The Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS), al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda and similar groups are not really states the sense we understand. They are an idea of extremism that unites those who subscribe to it and those who support it in different forms, either with bullets, dollars, words or emotions. There are extremists who may be against taking up weapons, but they agree with violent groups on the ultimate idea and goal, even if they differ on the means to use.
Unlike what's common in political analysis, extremism and extremists have always represented a threat to the Saudi Arabia. But this truth gets lost in a sea of accusations and the whole image is blurred even to the most well-informed people on the Middle East and Saudi Arabia in particular. This false historical understanding of the friend and the foe is no longer limited to foreigners and Arab propagandists. This false understanding has entered Saudi Arabia itself where some believe it and other extremists promote it. I think extremism is the biggest enemy and is the biggest threat to Saudi Arabia. This is why it's in our interest to systematically, institutionally and continuously fight it.
Historically speaking, the battles which Saudi Arabia had to fight domestically were all against religious extremists and the only exception was the threat of the Nasserite movement, which didn't exactly pose a threat. The first confrontation with religious extremists began 17 years after Saudi Arabia was established. They were known as the "Brotherhood" and they resembled the ISIS in their extremism and cruelty. They rejected the concept of the modern state and international relations and decided to disobey the authority of King Abdulaziz and attacked Iraq. They clashed with Iraqi tribes and British forces and managed to spread terror in some areas and downed a military British plane, according to Glubb Pasha. After their failure, extremists began attacking Saudi areas and cut trade routes. After King Abdulaziz failed to convince them to change course, he fought them until he eliminated them.
There are extremists who may be against taking up weapons, but they agree with violent groups on the ultimate idea and goalAbdulrahman al-Rashed
This was followed by separate protest waves which defied the state every time a modernizing measure was taken, from adopting the telegram to the advent of televisions to sending girls to school. In the 1970s, they surprised everyone at dawn one day when they occupied the grand mosque in Makkah and announced their revolution. The crisis lasted for two weeks and ended with their defeat and the death of hundreds. Colleague Mshari al-Zaydi presented a great analysis in Asharq al-Awsat through a series of articles titled "a quarter of a century on Juhayman's movement."
Confrontations with extremists remerged in the 1990s and involved politics, the media and security measures as they carried out a number of explosions. But the biggest and most serious confrontation in the history of the kingdom occurred in 2003 with al-Qaeda. That war lasted for about six years and involved the entire country. Government facilities, foreign embassies, oil installations and civilians were targeted in general. Extremists are now once again returning under a new name which is ISIS. They have carried out few operations, thus inaugurating a new bloody era.
This is a quick historical review of the course of terrorist extremism in Saudi Arabia to show how it has been a continuous threat on the state. Extremism is not - as some say and believe - an ideological and popular pillar. Those who think otherwise don't realize that extremism, as an idea and means, represents a real existential threat and don't comprehend that extremism is now spreading, not necessarily in the name of the ISIS, and that some people become followers of this violent doctrine under just, humanitarian or religious slogans, like Syria, Palestine, Paris and Burma. Such slogans exploit these causes to spread ideas of extremists and their authority over societies and amplify their influence. Terrorists will also always find enough causes that are easy to exploit to serve their own ends.
The threat of extremism on Saudi Arabia is 90 years old. But today it is more serious than it has ever been. It has become a global and a Saudi problem that requires more than security solutions. The problem has now become dual and double-edged involving extremists and those angry at extremists.
This article was published on Asharq Al Awsat on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.