but the idea is felt between the lines. True that some analyses deserve to be considered. But this is not the case of all what is now available in the media about that topic.
Here is an example:
For Mr. Stephen Schwartz, it is the whole Wahhabism that must be singled out as the very cause of what happened on Sept.11. ” One major question is never asked in American discussions of Arab terrorism”, he writes; and this question is: ” What is the role of Saudi Arabia?” Then the answer he gives is quite amazing. In his view the question is not asked because ” American companies depend too much on the continued flow of Saudi oil, while American politicians have become too cozy with the Saudi rulers”! (The Spectator -U.K. September 22.)
The answer is “amazing ” because the writer does not even notice the paradox he trapped himself within. For if Saudi Arabia is ruled by an ideology so hostile to the West, how come that this very country happens to be one of the most important allies of the West in the region, since the time of King Abdel Aziz al-Saud, and never ceased to be?
The second reason for which the ” question is not asked in the US”, says Mr. Schwartz is that ” to expose the extent of Saudi and Wahhabi influence on American Muslims would deeply compromise many Islamic clerics in the US.” So, if we trust his initial thesis about the menace of the Wahhabism, The Americans would know that they have dangerous plotters among them (the Islamic clerics relays of the Wahhabis!) and they are turning a blind eye on their conspiratorial activities!
Still, we can push the paranoia further. He quotes professor Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr from the University of California at San Diego, who thinks that if the US ” wants to do something about radical Islam, it has to deal with Saudi Arabia. The rogue states (Iraq, Libya…etc) are less important in the radicalization of Islam than Saudi Arabia.” Undoubtedly, since they have their own extremists opposing the government by all means. But so far, the role of Saudi Arabia as an Islamic leader is quite understood. What seems less understandable is the jump from responsibilizing Saudi Arabia to demonizing it, which is easily achieved by both Schwartz and Nasr. The latter adds: ” Saudi Arabia is the single most important cause and supporter of radicalization, ideologisation, and the general fanaticisation of Islam”!
The second example we would mention is more subtle in its analyze, although it is not favorable to the Saudis either.
The serious French newspaper Le Monde, on its October 4 issue, did not hesitate to run a story full of suggestions and questions about a generation of Saudis that even if it did not take part to the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan, feels an admiration towards bin Laden. According to Le Monde, we must find the causes of what happened on September 11 not in Afghanistan, but rather in the Saudi Kingdom itself. (: L’hypothése de la piste Saoudienne).
It is in 1991’s war that lie the reasons of the current wave of terrorism, says the French paper, precisely in the opposition to the entrance of the American troops in Saudi Arabia. The Sheiks Sfar al-Hawli and Salman al-Awdah along with Mohammed al-Masaari and bin Laden formed since then a front which opposed the King’s decision on the grounds that it is incompatible with Islamic precepts.
The bombings of November 13, 1995 (against a building of the National guards, sheltering American officers, and making 7 dead) and of June 27, 1996 in the American base of al-Khobar (19 dead) confirmed that the opposition to the American presence was taking a violent turn. The fact that the Saudi security services investigating about these cases did not allow the Americans to freely enquire sounded like hiding information. The Americans never appreciated that behavior, which they considered as not cooperative. For them, the Iranian trail was plain. For the Saudis, Iran under Khatami, is no longer an enemy. That was already a first matter for disagreement between the two allies.
The idea that the roots of what happened on Sep.11, lie in Saudi Arabia and in the beginning of the nineteens, forwarded by Le Monde may be interesting, although it does not present a straightforward explanation. Behind it, we can discover all the culpability of the American policy that some French observers have never ceased to denunciate since years. Along with that culpability of which America is charged, there is also the old animosity of the French Catholic secularity towards the Saudi Kingdom and the kind of Islam it is propagating. For indubitably, in these days some people in the West are jubilating: not only they are now able to condemn the American stiff and clumsy policies towards the Arabs as the main cause of what bin Laden called lately (in his intervention on Al Jazeera)” the punition of God”, but also they can by the way condemn the Saudi policy as responsible for the attacks against America! The point had to be emphasized.
Is the pressure on Saudi Arabia the result of some governmental orchestration in the West? No doubt, some Saudis are wondering. But although it is difficult to answer this question, maybe can we quote some significant examples.
On Oct. 5, the Greece’s international newspaper Kathimerini run a story headlined ” Bin Laden’s dangerous Mideast links”. According to this report ” reliable Arab diplomatic sources in Athens” said that the network (Al Qaeda) could have a very different and far more dangerous dimension. They claim that it is not made up only of illegal, dissident groups but has managed to infiltrate the military, the secret services and even government circles of Arab states, including the two leading countries of the Arab world, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
As we cannot question the sources of this report, we have to point out that some of its” information” sounds ill-intentioned towards Crown Prince Abdullah, who is deemed to entertain unsevered ties with bin Laden through the Saudi Secret service ex- chief, Prince Turki. And the report goes on alleging that ” Abdullah is not favored by Washington because of his disapproval of the US military presence and his strong anti- Israeli position…”
One ought to observe that the idea of linking bin Laden to the Crown Prince is obviously too attractive not to be attempted by someone likely angered by Abdullah’s alleged positions, notwithstanding the veracity or the falsehood of the rumour. Still, the argument is too weak to be sustained. How can any person endowed with reason and common sense believe that such an alliance between a rebel – a pariah – and a Crown Prince, who is actually in charge of the Kingdom, could be possible? What is the substance of such an alleged alliance and what could be its aims? Would Abdullah give up power to bin Laden to compensate him for “special services”? Would he share power with him?
Such an absurd reasoning is rather ignorant of facts.
Who more than the Saudis themselves knows bin Laden? And who better than them knows that his ambition consists in bringing Saudi Arabia to its knees, deposing the House of Saud, and settling a new theocracy based on his version of a pure and uncontaminated Islam? Like many people, bin Laden was struck by the easiness whereby Ayatollah Khomeyni snatched power from the Shah in 1979. But if the old Khomeyni were able to rise people against the government in Teheran, why bin Laden – helped with his millions and his mujahideens- would not be able to do the same thing in Saudi Arabia, using Afghanistan as a staging ground for his self-declared leadership in exile?
The Saudi government is aware that the present situation – continual unrest in Iraq and in Palestine – plays rather in favor of bin Laden who would by all means exploit it: deterioration in economic and political environment, increase in the number of unsatisfied people, not to speak of the dissidents and opponents, corruption and scandals, etc.
Lately, a bomb exploded in the city of Khobar, (near an American military base), killing two people including one American. And the question the event arises is, to be sure, about any involvement of al-Qaeda. The Saudi Ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, acknowledged corruption in his country, reported The New York Times (Oct.9) and said that the Saudi Royal family has “implemented a development program that was close to $ 400 billion. You could not have done all of that for less than, let’s say $ 350 billion. If you tell me that building this whole country, and spending $ 350 billion out of $ 400 billion that we misused or got corrupted with $ 50 billion, I’ll tell you yes. So what? We did not invent corruption “. Neither is America or any other country in the world clear of it.
Some Western observers think that if bin Laden’s power is felt at the highest levels of the Saudi regime, a deaf struggle is opposing two competing factions in the royal family over how to deal with it. Thus, when some days before the Sept.11 attacks the Saudi chief of intelligence – who held that post for 25 years- Prince Turki (brother of the Saudi foreign minister) was dismissed from his post, it was said that he was ” the first- high ranking victim” of that power struggle.
Many people – among them bin Laden – would exploit without a scruple any internal struggle to show Saudi Arabia much resembling to its “ugly” brother: Iran in the last days of the Shah: omnipotent police of state, alliance with the West and dictatorship. Otherwise, the infamous ingredients of any revolt.
When the USA asked to use the Kingdom’s facilities in its campaign against Afghanistan, the hesitation of the Saudi government seemed to confirm the suspicions of some paranoid observers in the West towards this country. The pressure was deeply felt in the Kingdom and still is. But despite the reassuring declarations of Prince Saud Faisal, the discussion went on in the media about whether the Saudis are in or out the anti-terrorist coalition.
The Washington Post of Sept. 28 reminds us of Faisal saying: ” if it comes to military action, Saudi Arabia will not avoid its duty”. But so far, nothing of that happened, some people say!
“Prince Sultan Air Base already is home to about 5,000 U.S. servicemen and about 200 U.S. British and French planes “, writes the same paper. Meanwhile, with the beginning of the strikes against Afghanistan, has the number increased? That is quite an odd answer to bin Laden claiming the departure of the foreign troops from Saudi Arabia! Thus, it is assumed that under the Joint Task Force Southwest Asia, based on the sprawling and highly secure desert base, their mission would be ” expanded to participate in strikes against Afghanistan.” And whatever the official position of the Saudis, the Americans seem assured that the use of the base is granted.
Nonetheless, the pressure on Saudi Arabia is not only Western. Some Arab and Muslim states do not appreciate that perspective. They are convinced that if the Saudi allow the Americans to attack the Taliban from their soil, they would use it also – maybe in a second stage of the war – to strike other countries they deem sponsoring or harboring terrorists.
Anyway, what’s the point in keeping a base somewhere if it is not used when needed? They say.
To this reasoning the Saudis answer: U.S. Forces are based in the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Along with the Saudi base, fighter squadrons and army personnel are based in Kuwait; a forward deployed armored brigade is in Qatar; cargo and refueling units are in Oman and the United Arab Emirates, and the Navy’s 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain. Moreover, all the governments of these countries support the fight against terrorism.
So, why the fuss about the Saudi position?
Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.