LONDON - Fundamentalist Islamic leaders in Saudi Arabia are telling militants intent on fighting "infidels" to join the insurgency in Iraq instead of taking up Osama bin Laden's call to oust the Saudi royal family at home, say Saudi dissidents who monitor theological edicts coming out of the kingdom.
Iraq as a battleground offers the solution to a quandary facing the Saudi clerics who have to both placate the kingdom's rulers and keep their radical base happy.
"If they preach that there ought to be absolutely no jihad, they would lose credibility and support among their followers. So what they do is preach jihad — not in Saudi Arabia, but in Iraq," said Abdul-Aziz Khamis, a Saudi human rights activist in London.
"To them, Iraq is the answer to their dilemma."
Following another series of attacks last May, several Saudi clerics promised the government not to wage jihad, or holy war, inside Saudi Arabia and to refrain from recruiting activists from the Jihadis group, say Saudi dissidents. Two of them, Salman al-Odeh and Safar al-Hawali, even agreed to fight the Jihadis, although they agree with their ideas, said Khamis.
"Al-Hawali and al-Salman still believe in the principles of jihad. But now they link it with the authority of the ruler," said Khamis. "Al-Hawali finances and supports people who go to Iraq to fight there, but he is against fighting on Saudi soil."
Saudi clerics such as Al-Odeh and al-Hawali have issued several fatwas saying jihad is legitimate in Iraq. Al-Hawali also opposes beheading foreign hostages for political reasons, even though he supports it from a religious point of view, said Khamis. Al-Odeh was among 26 clerics who called for jihad in Iraq last year.
Saleh al-Owfi, believed to be al-Qaida's leader in Saudi Arabia, claimed in a Web site statement that al-Hawali had asked him not to fight at home but to go to Iraq, and that he would arrange for him to go there, says Khamis. But al-Owfi replied that everyone should fight on his own turf.Driving those fundamentalist clerics who are in their pockets against the Al Qaeda sympathisers may work to divert energy away from the movement against the Sauds, but it's not exactly the actions of an ally, is it?
The editorial concluded that the elections would be fraudulent before they were held. Ironically, the Cairo demonstrations that The Post mentioned are an indication of the increasingly open and healthy democracy that President Mubarak has promoted since his first day in office.See, we must be free, there are people demonstrating in our country saying they are not free!
Yet Egyptian-Israeli relations are a function not only of Palestinian-Israeli, or even Arab-Israeli relations. The domestic economic and political situation in Egypt plays its part. It is not a coincidence that Egyptian-Israeli relations have deteriorated at times of declining Egyptian economic fortunes. Following a growth rate of 5-6 percent in the second half of the 1990s, the Egyptian economy went through a recession that dropped the rate of growth to about 2.5 percent in the first three years of the new century. With a population growth rate of about 2 percent, Egypt was effectively not growing at all.
Part of this downturn in the Egyptian economy can be attributed to the regional instability generated by the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation. But by mid-2004, Egypt was about to review its reform policies, and with a new cabinet formed last July geo-economic concerns overtook geopolitical ones. The official Egyptian justification to the Egyptian public for signing the Qualified Industrial Zones deal with Israel was that the agreement contributed beneficially to Egypt's economy, particularly the reduction of unemployment. The deal to release Israeli prisoner Azzam Azzam was necessary to open the way for further relaxation of the regional situation, and to make further deals in trade and gas possible.
It is also essential, however, to see Egyptian moves toward Israel as a part of the Egyptian regional posture in 2004. For Egypt, the U.S. war in Iraq and its consequences in terms of the insurgency, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the continuation of the civil war in Sudan - all have destabilized the Middle East. The "swamps" of terrorism in the region have been expanding, and radical forces in Iran and elsewhere have been boosted.
An unstable Middle East is not an environment in which Egyptian national interests are served. Creating stability has been the traditional business of Egypt during the past three decades. That is why last year Egypt moved to help the Americans in Iraq by hosting a conference on Iraq at Sharm el-Sheikh, which legitimized the U.S. presence. Cairo also moved to support the peace process in Sudan through to its conclusion on Jan. 9. Ultimately, however, Egypt will continue to regard Israeli-Arab peace as the cornerstone of regional stability.I think that this interpretation suggests that Egyptian-Israeli relations are going to continue to be a cornerstone of US policy in the Middle East, but even more so. With the Bush administration's policy, Egypt has a lot less wiggle room to keep its distance from Israel (but Israel continues to have virtually no constraints on its actions, even if they disturb Egypt). What Egypt gets from the deal on top of the economic advantages mentioned above (which I don't believe are as crucial as Said makes them out to be) is an implicit commitment from the US that regime change (soft or hard) won't be on the cards for Cairo. But really, considered from a strictly strategic point of view, this has basically changed the regional balance to leave much, much less power and maneuvering room for the Egyptians -- and no hard and fast guarantees that next time around they won't be forced to do something even more difficult. Egyptian foreign policy (and domestic) under Mubarak has been status-quo oriented -- the key quote of the article is "Creating stability has been the traditional business of Egypt during the past three decades." But what Egypt needs, really, is a pro-active foreign policy that takes a few risks for the possibility of much greater returns than they would get by waiting for events to impose situations on them. Say what you want about Sadat, but the man at least was daring enough to create new possibilities by sheer statesmanship (he also was more courageous with domestic policy -- in good and bad ways.) The situation Egypt now finds itself in -- a soi-disant regional power with actually very limited influence that has to troubleshoot or the US and Israel -- is unbecoming for a country of its potential. And you know who you have to blame for that: the man that allowed Egypt to be driven into a strategic corner because all he cared about was his political survival.
Mr. Mubarak has done the opposite: He has emerged as the most outspoken and uncompromising opponent of Mr. Bush's call for Arab liberalization. But he has also shrewdly offered Mr. Bush an extension of the old bargain. In recent weeks, Mr. Mubarak has warmed his relations with Israel's Ariel Sharon, encouraged Palestinian militants to declare a cease-fire and supported Sunni participation in Iraq's upcoming elections. Egypt also apparently continues its clandestine cooperation on terrorism with the Central Intelligence Agency -- cooperation that reportedly involves the "rendition" of CIA detainees to Egypt so as to circumvent U.S. anti-torture laws.
The dictator's gambit appears to be working. For all his rhetoric, Mr. Bush shows no sign of ending U.S. excuses and accommodations for Egypt. While insisting that Palestinians establish a democracy before any peace settlement with Israel -- a stance that happens to advance Mr. Sharon's aim of indefinitely postponing Palestinian statehood -- Mr. Bush has given no indication that he objects to another of the fraudulent referendums with which Mr. Mubarak has ratified his rule. Hoping that Mr. Bush is serious, Egyptian opposition movements have formed a coalition to call for fundamental reforms: the lifting of emergency laws that restrict political activity, a multi-candidate election for president and constitutional changes to limit the next president's power. Three brave dissidents have announced their own candidacies for president. Last month an unprecedented anti-Mubarak demonstration took place in Cairo. Protesters silently held up signs saying "Enough." Does Mr. Bush not agree?The WaPo has been following this line for a while -- as far as I can remember, for about two years, around the time when they profiled Gamal Mubarak and were one of the rare paper that didn't describe him as "reformist" and "internet-savvy" and took him to task for not being serious about political reform. I think that stance has partly come out of some intense lobbying a few years back by a few well-connected Egyptian liberals, the PR fiasco that was the Saad Eddin Ibrahim case, and the influence of the neo-con/Friedmanesque theory of Arab democratization. But while they do go after Bush for not carrying out the democratization, it's a bit strange that they blame Egypt for collaborating with the CIA's rendition and torture project. Furthermore, I doubt that -- at least for the people who demonstrated with "Enough" -- that they are waiting for support for Bush, since most of them are anti-American leftists. I was speaking to Saad Eddin Ibrahim a couple of days ago about his candidacy and his views on Washington's take on the Egyptian situation, and he suggested that the Bush administration hadn't quite made up its mind about it. But the next couple of months should see some movement, including, he speculated, either support of Mubarak, support for his son Gamal, or even real reform. I think there's also a chance tomorrow night's inauguration speech might be used to relaunch the Greater Middle East Initiative. In related news: