Safar al-Hawali: The Sahwa Phoenix

Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi

Published: Updated:

The Phoenix is a mythical bird that rises from its ashes and starts taking humans hostage. Recently, a huge new book, which is about 3,000 pages long, has been issued and it is attributed to Safar Al-Hawali, the Saudi Sahwa figure and Sururist student of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Muhammad Qutb. Hawali has staged a comeback from a debilitating disease with this terrorist book or so it is said that he wrote it.

It is not easy to get rid of an ideology that has managed to control people’s hearts and minds for decades, included a religious authority and which societies and individuals were raised on its rhetoric.

The discourse of Islamist groups has shown great adroitness in navigating through contradictions without being questioned by their followers who remain servile and obedient without thinking. The battle against such ideological speeches is multi-dimensional, of which the most important aspects are building the most successful models, developing the best visions and planning the best projects in addition to a strict confrontation.

The Muslim Brotherhood developed its methods and rhetoric to suit each stage. When they felt strong, they established the ‘secret organization’ in the 1940s and 1950s and revived it with Sayyid Qutb’s organization in the 1960s and with terrorist organizations in the 1970s

Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi

Devious ambiguity

Political Islam groups, organizations and symbols have resorted to several approaches to save their arguments and concepts. They have resorted to terrorism several times and at other times, they announced revolution and war and at others they declared stability and peace.

They shifted their rhetoric as at some point it was all about pride and dignity and at another it reflected submissiveness and vulnerability. They have used every case in a way that serves their movement and this is well-known from their history.

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One of their approaches was devised by Hasan Al Banna at the time of the establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the late 1920s. He deliberately employed ambiguity — not clearly stating the position of the group and using vague definitions and contradictions with multiple meanings. A reading of his memoirs is sufficient to understand this.

Methods of deception

The Muslim Brotherhood developed its methods and rhetoric to suit each stage. When they felt strong, they established the ‘secret organization’ in the 1940s and 1950s and revived it with Sayyid Qutb’s organization in the 1960s and with terrorist organizations in the 1970s. They used all possible means of expression to ensure their survival and to gain more followers and sympathizers with a speech that suited them at every turn.

After the sustained Nasserist crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates, the organization focused on the speech describing their persecution with extreme exaggeration, in order to win over and mobilize more followers. Influenced by the Shiite discourse, they issued many hoaxes in the form of books, such as Zeinab al-Ghazali’s ‘Days of My Life’, Ahmed Raef’s ‘The Black Gate’ and dozens of other books. They benefitted from this and produced a fierce generation whose ideas are violent and which believed in terror attacks.

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Back to the book ‘Islam and the Western civilization,’ as in brief, Al-Sahwa and its local and regional supporters recently published it supposedly in the name of Safar Al-Hawali, a Sahwa figure who more than a decade ago suffered a stroke that has kept him away from public life. The book matches his thoughts and that of Al-Sahwa to a great degree.

What should be highlighted here is that this is a new Al-Sahwa tool to express its radically extreme views without drawing punitive action. Many Sahwa figures have issued books under fake names to avoid official and public ire. They have also allocated roles and issued books with contradicting stances in order to divert attention. They opted for another method after the fierce confrontations with various governments, escalating the rhetoric against them and serving jail time.

In Saudi Arabia, they used to disseminate messages and leaflets using real and fake signatures. There were ‘Juhayman messages,’ dawa and jihad leaflets and audio cassettes. They also entered the media field via magazines and books and published fatwas by dead scholars.

They also developed another technique, which they greatly relied on, which is ‘collective speeches,’ specifically throughout Saudi history, to protect themselves from government and popular reaction. The method of issuing collective statements in Saudi Arabia was used in the early 1990s and after Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait and the Second Gulf War in what was known as the ‘speech of demands’ and later as ‘The Memorandum of Advice.’ As this technique became successful, it was used widely to disseminate views on various political positions locally, regionally and internationally.

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What this book shows is that there is a new method adopted by Al-Sahwa to express its positions and at the same time avoid any adverse reaction by using the names of living people who are sick or incapacitated or incapable of taking a stance. They wish to embarrass the state into taking the strict and appropriate action against this half dead, half alive author.

Old master, new tricks

This book and its ideas match the style and manner of Safar Al-Hawali, since the time he declared himself a political opponent in the early 90s, when he made his famous speech and said: “You will remember what I am telling you” and “Flee to God” and when he attacked Sufism. This is in addition to his book ‘Kissinger’s promise.’ Whether Hawali wrote this newly published book himself or not, it actually does express Al-Sahwa’s thinking and principles.

Safar Al-Hawali did not stop establishing for a very extreme path within the Sahwa Movement via his Master's dissertation ‘Secularism,’ and his PhD thesis on ‘The postponement phenomenon’ and his stances, lectures and lessons. A wide category within Al-Sahwa was influenced by him – the category that’s closest to Al-Qaeda, ISIS or ‘Jihadi Youth’ as Hawali called them. The book ‘Islam and the Western culture’ is thus a normal extension of this thought and discourse.

In the end, it is difficult for Safar Al-Hawali to issue a book this size with so much information, analysis and details due to his incurable disease. The extent of Hawali’s relation to the book can be determined by the relevant security authorities. In all cases, the book expresses Al-Sahwa’s ideology and it might have been written by a group of political Islam members from within Saudi Arabia and abroad, with the support of regional countries hostile to Saudi Arabia and Arab countries.

This article is also available in Arabic.

Abdullah bin Bijad al-Otaibi is a Saudi writer and researcher. He is a member of the board of advisors at Al-Mesbar Studies and Research Center. He tweets under @abdullahbjad.

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