Wed, Sep 30, 2009 - Page 9 News List

Saudi prince’s courage crushes al-Qaeda’s back in the Kingdom

By Bernard Haykel

Al-Qaeda has also damaged itself with the Saudi public, which has been repeatedly victimized by terrorist attacks. Suicide bombings of public buildings and attacks on oil and other government installations have alienated many Saudis. With at least 80 percent of the population dependent on government salaries or grants, the attacks have proved very unpopular.

In addition, ordinary Saudis see the chaos next door in Iraq and do not want the same turmoil at home. For most people, stability, even if imposed by authoritarian means, trumps disorder.

In the last two years, al-Qaeda’s increasing failures in the Kingdom have forced the surviving members to regroup across the border in Yemen. The rugged mountain terrain, a religiously conservative population and a weak government with a history of collaboration with al-Qaeda have created a relatively sheltered haven. As a result, al-Qaeda has had a respite to try to rebuild itself and to organize attacks in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. With two ongoing domestic rebellions, a large population and the rapid disappearance of oil and water resources, Yemen is quickly emerging as a Western policymaker’s nightmare.

For now, however, the Saudi royals have a prince who is seen as a courageous hero for having survived an assassination attempt while offering the hand of generosity to an unrepentant zealot. Saudi King Abdullah chastised Prince Muhammad for recklessness, but the King must also be thankful that his family has produced a security chief who has broken the back of al-Qaeda, at least inside the Kingdom.

Bernard Haykel is a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. COPYRIGHT: PROJECT SYNDICATE

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