Saudi Arabia’s alleged 34-nation Islamic alliance against terrorism is neither a game changer nor a serious attempt at combating Islamist terrorism. The Saudi kingdom – which is named after its royal family – lacks both the credibility and capability to lead any sort of alliance against the very same intolerance and violence that it inspires, supports and exports.
This so-called alliance is nothing more than a public relations stunt that attempts to show the world that Saudi Arabia seriously wants to be engaged in the fight against Islamist terrorism. The recent mass execution of 47 men on terrorism charges – the largest mass execution in the country since 1980 – was a transparent attempt to equate political dissent with actual terrorism.
In Yemen, the Saudi-led military coalition is empowering Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS, by giving those terrorist groups much-needed breathing space. Furthermore, the Saudis have had to rely on Australian and Colombian mercenaries to fight the Yemeni Houthi rebels. If the Saudis have to recruit non-Muslim mercenaries to fight in their own backyard, it is difficult to see how Somalia, Mauritania and Maldives’ joining the Islamic alliance is anything other than a symbolic gesture. Even Yemen and Libya, two countries currently being torn apart in civil war, were bizarrely declared to be part of this virtual alliance.
Immediately after the alliance was announced, several Muslim-majority states declared surprise at being part of a coalition they didn’t sign up to. Lebanon, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia publicly appeared confused at being included in an alliance without their knowledge.
The alliance was announced by the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman, a young prince who is keen on flexing his muscles at his enemies both abroad and at home. The German intelligence agency has publicly warned that internal power struggles between rival princes and an impulsive interventionist foreign policy risks destabilising the Middle East. When the German government rebuked its own agency for making this unusual and blunt political assessment, the German Vice-Chancellor then attacked Saudi Arabia for funding extremist Wahhabi mosques all over the world and declared that the “time for looking away is over”.
The West has long known about the key and destructive role that Saudi Arabia plays in the financing and support of terrorist groups worldwide. In a 2009 leaked diplomat cable, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton writes that Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups including Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Clinton also expressed concern that the Saudi government is reluctant to stem this flow of funds to terrorist organisations. Another cable reveals how the Pakistani militant organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba, responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, used a Saudi-based front company to fund its activities.
Furthermore, a June 2013 European Union policy department report traced the involvement of Saudi-backed Wahhabism in the support and supply of arms to extremist groups in the Middle East, North Africa and South and Southeast Asia. The EU report also details the disturbing handling, manipulation and direct use of terrorist organisations by the Saudi government starting with the jihadists in Afghanistan and continuing today with the jihadists in Syria.
U.S. Vice President Biden even went on the record last year to admit that the biggest problem in Syria were U.S. allies – including Saudi Arabia – who were so determined to take down Assad and spark a Sunni-Shia sectarian war that they funneled hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tonnes of weapons to anyone who would fight Assad. This policy empowered Al-Qaeda and led to the creation and territorial expansion of ISIS.
In addition to this direct military and intelligence support, Saudi Arabia also invests petrodollars in mosques and schools around the world that indoctrinate generations of young Muslims with the same ideological hate-filled discourse that forms the religious foundations of groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS. It is no surprise then that ISIS use Saudi religious textbooks for their schools in Syria and Iraq, which are educating the next generation of terrorists.
The West has been turning a blind eye to all the mounting evidence of Saudi Arabia’s historical and current complicity in Islamist terrorism because of energy security and a longstanding foreign policy that revolves around propping up minority rule and dictators who ensure “stability” through violence and authoritarianism. Saudi Arabia also spends much of its petrodollars on buying influence in Western power circles. This investment in political power enables much of the silence and acquiescence towards Saudi’s notorious links with terrorism.
In order to seriously tackle Islamist terrorism, Saudi Arabia would have to declare war against itself and fight the very same intolerant forces they support. This war would amount to suicide for the ruling Al-Saud family, who have been actively promoting an intolerant and violent form of Wahhabi Islam since the 18th century.