Ariel Center for
Policy Research



NATIV  Volume Sixteen   Number 6 (95)  ■  November  2003 ■ Kislev 5764 ■ Ariel Center for Policy Research





Saudi Arabia between Pragmatism and Radicalism

Shaul Shay

The status of Saudi Arabia vis-à-vis the issue of Islamic terror is unique and particularly complex, because on the one hand Saudi Arabia is an ally of the United States, and it opposes and combats Islamic terror posing a threat to its regime, while on the other hand it supports and aids radical Islamic organizations in their activities in distant arenas.

The roots of the “Islamic dilemma” of the Saudi regime are to be found in the historical alliance between Muhammad Ibn Saud, founder of the Saudi dynasty, and Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahab. The Saudi dynasty won the religious legitimacy and in exchange promised to cooperate with the Wahabian dynasty in government and offered legitimacy to the religious school of thought that it represents.

Saudi Arabia is involved in the export of radicalism and Islamic terror on several levels:

  • Saudi Arabia is the stronghold and nucleus of influence for the Wahabian movements that act to export the radical Islamic ideas from the Wahabian school of thought to Islamic focal points throughout the Muslim world (Chechnya, the Balkan, Afghanistan, the African continent, and more).

  • Saudi Arabia acts to disseminate radical Islam via charities and relief organizations that serve radical Islamic organizations and entities with the full knowledge of the authorities. 

  • Saudi Arabia openly aids the Palestinian Islamic terror organizations, mainly the Hamas, in their struggle against Israel.

Fifteen of the suicide attack perpetrators on September 11, 2001 were Saudi citizens.

The Saudi monarchy faces threats posed by the opposition and motivated by a combination of social, economic, ideological and religious causes. Over the years, the extravagant and wasteful lifestyle of the Saudi monarchy, the inequality in the distribution of the country’s resources and riches, and the “non-Islamic” behavior of the country’s leadership have generated wide cadres of opposition elements within Islamic circles that aspire to topple the regime and replace it with a “real” religious Islamic state in Saudi Arabia.

External factors also pose a threat to the regime, for instance Iran’s subversion and its attempt to export the Khomeinist revolution to Saudi Arabia, and Sadam Hussein’s activity against the Saudi regime.

The threats that the Saudi regime faces on the one hand, and its power bases which rely on Western support as well as the power brokers close to the regime on the other hand, force the regime to adopt a cautious and complicated policy regarding the manner of handling radical Islam and terror.

In the course of the “Defense Shield” campaign, confiscated Saudi and Palestinian documents were found that dealt with the systematic and ongoing transfer of large amounts of money to the territories by Saudi institutions and organizations for the purpose of “supporting the intifada”.

The Saudi regime takes all of the necessary actions vis-à-vis entities that constitute a threat to the regime’s stability, including the execution of terrorists. Nevertheless, at the same time it enables radical entities from Saudi Arabia to act outside of its boundaries almost without disruption, thus creating a “modus vivendi” with these elements.


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