Saudi Arabia’s ‘barbed wire battle’ for security

Jamal Khashoggi

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We cannot say that Saudi Arabia has prevailed against terrorism as long as high walls and barbed wire are still surrounding residential housing compounds for European, American and Arab expatriates who work in the Kingdom. These compounds are still protected by guards who are heavily armed.

Ten years ago, Riyadh was rocked by midnight suicide bombings targeting four housing compounds for expatriates; 26 civilians from several nationalities died and 170 were injured. It turned out later on that the goal of this deadly terrorist attack was to cause the largest possible number of deaths. We knew soon after, that the attackers were young Saudi men drowned in the abyss of extremism, fanaticism and hatred.

Through these bombings, the attackers wanted to issue a “political statement” representing their own vision and that of the Sheikhs and people provoking them to attack the kingdom. Late King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz speech at the Shura Council a few days later, was an indirect response to their acts.

The king’s speech

The speech was delivered by the current Saudi monarch King Abdullah; “openness and reform” has marked his reign since he became king, two years later. King Abdullah addressed the Saudi people: “We are part of this world and we cannot isolate ourselves.” The speech was certainly addressed to those who supported the suicide bombers’ ideology, without having to be armed.

The suicide bombers, who were affiliated to al-Qaeda and designated as “deviants” by the Kingdom, chose the residential compounds inhabited by expatriates because they were a reflection of their thoughts.

There are neither weapons nor explosive belts here, but an ideology that can create them as soon as security is shelved to one side.

Jamal Khashoggi

When the nine young Saudis left home that night, armed to the teeth with explosive belts, they knew they wouldn’t be able to take over the governance and establish their own Islamic state through this attack.”

They definitely knew that they were just a tool aiming to stop the kingdom’s next step towards the new Saudi roadmap that the then Prince Abdullah and the intellectual elite wanted at the time. This roadmap was seeking to establish a conservative yet modern and regenerative kingdom that is open to the world and working for its people’s prosperity, freedom and happiness. It is the same battle endured by the founder of the kingdom when it was first established.

The king’s speech that was delivered 5 days after the bombings of the compounds, should be considered as the kingdom’s political project to renew the state’s components and re-establish it, because the state in Saudi Arabia is the government, the opposition and the people’s representative and it should therefore be fully responsible towards the nation and its citizens.

Roadmap for reform

This is what King Abdullah has achieved during the past decade (Saudi Arabia celebrated King Abdullah's eighth anniversary on the throne a few days ago). The speech highlighted the kingdom’s need for political reforms – yes, the King used this term – and accepting these reforms.

Saudi Arabia announced its appreciation and understanding for reformists in the kingdom, and promised to expand the area for wider “popular participation,” an alternative term for democracy in Saudi Arabia. According to that same speech, once again Saudi Arabia stressed that it cannot adopt an isolation policy since “they cannot remain stagnant while the world around them is changing.”

Many political, technical and economic changes occurred during the past decade: What if that current, which is larger than al-Qaeda’s, had succeeded in imposing its isolation agenda in 2003, and subsequently, means of expression would have been banished. Would it have been possible for the Kingdom to survive the Arab Spring whirlwinds?

The 2003 reform roadmap is still not fully accomplished as it suffers from many deficiencies, especially in the government’s management of fighting corruption and profiteering.

It has faced some obstacles in the implementation of further roadmaps and solving the housing problems, and it suffered from the erosion of the middle class. The state failed at first to adopt tools to fight against poverty, unemployment and bad services, because it did not apply the “openness and accountability” measures, which the kingdom is now trying to implement through observing institutions such as the public monitoring council, the anti-corruption commission, and through unprecedented trials of corrupt judges and notaries by Saudi judiciary. The more the adoption of these tools is honest, the more improvement is achieved.

What is more dangerous is that those who were rubbing their hands when the young Saudis blew themselves up and killed innocent people 10 years ago, and even after subsequent attacks took place, these people are still standing rubbing their hands, lying in wait for the state and its reform projects. They express their opposition through raising the “detainees” issue at times, and by classifying the reforms as westernized and a betrayal to the kingdom. They also claim many other allegations, including that the country is under atheist attack.

These are the thoughts and convictions that we fear. We feel that they are roguishly spreading with speeches about religion. There are neither weapons nor explosive belts here, but an ideology that can create them as soon as security is shelved to one side. This is why the kingdom has not removed the high walls and barbed wire yet. Only when we are able to remove them, then we will then be able to say that we won the battle with terror, and that we have become a country where people live without barbed fences.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on May 18, 2013.

Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.

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