The Gulf war and Saudi Arabia
The 1990 Gulf war was, in many ways, a repeat of 1967. The point was
to manuvre skilfully so as to induce Arab dictators, so-called Arab nationalists,
who otherwise have forsaken the traditions and beliefs of their peoples
in favour of alien ideologies, to fall into a mainly American trap designed
to weaken the economic or military capability their countries may have achieved,
in order to maintain Israels supremacy in the region.
In this context, the aims of the Gulf war are now an open secret. It
was engineered by Washington to serve two objectives: On the one hand the
Israelis had become concerned by the growing economic and military capability
of Iraq (in 1980, they attacked its nuclear reactor 0ZIRAK) which threatened
to match their own one; therefore a pretext had to be found to destroy it.
On the other hand, the Americans wanted to have a military footing close
to the oil wells before the growing Islamic consciousness made it impossible
for them to create this fait accompli.
The Gulf war, which therefore amounted to American aggression against
Iraq and a de facto occupation of Arabia, was conducted under the nose of
the fledging Islamic revivalist movement with a great deal of media propaganda
and disinformation in order to condition people to its being a just and
legitimate war against a dictatorSaddam Hussein. Iraqs economic and military
infrastructure was destroyed in a few hours by a formidable war machine,
but Saddam Hussein has lived on, and he is still a dictator. At the same
time some 30,000 American troops have refused to leave Arabias soil, while
the Saudi regime was made to pay billions and billions of dollars in war
Prior to the war the Saudi regime, persuaded by US Defence Secretary
Dick Chenney of the imminent Iraqi attack, set moving a whole propaganda
machine to condition people to accept the Christian Americans in the land
of the two Sacred Mosques, an act that was unbelievably shocking to Arab
and Muslim public opinion. For their own purposes the Americans had already
set out to convince the world of their just move. The American television
channel CNN broadcast almost non-stop and enjoyed wide access into the homes
of Arabia via Channel Two of Saudi Television.
Relying, in so doing, on the official ulama establishment headed by Sheikh
Bin Baz, the House of Saud invoked the Islamic concept of necessity to justify
the acceptance of American troops on Arabian soil, a presence which, by
the way, was presented, at that time, as temporary.
Sensing Washingtons real scheme behind its hostility to Iraq, but officially
acting on purely religious grounds, free ulama leading the Islamic revivalist
movement, like Sheikhs Safar al-Howali and Salman al-Oda, rejected the official
ulamas fatwa over the necessity to resort to non Muslims to defend Arabia
against an Iraqi threat contrived by the Americans themselves, and explained
their views to the faithful. Faced with this fledging dissenting attitude
of the Islamic movement, the regime counter-attacked with the assistance
of the official religious establishment.
Strong with this corps of tame ulama, the regime went as far presenting
the imminent war as a sacred jihad. It was Imam Muhammed bin Saud University
which hosted a conference under this title shortly before the war broke
out. The conference was packed with the official clergy, obviously, but
was also attended by ulama both from within the Kingdom and from abroad,
who were either pressurized by their own governments or deluded to attend.
The conference proceedings were unprecedentedly covered in the official
and pro-Saudi written and visual media.
However the whole exercise came a cropper. The brochures and booklets
produced had little impact on the population at large. Meanwhile, this was
paradoxically a golden opportunity for those ulama and personalities who
sided with the pro-American regime to be exposed. Such was the case of Sheikh
Bin Baz who was once highly respected by all the people and who was brought
to the government-inspired conference to head its proceedings. In his presence,
the main argument of the conference was that the war was a jihad and what
was more, it was a strike of the oppressors by other oppressors, which was
way to justify the presence of American troops in Arabia. Yet, it was revealingly
surprising that the ordinary man had realized that the House of Saud had
little say in the war which was conspicuously an American affair. However
unaware about the intricacies of the issue, people at least showed a good
deal of lucidity. While it was more or less admitted that the war involved
two oppressive forcesthe Iraqis and the Americanspeople nevertheless could
not swallow the fact that it was at the same time a jihad visibly conducted
by the Americans.
Yet, faced with the unequal American-Saudi propaganda, the leaders and
ideologues of the revivalist movement had no choice but to tone down their
voices during the war itself. For them the time was not for raising the
political issues on their agenda. Had they taken the Gulf crisis opportunity
to voice their political grievances, they would have been branded as renegades
attempting to break the internal front against the external aggressor. Public
opinion would not have understood properly the Islamic movements move; it
might not have reacted as it did later in 1994 if the leaders of the movement
had been jailed their and then. Action would have been counter-productive.
In fact the Islamic movements decision to refrain from any provocative action
was a wise move. At the same time the movement did not remain absolutely
inactive. On the contrary, preachers and educators exploited that time to
impart behavioural, intellectual and spiritual education to the youth and
to concentrate on the reform of the self in a deeper way.
Starting on 17th January 1990, the second Gulf war was over in a few
hours in reality. The Iraq army was routed and its troops humiliatingly
surrendered in droves to the Pharonic American war machine. The Saudi media
tried, but did not succeed, to depict the American victory as a Saudi victory.
Yet it appeared clearly that the Iraqis were defeated in Kuwait without
any Saudi blood spilt and that it was the Americans who reaped the congratulations
and the gratefulness as the saviours of the Kuwaitis. People went as far
as saying that it was God who submitted the Americans to fight for them
In any case, the media hype and its relative impact on people led the
Saudi rulers to believe that public opinion had shifted to its side and
that now was the time to settle accounts with the Islamic movement. Therefore,
the untameable ulama became subjected to a sly and sustained smear campaign
The regime and its defenders among the official religious establishment
and the so-called intellectuals actually believed that the polemic over
the resort the American military assistance and presence was over. The regime
went as far as leaking rumours to the effect that if it had listened to
Sheikhs Safar al-Howali and Salman al-Oda and to other bigots, the whole
peninsula might have fallen prey to Saddam Hussein and the people of Arabia
might have suffered untold crimes at the hands of the Iraqi army.
Meanwhile, the media succeeded in satisfying public opinion that the
Americans had come to carry out a mission and that they had starting leaving
soon after the war. Although time was to prove that to be a circumstantial
lie, detrimental to officialdom anyway, that was a means of proving wrong
the free Islamic leaders who feared that cultural and intellectual colonialism
as well as moral corruption would follow in the wake of the American troops.
Propaganda and engineered rumours competed to dismiss the Islamic religious
leaders as scare-mongers, complex-ridden and backward. The campaign went
even further to depict the free ulama as a tiny minority of old-fashioned
old men turned to the pastpeople unable to live with their own time since
they could not stand a few women who demonstrated in Riyadh simply for the
sake of obtaining the right to drive cars.
Lets set the record straight regarding the so-called issue of car driving
by women. The 7th November 1990 women demonstration in Riyadh supposedly
organized in protest against their being banned from driving was not the
real issue which summoned the ulamas opposition. Many occurrences in that
demonstration showed that it served as a Trojan horse for a devious undermining
of the very Islamic fabric of Arabian society. One such occurrences was
the revealing act of publicly trampling on the hijab, the Islamic dress.
But, nevertheless, the regime indirectly used it as yet another pretext
to sully the Islamic leaders reputation and integrity.
Furthermore, the House of Saud hurried to draw a link, in its media intoxication,
between the revivalist movement as a whole and the excesses of the members
of a group called Enjoining the Good and Forbidding the Evil (EGFE). Such
an amalgam between two totally different entities is typical of most Arab
regimes which are at the end of their tether. In any case, the EGFE bigotry
was real and caused unnecessary aggravation among the people, which enabled
the rulers to succeed to a certain extent to tarnish the work of the Islamic
movement in general. But the zeal of the EGFE was such that it did suggest
some sort of manipulation, discreet and distant, of the group by the regime
itselfagain, an action much in use by Arab regimes in their fight against
the Islamic movement.
The regime went quite far in its propaganda against Iraq and in praise
for its armys victory under the leadership of its great chief Khalid bin
Sultan (see the Prince of the Month page). So much so that it actually started
to believe the illusion that it was indeed its armed forces which defeated
Iraq. At the same time this illusion led the House of Saud to also believe
that its military victory was a victory over the dissenting ulama who had
questioned the resort to Washingtons assistance. That Euphoria created among
the rulers a certainty that the Arabian people had renewed its allegiance
to the House of Saud and that they had distanced themselves from the Islamic
movement. It was in such a situation that hardly a month had elapsed after
the Gulf war, that backstage machinations started among the royal family
aimed at devising ways of taking revenge on the Islamic revivalist movement
which, in definitive, aims to make them accountable before the people. Therefore,
the regime decided to start a repression campaign which would muzzle Safar
al-Howali, Salman al-Oda and all those voices which opposed the so-called
American assistance to the Kingdom and Americas permanent military presence
on Arabian soil.
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