Saudi security agencies: Challenges and achievements

Amal Abdulaziz Al–Hazani

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In the hierarchy of basic human needs, security lies at the base, ahead of even other needs such as food and water.

In ancient times, security for the people was provided by men on patrol, who would go around houses to monitor roads and maintain security. Since then, different ways and means have been devised and today technology has become a pillar of surveillance and investigation. These elements constitute the cornerstones of our current security systems, from personnel and home security to the control of large geographical borders.

Security for pilgrims

The factors which directly impact the quality of the outcomes of security policy in any country are many and are as diverse as the geographical location, the social and cultural environment and the efficiency of mechanisms. Among the most important of these factors is the independence and specialization of the body that is charged with maintaining security.

For example, in Lebanon, Hezbollah controls the Beirut airport. Furthermore, it dominates the state through the force of its weapons and has virtually become a state within the state.

Security is life’s first pillar, and when it comes to it, reluctance or dereliction is not acceptable or else there will be disastrous consequences. A quick glance at the map of the Middle East helps us understand what this means.

In Saudi Arabia, which occupies a vast area that stretches over 2 million square kilometers and borders eight countries, two forms of security challenges loom, external and domestic. One of the most important external challenges is the arrival of over one and a half million pilgrims from outside the Kingdom every year and who stay there for less than a month.

This huge number of pilgrims arriving to perform Hajj in Makkah in the west and to visit the Prophet’s Mosque in the north of Medina are from different nationalities. This huge number of people requires a contingency plan, especially when the country faces threats from countries such as Iran, which smuggled C4 explosives in the luggage of pilgrims in 1986. The Saudi security authorities seized the explosives and secured hundreds of thousands of innocent people who would have fallen victims of the criminal scheme. In addition to those performing Hajj, there are those performing umrah throughout the year and whose number is expected to increase to 30 million, according to the Kingdom's Vision 2030 estimates.

Drugs warfare

Another tool of political warfare between countries is the policy to swamp them with drugs, just as the Hezbollah drug mafia tried to do by trafficking hashish in the south and north of the kingdom. The war against drugs remains a major security challenge for security agencies on the borders and customs authorities.

There are also the past and ongoing attempts to smuggle weapons and infiltrators and all the negative consequences these infiltrators may bring, whether they are individuals wanted for terrorism and with evil aims or if they are individuals who illegally enter the country to find work and live there. Decreasing the infiltration percentage across the border by 35% and busting one million offenders this year echo the valuable effort considering the tense security situation on the southern and northern borders.

The stability of the security situation on the domestic level is also a challenge, or perhaps even more difficult, as for instance the rate of fatalities in car accidents has increased and it has surpassed the number of deaths caused by heart, liver and tumor diseases. The safety of drivers and pedestrians in a complex system of traffic is vital for the kingdom. Therefore, diverse surveillance and control means have been developed and the rate of traffic accidents significantly decreased.

In this year, Saudi Arabia has witnessed unprecedented improvement in security forces’ performance. The ability to bust drug peddlers has quadrupled, and traffic accidents and related injuries have dropped by about 20%. The overall crime rate has declined and the percentage of killings has fallen by more than 6%, while armed robberies have declined by more than 10%.

These figures and other details related to the traffic department, general security, anti-narcotics agencies and civil defense outline the magnitude of work carried out in one of the most crucial, sensitive and influential sectors of the country despite all the serious political and economic challenges.

This article is also available in Arabic.

Amal Abdulaziz Al–Hazani is a professor at King Saudi University and a writer for al-Sharq al-Awsat. She tweets @Alhazzani_Amal.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.