The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Pick your jihad

The AP has a story, seemingly mostly sourced from Saudi dissidents based in London, on how Saudi clerics in "the Kingdom" are encouraging wannabe mujahideen to fight in Iraq rather than at home. In other words, they are encouraging a split between Al Qaeda, which calls for the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy, and local Islamists who may be more interested in the issue of jihad in the Arab world at large. One might find it rather odd that the transnational group is calling for internal action while domestic players are trying to export the violence to Iraq -- until you remember that much of the Saudi establishment is actually broadly sympathetic to Al Qaeda's ideals, even if they don't want them applied at home.

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?