By Farooq Sulehria
The Al Khobar assault-and-hostage drama finished Sunday leaving
25 dead, including a Swede. The Saudi commandos freed 50 foreign
hostages including seven American hostages in a raid to end an
attack on the Saudi oil industry launched by suspected Al Qaida
militants. This was the fourth incident in a months time in the
kingdom of Saudi Arabia where Al-Qaida militants attacked or were
attacked by Saudi police. The death toll including Al Khobar is
37 in May.
In a year time, there have been 12 different incidents including
suicide bombings, where Al-Qaida attacked either foreigners or
had gun battles with Saudi police. Al Khobar itself has been victim
of Al Qaida attack in less than seven years. Last time it was
attacked in 1997. Recent assault-and-hostage drama is just a link
in the chain of incidents that first unfolded on November 20,
1979 when a group of Wahabi extremists took over Grand Mosque
in Mecca on the occasion of Hajj.
The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. Muslim from across
the Islamic world travels to Mecca to perform Hajj (pilgrimage).
A group of 500 (figures vary from 200 to 1200) militants led by
Juhaiman ibn Muhammad ibn Saif al Utaiba took 600 Pilgrimage hostage.
The hostage drama went on for two weeks when it finally was ended
with the help of French commandos. Interestingly, no non-Muslim
is supposed to enter the Holy city of Mecca. Legend has it that
al Utaiba, grandson of a tribal ally-turned-rival of Abdul Aziz
Ibn Saud, had planned to kidnap Shah Khalid, the then Saudi king,
and force him to abdicate. Juhaiman's justification was that the
Sauds had lost legitimacy through corruption, ostentation, and
mindless imitation of the West--virtually an echo of his grandfather's
charge in 1921 against Abd al Aziz ibn Saud, founder of Saudi
Juhaiman's accusations against the Saudi monarchy also resembled
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's diatribes against the Shah of Iran.
The king, Shah Khaild, that day had stomach ache and did not turn
up at the Grand Mosque. It was 600 pilgrimages who were taken
hostage instead. The incident shook the Muslim world. 'It is Jewish
conspiracy', was the common reaction in Pakistan; perhaps across
the Muslim world. The uprising was crushed leaving 200 dead (figures
however vary from 75 to 500).
Leaders on the leaders of 'uprising' were publicly beheaded,
as is the 'ritual' in the kingdom. Taliban later on were just
imitating Sauds. In 1980, a Shia uprising in south of the kingdom
also met the same fate. Saudi Shias, oppressed and deprived as
they are even today, enthused by Khomeni's return started an uprising.
Shah Khalid moved 200,000 National Guards and it was brutally
crushed. The kingdom was again 'peaceful', ruled with an iron
fist by corrupt House of Sauds until 1996. Much of the opposition
in the kingdom in 1980s was externalised. It was diverted towards
Soviet Union through Afghan war. The oppositionists were encouraged
to reach Pakistan to join 'Jihad 'against Soviet 'infidels'. The
kingdom stayed peaceful until 1996 when a bombing in Riyadh reminded
Sauds of al-Utaiba.
This time it was Osama bin Laden playing al-Utaiba. Osama however
survived the fate al-Utaiba met. It was because Osama, deprived
of his Saudi nationality in the wake of first Gulf War, had been
exiled. Interestingly, Osama, like al Utaiba, was a friend of
Saud family too. Osama's charges were not different from al-Utaiba.
However, there was a demand that al-Utaiba had not presented:
withdrawal of US troops from kingdom.
The US presence was not new. It was during the Second World War,
the allied built a big air force base at Dhahran. It was to defend
.the blood of war. The black gold had already been discovered
in the deserts. Following the First Gulf War, the then US defence
Secretary Dick Cheney moved 200,000 troops to Saudi Arabia. The
purpose was to 'liberate' Kuwait from Iraq's 'Hitler'. Osama,
a veteran of Afghan war, did not like the policy. He wanted Kuwait
be liberated through an army of Afghan war veterans.
The House of Saud did not want, in the longer run, an army comprising
of local Arabs. Also, an army with radical Islamic agenda was
not acceptable. Saudia has been traditionally a kingdom that never
had an army comprising local. It was to avoid a coup. It also
cleverly avoided building a working class comprising of Saudis.
It was to avoid a revolution.
In a country of 21 million, there are seven million 'guest workers'.
Largest is Pakistani expatriate community: 750, 000. Others mainly
come from India, Bangladesh, Philippines and Sri Lanka. The workers
work in horrendous conditions deprived of any trade union rights;
any job security and so on.
In exile, Osama not only managed to rebuild his old Al-Qaida
army but for House of Sauds he also became what once Khomeni was
for Shah. If one goes by the analysis of ex-CIA Middle East "field
officer" and author of "Sleeping With the Devil",
Robert Baer, Osama today in Saudia is as popular as Khomeni once
was in Iran. He will sweep elections in Saudi Arabia in case there
are elections, Baer thinks. And this is what new cons call 'dilemma
of democracy'. They do not want democracy in any 'kingdom' fearing
the victory of some Osama. In the name of 'Islamic culture', they
also try to prove that democracy do not comply with Muslim culture.
They are not very different from Ayub Khan, the first military
dictator of Pakistan. Ayub had justified his take over saying
democracy was not a system for countries with warm weather like
Pakistan, it is only good for countries like Great Britain with
Khomeni while sitting in Paris was smuggling his recorded speeches
and writings in Tehran. Osama on the contrary was sending suicide
bombers, kidnappers and gun totters. This is making everybody
nervous. House of Sauds is nervous: opposition is growing despite
repression. White House cannot be trusted as it might deal with
anyone in charge of oil fields. Honestly, the American right and
Osama, among other things, are also having in common the agenda
to demolish the House of Sauds. Imperialism is nervous: oil prices
are reaching new heights. Never have been prices so high in last
20 years. Resistance in Iraq is proving a catalyst to spread resistance
in Saudi kingdom. Putting House of Sauds in order is not possible.
Osama has many friends in that house. Moreover, opposition will
keep growing in case present regime continues. Reforms may usher
in a break up of the order imperialism has so painstakingly built
since 1932 when Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was established by Ibn
The sins of mother: British imperialism are visiting upon child:
US imperialism. The puritan Wahabi state was built, with British
weapons, only to guard oil reserves for the exploitation of British
and US oil companies. The foundations of new kingdom were laid
in the name of Puritanism. The Puritanism demanded the revival
of seventh century Islam to justify the rule of Ibn Saud as against
the rule of Sherifs of Hijaz who had gone corrupt. The only solution
to end Sherif's corruption was puritan Islam. No other alternative
was tolerated, allowed or practised. Liberalism, democracy, human
rights, freedom of expression, all were contrary to Puritanism
hence crushed. The sins of Abdul Aziz ibn Saud are visiting his
son Fahd bin Abdul Aziz now lying on death bed. It remains to
be seen what ends first: Fahd's life or rule?