Counter-Terrorism: Saudi Arabia Declares al Qaeda Defeated

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June 9, 2006: On May 7th King Abdallah declared that al Qaeda had been "defeated" in Saudi Arabia. Saudi security authorities reported that clashes since May of 2003 had resulted in the deaths of about 150 Saudi and foreign personnel, as well as at least 120 confirmed al Qaeda operatives. There have been thousands of arrests, and several hundred terror suspects are believed still under arrest. No official figures were given for persons detained. But al Qaeda was never a major threat to the Saudi monarchy.

Many, if not most, Saudis want changes in the way the kingdom is run. But this is not easily done. King Adballah has been pressing for a modest easing of restrictions on the press, but is being opposed by more conservative members of the Royal Family, and many religious leaders. The conservatives fear that easing press restrictions will lead to widespread criticism of the regime. They're right, of course. But continuing restrictions will only make the country's internal problems worse, by providing critics with no options but to join radical movements. This will lead to more terrorism. There have been sporadic outbreaks of terrorism in the kingdom over the last three decades. Saudi Arabia remains one of the main battlegrounds between modernity and Islamic conservatism (which rejects some, but not all, aspects of modernity.) One of the things Islamic conservatives are not keen on is democracy, and the al Saud family, as one would expect, tends to agree with that. But the corruption of many of the royals, and often incompetent government, is causing more people to demand some form of democracy and accountability. The al Qaeda solution is to replace the monarchy with a religious dictatorship, and much more intrusion into how Saudis live their lives. This does not have a lot of support, but there are enough old school, and deeply religious, Saudis to regard terrorism as an acceptable tactic.

 


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