Abdulaziz Saud

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 costs.

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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