Posts Tagged ‘radical Islam’

The Saudis Take On Radical Islam

March 20, 2018

The crown prince charts a course toward moderation, which prevailed before the 1979 attack on Mecca.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Future Investment Initiative Conference, Oct. 24.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Future Investment Initiative Conference, Oct. 24. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The year 1979 was a watershed for the Middle East. Iranian revolutionaries overthrew the shah, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and Sunni Islamic extremists tried to take over the Grand Mosque of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Islam’s holiest shrine. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hadn’t been born, but he is fighting the ghosts of 1979 as he dramatically reforms the kingdom.

The attempted takeover of Mecca was a defining event in my country, mainly because of what happened next. Saudi rulers, fearing Iran’s revolutionary example, decided to give more space to the Salafi clerical establishment in hope of countering the radicals. Traditional Salafi preachers are neither violent nor political, but they hold a rigid view of Islam. Their legal rulings and attempts to police morals made the kingdom increasingly intolerant, setting back the gradual opening up that had occurred in the 1960s and ’70s.

In Saudi schools, education was largely in the hands of foreign nationals, many with Muslim Brotherhood backgrounds. In the 1960s and ’70s, Saudi Arabia was more concerned with Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Arab nationalism than with Islamist radicalism. Thus the Muslim Brotherhood wasn’t much of a worry. But the combination of the brotherhood’s political outlook and the rigid Salafi doctrine injected a virus into the Saudi education system. That virus allowed Osama bin Laden to recruit 15 Saudis to take part in that terrible deed on Sept. 11, 2001. We Saudis failed those young men, and that failure had global implications.

The Salafi clerics and Muslim Brotherhood imports also worked in concert as they were given unsupervised access to private donations to fund mosques and madrasas from Karachi to Cairo, where they generally favored the most conservative preachers.

The policy makers’ idea was simple: Give the political Islamists and their Salafi affiliates room to influence educational, judicial and religious affairs, and we will continue to control foreign policy, the economy, and defense. Saudi rulers were handling the hardware, while radicals rewrote the nation’s software. Saudi society, and the Muslim world, is still reeling from the effects.

Crown Prince Mohammed’s critics describe him as a young man in a hurry. They’re right—and he should be. As he told all of us in his cabinet constantly: “Time is our enemy. We cannot wait any longer to reform our country. The time is now.”

He is clear about the problem. “Political Islam, whether Sunni or Shiite, Muslim Brotherhood or jihadi Salafist, has damaged Muslim nations,” he once told me. “It also gives Islam a bad name. Therefore, it is the role of Muslim countries to face these evil ideologies and groups and to stand with our world allies in the West and East to confront them once and for all.”

King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed have already ushered in some head-spinning changes. The crown prince has led the effort to roll back the powerful religious police. These self-righteous moralizers no longer have the right to stop anyone on the street or take matters into their own hands. They have been effectively marginalized.

The king and crown prince have granted women their long-awaited rights to drive and attend sports. Women are no longer required to wear headscarves. I expect to see more women appointed to senior positions in government, even at the ministerial level. Once Saudi Arabia unleashes the potential of women, there is no telling how far we can go.

Building on the past decade’s education reforms, the crown prince has launched the MiSK Foundation to provide young Saudis with world-class skills training. He has also led the way in normalizing life in Saudi Arabia for young people, who are increasingly fed up by social restrictions. The new General Entertainment Authority is giving Saudis foreign concerts, theater and cinemas and soon a Royal Opera House.

He has done something more intangible but also vital: bridged the deep generational divide between ruler and ruled. Like some three-fourths of Saudis, he is under 35. He speaks their language. He uses their apps. He knows their frustrations, including with corruption.

The recent crackdown on corruption should be seen in this light. Business as usual was not working, and the crown prince was willing to pull up the carpet to clean the rot underneath.

At an October 2017 conference for international investors, Crown Prince Mohammed laid out his ideas for moderate Islam. “Saudi Arabia was not like this before 1979,” he said. “We want to go back to what we were, the moderate Islam that’s open to all religions. We want to live a normal life . . . coexist and contribute to the world. . . . We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with these destructive ideas.”

During my time in office, I came to realize that while Saudi Arabia will continue to face challenges, for the first time in four decades the ghosts haunting Saudi Arabia are in retreat. Mistakes are inevitable, and there is no universal guidebook on how to reform a country. But leaders like the late Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore show how far a country can go with the right policies.

Saudi Arabia has a long journey ahead. It will not be without bumps and bruises. Change never comes easy. But the crown prince has raised expectations dramatically. The genie is out of the bottle, and it can’t go back in.

Mr. Al-Toraifi was Saudi minister of culture and information, 2015-17.

Appeared in the March 20, 2018, print edition.


France clamps down on radical Islam in prisons, schools — France is experimenting with various ways of ending the drift towards extremism — Worry about young people

February 23, 2018


© AFP / by Clare BYRNE, Marc PRÉEL | “No one has a magic formula for ‘deradicalisation’ as if you might de-install dangerous software,” French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (C) said in the northern city of Lille where he presented his strategy, flanked by a dozen ministers

LILLE (FRANCE) (AFP) – The French government said Friday said it would seal off extremists within prisons and open new centres to reintegrate returning jihadists into society as part of a plan to halt the spread of radical Islam.France is experimenting with various ways of ending the drift towards extremism of young people growing up on the margins of society, in predominantly immigrant suburbs where organisations like the Islamic State group or Al-Qaeda recruit.

The plan unveiled Friday is the third in four years and aims to draw lessons from past failures, after three years marked by a series of attacks that left over 240 people dead.

“No one has a magic formula for ‘deradicalisation’ as if you might de-install dangerous software,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said in the northern city of Lille where he presented his strategy, flanked by a dozen ministers.

“But in France and elsewhere there are good approaches to prevention and disengagement.”

France is particularly keen to stop extremism flourishing in its prisons, where some of the jihadists behind attacks in recent years first came under the spell of hardliners.

A total of 512 people are currently serving time for terrorism offences in France and a further 1,139 prisoners have been flagged up as being radicalised.

To prevent extremism spreading further, Philippe said he would create 1,500 places in separate prison wings “especially for radicalised inmates”.

– Islamic schools under scrutiny –

He also announced plans for three new centres that will attempt to reintegrate radicals referred by French courts, including jihadists returning from fallen IS strongholds in the Middle East.

A first de-radicalisation trial ended in failure last July, with a centre in western France that operated on a voluntary basis shutting after less than a year with no improvements to show.

Other measures announced by Philippe include:

— Investments in psychological care for returning children of jihadists. So far 68 children have been repatriated, most of them under 13.

— Tighter controls on private Islamic schools which have grown rapidly in number in recent years.

— More training for teachers to help them detect early signs of radicalisation and to debunk conspiracy theories.

— More investment in teaching students to separate fact from rumour on the internet.

— Making it easier to reassign public servants that show signs of radicalisation to jobs that do not involve contact with the public.

by Clare BYRNE, Marc PRÉEL



Netanyahu: Israel not seeking war, but will do ‘everything’ to defend itself — “The Iranians are flooding the Middle East”

February 4, 2018

Amid tensions on northern front and Gaza border, PM says Israel the ‘main factor’ hindering radical Islam in Middle East

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on February 4, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / POOL / JIM HOLLANDER)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on February 4, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / POOL / JIM HOLLANDER)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that his government “does not seek war” but will do “everything” to defend the country, amid rising tensions on the Lebanon front and the Gaza border.

Speaking to ministers at the outset of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu introduced IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot ahead of a briefing by the army chief, and added that he had “full confidence” in Eisenkot and in the military.

“The IDF is the strongest army in the Middle East, and thankfully so, because we are facing many challenges,” the prime minister told reporters.

“As I made clear to [US] President [Donald] Trump and later to European leaders and to [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin — our presence here is the main factor hindering the expansion of radical Islam, led by Iran and Islamic State, in the Middle East,” he continued. “Those factions also threat all other entities in the world.

“We do not seek war, but we will do everything that’s needed to defend ourselves,” he said.

Last week, Netanyahu met with Putin in Moscow to discuss Iranian military entrenchment in the region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an event marking International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, January 29, 2018. (Vasily MAXIMOV/AFP)

“The question is: Does Iran entrench itself in Syria, or will this process be stopped. If it doesn’t stop by itself, we will stop it,” Netanyahu told Israeli reporters during a telephone briefing at the time.

“We also spoke about Lebanon, which is becoming a factory for precision-guided missiles that threaten Israel. These missiles pose a grave threat to Israel, and we will not accept this threat,” he added.

Netanyahu said that the weapons factories are currently “in the process of being built” by Iran. Israel is determined to do whatever is necessary to prevent those two developments, he said.

Housing Minister Yoav Galant, a former IDF major general and a member of the security cabinet, warned on Saturday that Israel would sent Lebanon “back to the stone age” should the Lebanese-based Hezbollah terror group take military action.

“The Iranians are flooding the Middle East,” Galant told Channel 10 news. “They took southern Lebanon using Hezbollah, and are trying to take over Syria under Russian wings. The process of turning Syria into a battlefront is dangerous and we will not stand by. We have clear lines.”

The Gaza border has also seen escalation over the past few days after several weeks of relative calm.

On Saturday, the IDF said its fighter jets struck Hamas targets in the southern Gaza Strip in response to a rocket fired toward Israel from the coastal enclave, after a similar strike on Friday in response to a rocket fired Thursday night.


Qatar slammed for funding ‘terrorist’ Muslim Brotherhood in UK

January 8, 2018

LONDON: Qatar has been strongly criticized for its alleged funding of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK by a senior British Army veteran and counter-insurgency expert, who also called the group a “terrorist organization.”

Col. Tim Collins, who served in Northern Ireland and the second Iraq War, was speaking in Westminster and said the Muslim Brotherhood was a problem in the UK and that the government needed to challenge it more.
He also hit out at Qatar for allegedly funding the organization, questioning why they would “hurt a friend.”
“(The Muslim Brotherhood) has been a problem and continues to be a problem in the United Kingdom and we need to challenge it — and indeed it is challenging our response to terrorism,” Collins told Arab News.
“In fairness to Turkey they are not actively promoting it in this country. I understand why they would have a close relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood given the nature of Turkish politics, but the Qataris are actively funding this, what do they think they are doing?”
“We are a close ally and we stood by them in tumultuous times. They’ve been isolated in the Gulf yet we’ve stood by them, we have to ask them to show their friendship and comradeship and stop doing this.
“It’s not using leverage, what you say to friends is ‘why are you hurting us, why are you doing this?’”
Four years ago the UK government ordered a review into the Muslim Brotherhood. The result, the Jenkins Commission, concluded that the organization — while outwardly purporting peaceful means to promote its agenda — was willing to use violence and terror in pursuit of its long-term goals and that aspects of its ideology and tactics “are contrary to the (UK’s) national interests and security.”
Collins however, said that he would go further and describe the Brotherhood as an out and out terror group.
“I believe they are a terrorist organization,” he said.
“They have tried to rubbish and make an issue out of the Contest (UK counter-terrorism) strategy – that which is there to confront radical Islam.
“We have to work with allies and friends to reduce (the Muslim Brotherhood’s) influence.
“We have to be careful we don’t want to sow disharmony in our attempts to reduce its influence. We need to challenge it and to do so in such a way we don’t offend, isolate or alienate our Muslim population so we have to be very careful in how we do that.”

Netanyahu: Abbas Again Proves Palestinians Are the Ones Who Don’t Want Peace

December 24, 2017

Palestinian president said Friday that he would not accept any American peace initiative due to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

By Noa Landau Dec 24, 2017 12:27 PM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, December 24, 2017.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, December 24, 2017. Amir Cohen/AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has again proved that Palestinians are the ones who do not want to find a solution to the Middle East conflict.


Abbas came out Friday against the American peace initiative and said the Palestinians would not accept any plan made by the Americans due to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move that was widely rejected by the world in a UN vote Thursday.

In a Christmas letter to Christians, Abbas wrote that the Palestinians will not “accept any plan from the U.S.” due to the White House’s “biased” support of Israel and its settlement policy. He also said the American plan “is not going to be based on the two-state solution on the 1967 border, nor is it going to be based on international law or UN resolutions.”

“Abbas declared he was abandoning the peace process and did not care which proposal the United States brings to the table,” Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting. “I think that once again, something clear and simple emerges: The Palestinians are the ones who do not want to solve the conflict.”

Netanyahu added that the “United States said another very important thing: The roots of the conflict are not in Israel, but in Iran and with radical Islam and the terror that it propagates.”


Noa Landau
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The Trump Doctrine: American Interests Come First

December 20, 2017

US President Donald Trump speaks about his administration’s National Security Strategy at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC, Dec.18, 2017. (AFP)

By ARTHUR HERMAN December 19, 2017 2:55 PM


The president recognizes important new realities in world affairs. Ever since Donald Trump took office, Americans have wondered if he has a coherent vision of America’s place in the world, or if he sees foreign affairs the way he sees Twitter: as a space where emotion and instinct roam free from the restraints of rational discourse. Now we have an answer.

The speech he gave Monday at the Reagan Center was the curtain-raiser for his new National Security Strategy, a 55-page document that gives us more insight into Trump’s view of the world than has any text since his speech to the U.N. in July — and a far more comprehensive insight than we’ve ever had before.

The Trump Doctrine can now be summed up as follows: America and American interests will always come first, globalist agendas second. But don’t think you can cross us, or our allies, with impunity. America’s not looking for trouble, but if you come after us or them, we will hurt you like hell.

Various commentators have remarked on the four vital national interests, or pillars of the National Security Strategy, that Trump listed: protect the homeland, the American people, and American way of life; promote American prosperity; preserve peace through strength; advance American influence in the world (Trump’s version of soft power). Also widely covered is that he named China and Russia as strategic competitors (China was mentioned 22 times), argued that economic security is part of national security, mentioned climate change as a security threat, and pushed American “energy dominance” as a tool for foreign-policy leverage.


Many have further highlighted the president’s concept of “principled realism” in foreign affairs: “realist” because it acknowledges the central role of power in international politics, and affirms that strong and sovereign states, including our own, are the best hope for a peaceful world; and “principled” because the Trump Doctrine is ultimately grounded in advancing American principles, which are the conduits for spreading peace and prosperity around the globe.

But it’s important not to miss the broader philosophical underpinning of the Trump Doctrine, which is that we live in a world where competition is natural, especially among the great powers. Nothing separates him and his foreign-policy team from his liberal critics, and many of his presidential predecessors, more than this assumption — which certainly reflects his experience in the business world, where battling rivals for dominance and market share is a way of life.

According to the Trump Doctrine, America can work with Russia and China on matters of common interest, such as the war with radical Islam. But friction and conflicting interests are inevitable; the purpose of diplomacy is to keep that friction from spilling over into armed conflict, but the job of a president — like that of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company — is to keep America on top.

Indeed, according to the National Security Strategy, “an America that successfully competes is the best way to prevent conflict.”

For the last 100 years, America has had to confront foes driven by ferocious and vicious ideologies — Fascism, Nazism, Communism, radical Islam.

We’ve responded by trying to give the world an ideological counter-scaffolding, whether it was Wilsonism or Progressivism or neoconservatism or compassionate conservatism.

For 100 years, America has found itself forced to think and act in global terms, seeking to create and sustain a world order based on democracy and free trade and collective security — and ending up doing most of the heavy lifting.

Now, Trump states, “we . . . understand that the American way of life cannot be imposed on others, nor is it the inevitable culmination of progress.” This not a formula for isolationism. Instead of either withdrawing from the world or taking on the role of “globocop,” under the Trump Doctrine the U.S. will pursue what we can call transactional engagement: focusing on what America can, and can’t, do to help itself as well as to help others, and moving away from trying to shape a global vision.

A new era of international anarchy is coming. Everywhere we look, the liberal international order that every president since Woodrow Wilson has tried to establish and prop up is coming to an end.

The Trump Doctrine recognizes this reality: that a new era of international anarchy is coming, where every nation-state, including the U.S., will have to rely on its own military and economic strength, diplomacy, and alliances for its security. It’s not a world that will make liberals or globalists or even many conservatives very happy. But paradoxically, it’s a world that will have more stability and predictability in international affairs than we’ve seen in a century.

The Trump Doctrine tries to see this world for what it really is, not what we think it should be — and that’s an important step forward.

— Arthur Herman is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and author of 1917: Lenin, Wilson, and the Birth of the New World Disorder, released by Harper Collins on November 28.

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The New Era of Global Stability

December 20, 2017

The grand ideological conflicts that began in 1917 are giving way to old-fashioned geopolitics.

Image result for earth, from space, photos

After a century of chaos and mass death driven by conflicting ideologies, the world is entering a new era of stability. This new period of history is defined by the balance-of-power geopolitics embraced by Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. The White House National Security Strategy published Monday appears to reflect this reality.


The previous era was inaugurated by two momentous events: President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to intervene in World War I and Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution. Both occurred in 1917 and left overlapping legacies. In Lenin’s case, Russia’s communist revolution would spawn countless ideological imitators, leading to the deaths of tens of millions of people.

Wilson’s legacy was to transform the U.S. into a superpower that could save the world from fascism in World War II and from Soviet communism in the Cold War. But Wilson’s belief that America had a divine mission to make the world “safe for democracy” would occasionally bring a terrible cost for Americans and others. Consider the violent, seemingly endless wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. These conflicts started as idealistic ventures and eventually tore the country apart.

In the past century the world has been subjected to a series of isms—communism, progressivism, socialism, Nazism and now Islamism. All swept the globe with an ideological fervor to transform humanity and create a more perfect world order. But this century of ideological conflict has finally spent itself.

The New Era of Global Stability

The world found new forms of disorder: revolutions, insurgencies and counterinsurgencies. Genocidal civil wars continue unabated. Massive cultural, social and economic disruptions have swept every corner of the globe. And they have done so in record time, thanks to information technology.

The emergence of Messrs. Putin, Xi and Trump as the world’s three most important leaders signals a profound shift back to the world before 1917: an anarchic international arena in which every sovereign state, large or small, has to rely on armed strength, diplomacy and alliances for its security. Ideology no longer matters, but power does—and the big powers inevitably dominate the small. In this new era, might inevitably makes right.

This shift is already present at the regional level. The defeat of Islamic State as a geopolitical presence in the Middle East is one indication. While Iran has not given up its efforts to trigger a Shiite uprising against the region’s leading Sunni powers, the realpolitik response from Saudi Arabia has been to join forces with the once-despised “Zionist entity,” Israel, to counter Tehran’s bid for hegemony.

The same shift governs North Korea. In 1950 the U.S. and Chinese forces fought a bitter war of attrition on the Korean Peninsula. Today the issue comes down to constraining a Chinese client state led by Kim Il Sung’s grandson, whose sole goal is remaining in power. Messrs. Trump and Kim like to rattle their nuclear sabers in public, but each side carefully balances its strategic interests, making a catastrophic war less likely.

The trend is even more clear among the Big Three. While Mr. Xi clearly aspires to the autocratic power of Mao, the goal of his “Chinese Dream” is not to breed revolutionary wars across Asia as Mao did. Rather, he aims to preside over its rise as a hegemonic power.

The same is true of Mr. Putin. Despite his KGB background and ruthless use of the police state built by Lenin and Stalin, he is not interested in reviving communism or world revolution. The Russian president simply wants to preserve his own power and restore his country’s ascendancy in Eastern Europe. When he spoke in 2005 of the fall of the Soviet Union as a great tragedy, it was not because it marked the end of Lenin’s dream of world communism. He was lamenting the eclipse of Russia as a superpower—which he is determined to reverse.

This same reversal of ideological fortunes applies to Mr. Trump, although the revolution he is ending is Wilson’s. As the new National Security Strategy states: “We understand that the American way of life cannot be imposed on others, nor is it the inevitable culmination of progress.” This is as un-Wilsonian a pronouncement as any president has made in decades. He instinctively understands that American idealism didn’t save the world from Hitler and communism. American military and economic power did. In Mr. Trump’s view, we live in a world governed by the material correlation of forces, which he believes the U.S. needs to adjust in its direction by exerting military and economic power.

Some will say that this three-way rivalry is causing tension, risking another world war. I doubt it. In this new era, friction and competing interests will be seen as natural. The National Security Strategy continues: “Competition does not always mean hostility, nor does it inevitably lead to conflict.” But conflict can be stopped short of war, thanks to the balance of opposing forces and the power of economic and military deterrence.

This is the world of Otto von Bismarck, who said in 1862: “The great questions of the time are not decided by speeches and majority decisions . . . but by iron and blood.” As in Bismarck’s day, Mr. Trump’s goal will be stability, not perfection; competition, not consensus. Indeed, “an America that successfully competes is the best way to prevent conflict.” It isn’t an era that will make idealists or humanitarians happy. But for all its imperfections, after a century in which ideologues and fanatics have killed and maimed tens of millions trying to make the world a perfect place, are we likely to do worse?

Mr. Herman, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, is author of “1917: Lenin, Wilson, and the Birth of the New World Disorder” (HarperCollins, 2017).

Appeared in the December 20, 2017, print edition.
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Egypt’s 9/11 — Sinai Attack Is latest Chapter of Isis’s War Against Humanity

November 26, 2017
 NOVEMBER 26, 2017 12:18


ISIS’s motives for the attack are both strategic and ideological.

Stringer / AFP / Getty Images

A bomb explosion ripped through the mosque before gunmen opened fire on the worshippers gathered for weekly Friday prayers, officials said.

Victims were carried on stretchers following the attack.

– / AFP / Getty Images

Victims were carried on stretchers following the attack.

Large crowds gathered after the attack to help victims.

– / AFP / Getty Images
 The attack on the crowded al-Rawdah Mosque in the town of Bir al-Abed in Northern Sinai, which was launched during Friday Prayers, killed 305 and injured at least 128 others. Images of the dead and wounded, posted under the hashtag “Rawdah massacre,” flooded Arabic social media since the attack. Egyptian officials called it the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s modern history, and some commentators have already called it “Egypt’s 9/11.”

While Egypt, and particularly the Sinai Peninsula, has faced terror attacks by jihadist groups in the past – mainly against security forces and Coptic churches – this attack was different: for the first time, jihadists deliberately targeted Muslim civilians during prayer time in a mosque, killing men, women and children, and opening fire from outside the mosque on those who tried to flee the carnage taking place inside it.

Although it so far hadn’t claimed responsibility for the attack, Egypt’s public prosecutor’s office blamed ISIS, statingthat the terrorists were carrying the ISIS flag when they opened fire on the mosque. ISIS has been active in the Sinai Peninsula since 2014, when the local salafi-jihadi group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to it and formally joined it as the Islamic State’s Wilayat Sinai (Sinai Province). Although Wilayat Sinai isn’t the only jihadi group active in Sinai – in mid-November, an old pro-al-Qaida group called Jund al-Islam announced its re-emergence in the area and threatened to “uproot” ISIS presence in the Peninsula – ISIS has both the capability and the motivation to carry out such a bloody attack.

But why would ISIS carry out such a horrific attack now, and against this specific location? ISIS’s motives for the attack are both strategic and ideological. Strategically, ISIS recently lost all of the territory it once controlled in Iraq: after losing control of Mosul in July and additional territory in Iraq and Syria since then, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on November 21 the formal liberation of the country from ISIS’s rule: “We finished Daesh [the Arabic name for ISIS] militarily in Iraq and liberated our towns and cities.” But ISIS’s motto is of a “remaining” (baqiyya) caliphate which fights all of God’s enemies; the loss of territory in the heartland of its state-building project thus only motivates ISIS to strike its enemies outside of Iraq and Syria. As journalist Graeme Wood argued shortly after the Friday attack, “mass murder is how ISIS tries to stay relevant.” Such attacks show that the group is still very much alive and powerful, despite its territorial losses in Iraq and Syria and the Sisi regime’s determined and brutal counterterrorism campaign against it.

In addition to this strategic rationale, ISIS also deliberately targeted a mosque known for its popularity among Sufi worshippers. While Sufism, a mystical form of Islam, has been part of orthodox Islam for centuries and is widely popular in many parts of the Muslim world, Salafi-jihadists view Sufism as heresy and accuse Sufis of polytheism and innovation – both major sins from a salafi-jihadi perspective. ISIS has a well-established record of attacking Sufi shrines in Pakistan, Iraq and Syria, but it also made clear that it views Sufism in Egypt as a mandatory target for attacks: in an interview from the January 2017 issue of Rumiyah, ISIS’s English language magazine, the commander of Wilayat Sinai’s Hisbah force (religious police) stated that “our main focus is to wage war against the manifestations of shirk (polytheism) and bid’ah (innovation), including Sufism, sorcery, soothsaying, and grave-worship.” The interview also specifically promised to “eradicate” the al-Rawdah Mosque, where the Friday attack took place, “as soon as it conquers the areas hosting” it. As part of this anti-Sufism campaign, ISIS beheaded Sulayman Abu Hiraz, a 100-year old well-known Sufi sheikh whom it accused of “soothsaying” last November. Thus, while the deliberate targeting of non-combatants in a mosque might be new in Sinai, it is consistent with ISIS’s policy elsewhere of eradicating Sufism and attacking its followers and places of worship.

While ISIS committed the attack as a show of strength, designed to terrify residents in Sinai and embarrass the Sisi regime for its inability to defeat the insurgency in the Peninsula, the attack on a mosque and the unprecedented number of casualties could potentially mark a turning point in Egypt’s fight against terrorism. The horrific attack was universally condemned – not only by President Trump, Prime Minister Theresa May and Prime Minister Netanyahu, but also by Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the Political Bureau of Hamas, and the influential Sunni cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. The universal condemnation of the attack and the public outrage against the perpetrators behind it could mobilize public opinion in Egypt against the jihadists and help the Sisi regime crush Wilayat Sinai and the elements supporting it. While ISIS takes pride in its brutality, the jihadist movement is well aware of the importance of public support for its long-term success and survival: Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al-Qaida and a long time Egyptian jihadist, warned that “in the absence of popular support, the Islamic mujahed movement would be crushed in the shadows.” The horrible attack on Muslim non-combatants in a sacred place of worship on Friday could unite the Egyptian public against ISIS and help the Egyptian security services crush the local branch of the organization.

This article written in cooperation with the Forum for Regional Thinking

Inside the mosque, bodies of victims were lined up.

Stringer / AFP / Getty Images

Inside the mosque, bodies of victims were lined up.

Saudi Arabia has united with Israel against Iran – and a desert storm is brewing

November 9, 2017

Mass arrests are the Crown Prince’s opening salvo in a fight against corruption and an embrace of moderate Islam

11 November 2017

Until last weekend, the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh’s exclusive Diplomatic Quarter was colloquially known as the Princes’ Hotel. It was a luxurious retreat from the heat, where royals could engage in the kind of wheeling and dealing with the global business elite that had made them millionaires on the back of the 1970s oil boom. No deal could be brokered without paying a bribe to at least one prince. Last Saturday that era of boundless opportunity and total impunity came to a dramatic end. The VIP guests were booted out, the front doors were shuttered, and heavily armed security forces took up positions around the perimeter.

A Saudi who lives nearby sent me a message about what he thought was an unfolding terrorist incident. That’s one way of describing the extraordinary, chaotic events. We have seen a mini-wave of terror orchestrated by the all-powerful 32-year-old heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who has been given day-to-day control of the kingdom’s affairs by his ailing father, King Salman, 81. Bin Salman’s ascent and methods now promise to change Saudi Arabia forever.

Despite his youth and inexperience, he has risen rapidly through the ranks, amassing previously unimaginable powers for a single royal. This, and his refusal to govern through consensus — as is customary — has caused deep resentment, jealousy and anger. His most prominent critics and rivals were therefore carted off on corruption charges to the Ritz-Carlton, turning it into the world’s most luxurious prison. Eleven senior princes were among them, as well as dozens of businessmen, and current and former ministers and provincial governors. Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal — the wealthiest Arab tycoon who holds significant stakes in Citigroup, Twitter and countless other companies — got caught up in the dragnet.

At least he is still alive. Mansour bin Muqrin, deputy governor of the Asir region bordering Yemen, hailed from a rival branch of the ruling family sidelined after King Abdullah’s death in 2015. He boarded a helicopter with seven senior advisers, and amid speculation that he had instructed the pilot to head for a foreign country. Then his helicopter was blown from the sky, killing all on board. No official cause was given, fueling conspiracy theories. However baseless, the incident must have given further pause for thought in these febrile times to anyone then thinking of trying to flout the blanket travel ban.

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The country’s Attorney General says that this was only the first phase of mass arrests, and that trials would soon get under way. The front-page headline of the newspaper Al Jazirah a day after the purge encapsulated the new reality: ‘No place for traitors in the age of Salman.’ Welcome to the new Saudi Arabia.

For the Crown Prince’s supporters — vast swathes of the country’s young, eager for progressive social change — his way may be dictatorial but his motives are honourable. The purge represents the opening salvo in a fight against corruption that comes with an embrace of moderate Islam, a determination to relax the strict segregation of the sexes and introduce entertainment venues. Why should ordinary Saudis have sympathy for the arrested if they have, as alleged, been engaged in massive criminal schemes involving bribery and money laundering? When did any of those speak up on behalf of the oppressed masses?

Bin Salman’s power grab is in itself spectacular. But the wider significance of this can only be fully understood in conjunction with events in Israel. The Jewish state is hardly a natural ally for Saudi Arabia, but they have long shared a common enemy: Iran. Both fear the latter is exploiting the opening created by the fall of Isis, and the triumph of the Assad regime in Syria, to dominate the region. Iran and its proxies — whether the Houthi rebels in Yemen or Hezbollah in Lebanon — are in the ascendant, and neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia are going to sit on the sidelines.

So the two have been working together: close diplomatic cooperation, intelligence sharing and perhaps more. Israeli media recently reported that a senior Saudi prince, possibly Bin Salman himself, paid a secret visit to the Jewish state. The idea of a Saudi-Israeli alliance is still deeply controversial in both countries, but details are starting to leak out.

Amid the recent madness, for example, we saw the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Saudi puppet. He was summoned to Riyadh, where he was forced to read a letter announcing his immediate departure, the official reason being that he feared an assassination attempt by Hezbollah. But why would a prime minister visit a foreign capital to resign? The odds are that he had no idea he was resigning until he landed in Riyadh to meet Saudis furious at him for holding talks with both Iranian and Hezbollah officials. His departure has shocked the region.

But it didn’t shock the Israelis. A leaked memo shows Israeli diplomats being instructed to back the Saudi version of events, and start to join Riyadh in denouncing the Houthi rebels. Such diplomatic coordination is dangerous, given that an alliance has the potential to create a massive backlash among ordinary Saudis. For generations, they have been taught that Jews are the descendants of apes and pigs and Israel is the eternal enemy.

This brings us back to the night of the long knives. An outpouring of anti-Israeli sentiment might, only a few months ago, have provided a rallying cry for those determined to oust the Crown Prince. They would have likely turned to Al-Waleed bin Talal, a fierce critic of Trump and the most vocal Saudi supporter of the Palestinians. But he is in prison, presumably as a warning to anyone who shows opposition to the young new broom.

The military hostilities have already started. Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a ballistic missile at Riyadh, which was intercepted by the Saudis, who then announced that both Lebanon and Iran had ‘declared war’ on the kingdom by supplying the rebels with missiles. Iran denies it, and military analysts say it would be hard to ship whole missiles to Yemen. The Saudis, though, are adamant, and they say that retaliation will follow.

Whose side will the West be on? Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, recently left Riyadh after his third visit this year, staying up talking with the Crown Prince until the small hours of the morning at a ranch in the desert. Robert W. Jordan, a former American ambassador, says that the recent purges were conducted after ‘what people would call a green light from President Trump’. And all this while Israel was conducting its biggest-ever aerial military drill, just a month after its largest-ever land military drill — both simulating war with Hezbollah.

So two months after his 32nd birthday, the Crown Prince has established himself as a despot, albeit one hailed by the West as an enlightened visionary. He has tightened a military alliance with Israel, all but declared war on Iran and prepared Lebanon as the first scene of this war — with Hezbollah as the first target.

John R. Bradley’s books include Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis.

Tajikistan Agrees to More Intelligence Exchanges With China

September 1, 2017

BEIJING — China’s foreign ministry on Friday announced an agreement with Tajikistan to establish exchanges of security intelligence as part of an upgrade to diplomatic relations during a state visit by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon to China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Rahmon on Thursday established a “comprehensive strategic partnership” between the two countries, according to a statement released on the foreign ministry’s website.

The two sides agreed to bolster efforts to combat the threats of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism, as well as international criminal groups and drug trafficking by launching professional intelligence exchanges, the posting said.

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“Both sides will strengthen communications between defense, security and law enforcement departments and deepen intelligence exchanges,” it said.

China’s plan to rebuild the ancient Silk Road by reconnecting trade routes from its borders into Central and South East Asia, dubbed the Belt and Road Initiative, has raised new security concerns for the country and its companies.

Beijing has worked to deepen security cooperation with countries in Central Asia and elsewhere to make up for shortfalls in its own intelligence and security measures to combat terror groups and other threats in the region.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security bloc established in 2001 by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to fight radical Islam, has expanded to now include nearly twenty states as members or partners.

In September last year, China agreed to finance and build several outposts for Tajik border guards and other facilities along the porous 1,345-km border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Tom Hogue)