Saudi-led Islamic counterterrorism alliance holds first summit meeting

Saudi Arabia’s puritan Wahhabi ideology gave birth to extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and IS, and billions in Arab Gulf oil money were directed toward promoting a puritanical and ultraconservative form of Sunni Islam at around the world.

“Saudi Arabia wants to present itself as a leading country in the fight against extremism and terrorism in order to get away from its image as a sponsor of radicalism,” Sons said. “In this regard, the fight against terrorism is a main pillar of the political agenda of Muhammad bin Salman in portraying himself as a modern, mainly secular leader of a ‘new Saudi Arabia.’”

Human rights organizations note that Saudi Arabia continues to be a repressive regime. The country this month passed a new counterterrorism law with broad definitions of terrorism, Human Rights Watch said.

The new legislation, for example, criminalizes criticism of the king and the crown prince as acts of “terrorism.”

Other analysts note that the new coalition is too diverse to agree on anything, let alone act together militarily and engage in coordinated diplomacy.

The forty-one members of the new group probably share the same views about al-Qaeda and IS, but they hold differing views on other Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Qatar, for example, was originally a member of the alliance, but was not invited to the first summit meeting after Saudi Arabia and its Gulf States allies cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism.

Turkey has been a staunch supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.

Other analysts note that the real target of the new alliance may not be Islamist extremism, but Iran. All the alliance members are Sunni-majority or Sunni-led countries. The alliance does not include Shiite Iran, and Syria, ruled by Alawite president Bashar al-Assad, has also been excluded.

Iraq, which is led by a Shiite government, is also not a member of the alliance, even though Iraq’s army and Iran-backed militias have largely defeated IS in Iraq with the support of the United States.  

Sons noted that the Sunni nature of the alliance supports the perception that it is directed against Iran, at a time that Saudi Arabia and Iran compete with each other for influence in the Middle East.

“The definition of extremism in Saudi propaganda is that Iran is the terrorist. Thus, every anti-extremism measure is directed to roll back Iran’s influence in the region and to demonize the Islamic Republic as the main sponsor of terrorism,” Sons said.