Sunday, June 27, 2004

Don’t Panic, Saudi Is Here to Stay

Many Western friends ask me worried questions about the state of our war on terror: What is going to happen now? Are you in deep trouble? Do you think you can survive the upheaval?
I say to them, don’t panic. Terrorist groups like the IRA in Britain, ETA in Spain, the RAF in Germany, the Red Army in Japan, The People’s War Group in India, RO 17 N in Greece, have led bloody campaigns against their regimes for ages. Yet the systems are still there and life goes on. Saudi Arabia has dealt with this kind of threat before. In the 1920s, the founder, King Abdul Aziz, had to fight and destroy a very strong militant army that sought to bring down his government and establish a Taleban-style one. They lost, he won.
Later, in the late 1950s and most of the 1960s, Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser supported revolutionary groups that sought to topple the Saudi monarchy. They all ended up in prison.
In 1979, a fundamentalist group occupied the Grand Mosque in Makkah and terrorized the holiest Muslim city for weeks. Again, government forces prevailed. The insurgents ended up in graves and prison cells.
Today the challenge is as serious and as dangerous, but, as usual, we are winning. Their loss is much higher than ours. In the long run, we can sustain the war, they can’t. Saudi security forces today are better equipped and trained than ever. Time is on our side, not theirs.
More importantly, the militants lost the war for the hearts and minds of the public. The terrorist Abdul Aziz Al-Muqrin pushed the wrong button when he slit the throat of his American hostage. He turned every decent human being off and shamed us all. When Muqrin was killed, people were congratulating each other. Mobile phones were busy sending and receiving SMS messages with the good news. Even on extremist websites like Alsahat, most were relieved.
Solid systems are bothered, but not toppled by insurgencies. We have survived 200 years of roller-coaster history. A couple more years of trouble won’t break our backs or necks. In fact, they will make us stronger, as long as we learn from our lessons.
We need to continue down the road of reform, and do it much faster. We should give our women, foreign guests and Shiites their overdue rights. We should encourage a free press, create transparent government, fix our education and legal systems, join the WTO, open up to investment and provide our young with better training and jobs.
If we do this, in the future we will look back and remember these times as the years of reform rather than of the war on terror.—

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