Global Independent Analytics

Saudi Arabia's 'Islamic' Coalition: Spin Or Substance?

The notion that Saudi Arabia -- a country that has been widely accused of exporting Islamic radicalism around the world -- could lead a fight against extremism strikes some analysts as deeply ironic

Frud Bezhan for Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty asserts: Saudi Arabia made a splash when it announced the formation of a 34-country "Islamic" alliance against terrorism in December -- and followed it up with a massive military exercise that ended last week.

The coalition comprises mainly Sunni states, Turkey and Pakistan, but is missing a couple of the major players – Indonesia and Iran, and questions remain regarding the composition and motives of the organization. Moreover, the fact that Iran and Iraq, which are Shi’ite-dominated, are excluded from the coalition raises suspicions that Riyadh does not intend to really fight terrorism. As believed by analysts, the Saudis are motivated rather by their security and desire to get hold of power grip to succeed Iran geopolitically.

Recent months were marked by escalated tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia: in January Iranian protesters attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran after Saudis executed a Shi’ite cleric. Moreover, the rivals support opposite sides in current wars in Syria and Yemen.

Political scientists are unsure of how the newly-formed coalition will fight terrorists of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq if the belligerent governments do not come to an agreement. Besides ten other countries which were invited to join the Union, Afghanistan and Indonesia have not yet answered whether they will yield their consent.

However, some say that the idea of Saudi Arabia, who has been widely accused of distributing Islamic extremism around the world, could fight radicalism, seems rather ironic. To combat terrorism, Saudis should fight themselves and stop providing support to radical groups across the world. Even more pressure mounted over Riyadh, when issued a campaign against Iran-supported rebels in Yemen; the move was widely seen as a proxy war with Tehran. Saudis also were criticized for failing to go after clerics that spread radical Wahhabism. Also, some allege that Riyadh supports extremists from ISIS.

“And while some of the biggest Muslim countries are outside the "Islamic" alliance, some of its members do not have Muslim majorities. For example, around 80 percent of the West African state of Gabon's population is Christian. In Benin, the biggest religion is Roman Catholicism, while the majority of people in Togo hold indigenous beliefs. All these countries, however, do have sizable Muslim minorities,” summarizes Bezhan.

On December 15, the countries that were listed as joining Riyadh were utterly surprised at the announcement. Indonesia’s officials claimed that they were invited not to a military alliance but a center against extremism and terrorism. Lebanon’s foreign minister denied knowing of Saudi’s creation of an antiterrorism union. Pakistan’s authorities said they were shocked to find out that Islamabad was included in the coalition, but later expressed their support and agreed to provide training to troops and sharing intelligence on terrorist groups.

 

By Stefan Paraber for GIA.

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