Saturday, April 17, 2010

SAUDI ARABIA – Entrapped in its dual politics?

SAUDI ARABIA – Entrapped in its dual politics?

By R. Upadhyay

Saudi Arabia that is known as a political expression of Wahhabism, may claim to be the representative body of Islamic orthodoxy and could be proud of calling itself to be a true Wahhabi state, but the way it has been facing the challenge from Wahhabi puritans, the claim of the dynastic kingdom remains controversial.

In fact the ruling House of Saud the ruler of Arabian Peninsula always remained more concerned of the stability of its kingdom than to follow its commitment to Wahhabism of which the avowed objective was to establish Islamic power in the world through violent Jihad against the infidels in exchange of accepting the Saudi dynasty as the ruler of this state as well as also the custodian of holiest Islamic shrines. So much so, after conquering and uniting the whole of Peninsula including the holiest sites of Islam with the support of Wahhabi militia known as Ikhwans, it deviated from its commitment to Wahhabism and entered into a pact with Christian powers for protection and tried to restrain the Wahhabi militia from further Jihad. Although, the Ikhwan revolt was crushed by the monarchy, Ikhwan-like approach did not die and the Saudi kingdom always remained in the focus of the Jihadis against its dual politics of aligning with Christian Powers and legitimising it by buying the Ulema in exchange of providing them cozy posts in the government. Over the years the incredible history of the royal family got exposed and today it is found entrapped in its own web of dual politics.

Historically, with imperialism and Wahhabism as the two most potent ideological forces, the Saudi ruler Abd al Aziz popularly known as Ibn Saud began his imperialistic conquest in 1902 after seeking the help of Ikhwans, the ferocious Bedouin nomads of Najd province. The term Ikhwans which literally means brethren in Arabic were the Wahhabi militia which formed the main force of Ibn Saud through the conquest. In fact, the Wahhabi clergies of Ibn Saud re-indoctrinated the Ikhwans in the Jihadi expression of violent Islam. Hypnotised with the war cry –‘fight infidels in the name of Allah till last’ the Ikhwan fighters accepted this extreme interpretation of Wahhabism literally and translated it into unrestrained fanaticism and act of terror against non-Wahhabi Muslim rulers of different clans in different regions of Arabian Peninsula and brought them under the single rule of Ibn Saud. Today, Taliban is said to be the carbon copy of Ikhwan.

After a long bloody battle of over two decades Ibn Saud finally captured the province of Hijaj including the two holiest cities of Islam namely Mecca and Medina in 1924-25 from the rule of Hashimite ruler of Prophet’s clan in 1924-25 and also declared himself the custodian of the holiest shrines of Islam. It is therefore said that Ikhwans were the main force behind the Saudi dynastic rule in the Peninsula as well as making Ibn Saud also the custodian of the holiest shines of Islam. However, with Ikhwans by his side when the Saudi ruler established his hold in the region, his priority shifted from further Jihad to the stability of the kingdom as he was apprehensive of the danger from the people of Hijaj in general who were not happy with the rule of Najdi tribes over them and due to his incredible victory of capturing Mecca and Medina from the control of the Hashimite clan of Prophet Mohammad in particular.

In 1927 with an objective to defend the monarchy he had a pact with the British, a most powerful colonial Empire which was instrumental in the collapse of Ottoman Empire and had its protectorates in the Middle East like Kuwait, Iraq and Transjordan. As per the treaty, the British accepted Ibn Saud as an independent ruler of Arabian Peninsula in exchange of stopping any further advancement of his Wahhabi militia towards its protectorate countries. This treaty with the Christian power however enraged the Ikhwans who were committed to the spread of the fervent Wahhabi version of puritan Islam throughout the Middle East and were always ready to die in the cause of Allah by pursuing Jihad, the central focal point of Wahhabism. Since this treaty prevented them from their Jihadi march towards the neighboring countries in Middle East, they took it as contrary to the Jihadi doctrine of Wahhabism against the infidels and also an insult to Islam. Although, Ibn Saud tried to restrain the Ikhwans from continuing their Jihad across the boarder, the latter challenged him as the ruler of Wahhabi State. However, he maneuvered his trusted Ulema and sought their approval for action against the Jihadi Ikhwans.

Ironically, the Ulema in the pay roll of the kingdom though found merit in the points raised by the Ikhwans, they issued a fatwa emphasizing upon the stability of the kingdom and the right to proclaim Jihad vested only to Ibn Saud who was the declared Imam after becoming the custodian of the Holiest Shrines of Islam. Thus, after getting Islamic endorsement from his trusted clergies, Ibn Saud crushed the Ikhwan revolt in the fierce battle of sibylla in 1929-30. Subsequently, he declared Saudi Arabia as an independent kingdom in 1932 which was also recognised by the USA in 1933. Ibn Saud and his successors due to their materialistic lust did not like to understand Islam from Wahhabist point of view but understood it purely from the perspective of capitalism and imperialism.

Knowing fully well that Wahhabism is not compatible with Christianity and incommensurability of Islam and Saudi imperialism, Ibn Saud preferred to pursue the dual strategy of depending on the rising Christian powers for protection of his monarchy while fostering aggressive campaign against non-Wahhabi Muslims and infidels like Hindus, Jews and others in different parts of the world. However, the trade and strategic alliance with the Christian powers, initially with the British and latter with the USA which were contrary to Wahhabism - exposed his dualist policy. Even though, the Wahhabi puritans in the kingdom took this cross ideological alliance contrary to the avowed objective of Wahhabi expression of Islasm, the Saudi ruler successfully tried to domesticate the influential Wahhabi Ulema by providing them perks and privileges and authority to the cultural and social control in the kingdom in exchange of legitimizing its policy towards the Christian powers. Since then, the political duplicity of Ibn Saud to manoeuvre the Ulema for legitimizing his alliance with Crusaders in one hand and dependence on USA as well as other Christian powers on the other became the national policy of the kingdom. Since the strategy suited to the material benefit of both the parties, they had no problem in throwing the ethics to the dust bin and the alliance is still continuing today. Gradually, Ikhwan approach got momentum and a significant section of Saudi Arabia developed a feeling that the caretaker of the holiest shrine of Islam in depending on infidels for its survival was not only a humiliation to the Saudi ruler but also to the entire followers of Islam.

It is a fact the Saudi-West alliance provided the monarchy protection against its enemies at home and abroad and also stability of the kingdom in lieu of providing the steady stream of oil profits to American companies but the issue related to Ikhwan revolt did not die in the battle of sibylla in 1929-30 and remained a perpetual danger to the kingdom as the people of Hijaj province in general and sympathizers of Ikhwans in particular always remained restive against the betrayal of Saudi ruler not only against his trusted Wahhabi militia but also against the Jihadi philosophy of Wahhabism. The purists Wahhabis within the kingdom have time to time raised their voice against the un-Islamic alliance of the monarchy with the Crusaders. “Quran’s Sura 5.72 says – Christians will be burned in the fire” ( – ‘The enemy of Islam’ by John Bastile (Malaysia), Nov 2, 2005 at 01:36).

Fully aware of the danger from Wahhabi puritans, the Saudi monarchy tried to balance the contradiction between the hate-infidel ideology of Wahhabism and alliance with Crusader West. While buying the influential Wahhabi Ulema, the monarchy also tried to demonstrate that the ideologies between the two are inherently not incompatible and they could co-exist and even thrive. This political game of convenience being played by them is nothing but manoeuvring religion and getting its alliance with the Christian West for the protection of the kingdom both from within and abroad. In fact the Ulema in the roll of the government also followed religious duplicity to ensure the implementation of Wahhabism known as ‘active Wahhabism’ for the natives of the kingdom but closed their eyes over the government following diluted Wahhabism which is called passive Wahhabism in respect of policy towards the West. However, the purist Wahhabi group that comes from the lower strata of Ulema in the kingdom and not holding any post of privileges condemn the monarchy for its betrayal to Ikhwan, religio-political duplicity and its deviation from the path of pure Islam. The four major challenges namely Ikhwan revolt (as discussed above) in late 1920s, Seizure of Grand Mosque in 1979, Gulf war of 1990-91 and the post September 11, 2001 developments therefore, suggest that the Saudi kingdom is now found trapped in its own Jihadi web which it had woven to come to power.

By1970s when there was a boom in oil price, the Saudi Government with a view to satisfy the radicals in the kingdom floated a number of Wahhabi fronts for propagation of Wahhabism around the world. However, in spite of implementation of hard line Wahhabi version of Islam in the kingdom and export of Wahhabism in other parts of the world, about a thousand of Ikhwan-like fundamentalists led by Juhayman al-Utaybi, a direct descendant of the Ikhwan seized the Great Mosque at Mecca, the holiest site in Islam in November 1979. In fact the rebel Wahhabi zealots were inspired with the Iranian revolution against the dynastic rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahalavi in February 1979 and its subsequent fall and therefore had a plan to replace the monarchy with a government headed by a religious leader. The dramatic seizure of the Grand Mosque was one of Saudi Arabia's most shocking events as the radicals called for a return to pure Islam, and a reversal of modernization. The rebels while condemning the royal family for aligning with the Crusader and straying from the path of true Islam maintained that the Saudi dynasty had lost their legitimacy to rule the holy land of Islam because of their alliance with the West.

Taking the revolt as a grave challenge, the Saudi ruler again turned to Ulema and convened an emergent meeting of over two dozen clerics who were loyal to the monarchy and sought Islamic sanctions for clearing the Mosque from the dissenters by military action. The King in fact did not like to take a chance without any fatwa as bloodshed inside the Grand Mosque which could be contrary to the Islamic principle might create a controversy. Although, the Ulema did not refute the allegation of the rebels nor defended the alliance of the monarchy with the Crusaders, they issued a fatwa based on specific verse from Quran that allowed the government to use all necessary force to retake the Great Mosque. Thus, armed with this fatwa the Saudi Government sent Saudi Arabia National Guard (SANG) to clear the shrine from the rebels. It is however said that the SANG failed to overpower the dissenters and therefore French security forces were commissioned and the Shrine was ultimately cleared after a period of two weeks. The operation resulted into the death of over 200 rebels. Furthermore with a view to set an example the Government beheaded over fifty of the zealots publicly in their home town. Though, controversy arose due to the entry of non-Muslims in the Grand Mosque which is prohibited in Islam, the Saudi Government played it down by not keeping any record of the entry of French soldiers. ( Subsequently with an objective to divert the attention of Muslim world from the issue of the entry of non-Muslims in the Grand Mosque, the Saudi ruler took the lead to support Jihad against the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan with the support of USA and Pakistan and successfully pushed the issue of the entry of Christian forces inside the Grand Mosque to the back burner.

The Afghan War which was a meeting point of Mujahidins from the various Islamist establishments of the world ultimately bred a new generation of transnationalist Jihadis who felt empowered with the defeat of Soviet Union. The Wahhabi fronts of Saudi Arabia on the other hand while turning Afghanistan into a secure base to train the Jihadis also sowed the seed of transnational Jihad. They also used the soil of Afghanistan to prepare the Jihadis for terror war against the Infidels in general and South Asian countries in particular. India became the worst victim of this Saudi funded Jihadi operation. Post-Afghan War era which emerged as an era for revival of Islamist revolution has become a menace to the world.

Despite, the larger than life size image of Saudi Kingdom in Muslim world after the victory of Jihadis in Afghan War, the Gulf War (1990-91) posed another challenge to it. In August 1990 Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussain invaded Kuwait and its army also marched towards the boarder of Saudi Arabia. According to some report Osama bin Laden a Saudi national who was groomed by the House of Saud as Wahhabi zealot to fight with Afghan Mujahidin against the Soviet army tried to hijack the victory in Afghan Jihad for his own political objective, contacted the royal family and offered to fight against Iraq with Afghan-trained Mujahideen. His strategy was to force the far enemy (USA) to retreat in humiliation and defeat from the lands of Islam. He claimed that “I have more than 40000 Mujahideens in the land of the two holy mosques. These were trained in Afghanistan” (Far Enemy – Why Jihad went Global by Fawaz A. Gerges, Cambridge University Press, 2009 Page 146). However, the royal family which had more confidence in USA than Osama bin Laden rejected the offer as they did not want to take the risk in turning the kingdom into another base for Jihad and accordingly invited the USA for intervention. Responding to the invitation of the Saudi Government the US contingent of over half a million personnel including from the other allies like Britain and France arrived in Saudi Arabia and successfully repulsed the advance of Iraqi soldiers and also pushed them away from Kuwait. Whether the Saudi Government sought a fatwa from official Ulema before inviting the USA for help or after the arrival of the forces also became a controversial issue. Reports suggest that the Saudi King first requested for American intervention and then asked his religious head to issue fatwa and confer legitimacy to his action. The royal family asked a senior cleric, “O Sheikh, if you do not issue a fatwa allowing Muslims to seek the assistance of US and other foreign forces, sedition will erupt in the kingdom and Mujahidin will then clash with US forces” (Ibid. Page 147).

Although, the royal family felt a relieved after the US forces chased away the Iraqi forces, the continued presence of infidel soldiers which according to ‘Guardian’ was around 24000 in the sacred land of Islam even after the end of the Gulf War in 1991 enraged the orthodox Islamist world. which condemned the Saudi regime for its betrayal to the Ummah (Muslim community). The high voltage campaign against stationing of the US forces in Saudi Arabia therefore, kept the Saudi rulers increasingly uncomfortable due to opposition from Muslim world in general and ultra Wahhabists maintaining the Ikhwan approach of late 1920s in particular. It not only stirred the Islamist world but also enraged the vocal Islamists posing a challenge to the monopoly of Saudi royal family over religio-politics which got exposed during and after the Gulf War. The issue therefore, became a rallying cry and irritant not only for the fundamentalist forces which wanted to replace the government with a religious regime but also for those in favour of reform in the hard line rule of the royal family. It also prompted a group of over one hundred Wahhabi clerics sending a ‘Memorandum to Advice” to the Saudi king criticizing him for allowing the infidel troops in the holy land of Islam, demanding their immediate withdrawal and also asking him to scrap his alliance with the West. Ironically, some of the Ulema in the Government even refused to denounce the memorandum as a result they were dismissed from the government appointed list of Wahhabi clerics. The arrest of a couple of Wahhabi clerics for anti-government preaching followed protest demonstrations in some parts of the country.

Offended with the rejection of his offer to fight against Iraq by the royal family, Osama bin Laden also joined the issue and supported the Ikhwan like approach of a sizable section in the kingdom to replace the Saudi dynasty with an Ikhwan – like government which will adopt Sharia based Islamic foreign policy against the Crusaders, Jews, the Hindus and other infidels. He maintained that the Saudi regime “betrayed the Ummah and joined the kufre (Infidels) assisting and helping them against Muslims (The Far Enemy – Why Jihad went Global by Fawaz A. Gerges, Cambridge University Press, 2009. Page 144-45). Bomb blasts in Riyadh in November 1995 and in 1996 in Dhahran killing six and nineteen Americans respectively were alleged to have been inspired by Laden. In the beginning of 1998 he even floated an organization called International Islamic Front for Jihad against the Crusaders and the Jews which even targeted Saudi Government for its alliance with the Christian Powers. It is also said that the continued presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War was one of the stated excuses invented by the siamese twins CIA/MOSSAD behind the inside job of September 11 attack on World Tower in 2001 in which 15 out of 19 Jihadis were Saudi citizens/patsies.... It also confirmed that Ikhwan approach in Saudi kingdom did not die in 1930 and is still a challenging force to the monarchy.

The kingdom was so deeply entrapped in its own dual political web that it was left with no option but to obey the command of its protector the USA. Therefore, despite being aware of the restive mood of Wahhabi puritans in the kingdom, it allowed its air bases for US army for operational purposes.

How long the royal family will sustain the challenge from its own people only time will say but the Muslim world in general and the Wahhabi puritans in particular are convinced that the Saudi Government has lost its credibility to rule the land where Islam was born.