National Security in Saudi Arabia: Threats, Responses, and Challenges

By Anthony H. Cordesman; Nawaf Obaid | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
The Saudi Paramilitary and
Internal Security Apparatus

Al Qaeda is scarcely the first internal threat that Saudi Arabia has faced. The Saudi monarchy has had to deal with a long series of internal challenges from Islamic extremists since the time of the Ikhwan in the 1920s, as well as from secular movements supported by other Arab states. These struggles were particularly serious during the peak of Nasserism and Pan Arabism in the 1950s and the first major Islamic backlash from oil wealth and modernization in the late 1970s.

These internal security challenges decreased during the 1980-90 period (following the Grand Mosque takeover in 1979 until the Gulf War in 1990), largely because of the Kingdoms oil wealth, rapid growth, and a focus on internal development.

As discussed in Chapter 2, however, they became a resurgent problem after the Gulf War because of the rise of new extremist movements hostile to any U.S. or other Western military presence on Saudi soil. After the mid-1990s, the Saudi government increasingly came under direct and indirect attacks by such Islamic extremist groups. As a result, it slowly strengthened its internal security and counterterrorist programs. It also cooperated with the United States in a number of investigations, including Al Khobar Towers bombing, the attack on the Saudi National Guard Headquarters, and the attack on the USS Cole.


SAUDI INTERNAL SECURITY BEFORE 9/II

The Saudi reaction to Islamic extremist or "deviant" threats was relatively limited until the events of 9/11. The senior leadership quietly put pressure on the ulema. It arrested a wide range of extremists and publicly condemned terrorism. It exploited the fact that the Saudi clergy is funded by the government and there are no Madrassas in the Kingdom that provide religious education separate from the state educational system.

The Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MOIA) was first organized for the purpose of religious administration, but it has always had an internal security element as well. It has been used to provide both carrots and sticks for internal

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