The Saudi Influence over Egypt

The long reach of Wahhabism.

saudi-prince-salman-bin-abdul-aziz-al-saud-MADRIDIn 1744, a pact between the ruler of Diriyah Prince Muhammad bin Saud, and radical preacher Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, paved the way for an alliance between sword and religion, acting as a founding charter for the nascent Saudi State, and combining the ultraconservative Wahhabi faith of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab with the militant ideology of bin Saud. The marriage of bin Saud to the daughter of ibn Abd al-Wahhab sealed this alliance between blood and ideology. As they waged war on the Arabian Peninsula, they used the threat of Takfir (labelling non-Wahhabis as apostates or infidels) as key weapon. Muslims were forced to choose between conversion to Wahhabism and paying Zakat (alms) to bin Saud, or death, seeing their children enslaved and their wives married to others without a divorce.

They committed gruesome massacres during their attack on Karbala in 1802, where thousands riding on camel backs vandalized Shiite holy shrines, killing four thousand people with the sword, and disembowelling pregnant women and leaving the fetuses over the corpses of the slain mothers. Next, Mecca fell into their hands in 1803, and bin Saud razed its mosques to the ground, destroying the shrines of venerated holy men and heroes. There was another bloody carnage in Taif, as 367 men were bound along with their children and wives, taken up the hill, and shot dead in a mass execution that was meant to terrorize the city. They managed to subdue the entire coast of the Persian Gulf from the city of Basra in the north to the Gulf of Oman. In 1805, they seized the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, which is currently considered an important Iranian military port. Thus, the first Saudi State became the largest country in the Arabian Peninsula since the time of Prophet Muhammad.

The Ottoman Empire was greatly concerned as Wahhabis expanded their reign and took control of the holy sites. It commissioned Muhammad Ali of Egypt#* to bring down their state, and in return Ali and his descendants would be granted the right to rule Egypt. Thus, eight thousand Egyptian fighters engaged the Wahhabis in battle in 1811. The Egyptian troops were accompanied by a number of Al-Azhar clerics, making it clear that Al-Azhar denounced Wahhabism as a heresy and a departure from the true faith. But, Abdullah bin Saud managed to defeat the Egyptian forces which fled to the sea coast. Nevertheless, the Egyptians remained determined to return and resume the fight under the leadership of Ibrahim Pasha—an accomplished military commander and Muhammad Ali’s son. In November 1818, the army of Ibrahim Pasha defeated the first Saudi State, razing its capital Diriya to the ground, and reclaiming Mecca, Medina and Jeddah. They removed the ears of four thousand Wahhabi and sent them to Istanbul, along with the disgraced Abdullah Bin Mohammed Bin Saud and one of his ministers, where they were humiliated, beheaded, and their remains were thrown to the dogs…Thus came the end of the first Saudi State.

In 1825, Abdul Rahman Bin Hassan Al-Sheikh, the grandson of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, advocated a return to true Islam, and called on the tribes to join him. In the meantime the grandson of bin Saud, Turki bin Abdullah bin Saud, who fled from the Egyptian attack, returned in 1823 to rule over a second Saudi State, until he was assassinated in 1832. He was succeeded by his brother Faisal as governor of Riyadh, but the Egyptian troops captured him in 1838, and he was incarcerated in Cairo. However, the British brought down Muhammad Ali’s fleet in 1841, and Faisal made his escape from Cairo two years later, and went back to governing the Second Saudi State. In 1850, he occupied Qatar until it embraced Wahhabism. Fifteen years later, the second Saudi Sate collapsed as a result of the conflict between Faisal’s sons after his death.

In 1902, the young great-grandson of bin Saud, Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman bin Faisal bin Abdullah bin Saud, returned from exile in Kuwait. He reclaimed the city of Riyadh, the capital of his ancestors, from the Rashidi regime, and went on to establish the third and current Saudi State, which assumed its present form by 1932. The restoration of the Saudi State rekindled the bond between the descendants of ibn Abdul Wahhab and bin Saud. Trust renewed, they followed in their ancestors’ footsteps with Abdul Aziz bin Saud marrying Tarfa, the daughter of Abdullah bin Abdul Latif, and great-granddaughter of ibn Abdul Wahhab. The fruit of that marriage was a son who later became King Faisal, and who contributed to the spread of Wahhabism across the world.

The Army of Abdul Aziz bin Saud consisted of groups of extremist Wahhabis named “The Brotherhood”. While he enlisted the different tribes to join the Brotherhood, his ally ibn Abdul Wahhab urged Brotherhood members to submit to bin Saud and pay him the zakat. More than 300,000 Muslims were killed at the hands of the Brotherhood in their quest to establish the current structure of the Saudi State. Their ruthlessness gained them the label “The White Terror”, which was coined by a Soviet historian, in allusion to the white turbans they wore.

Aware of the threat that Egypt represented, the Saudis recruited Rashid Rida (1865-1935), to infiltrate the Egyptian religious life, and proselytize Wahhabism. In later years, Hafiz Wahba, the adviser of Abdul-Aziz bin Saud, admitted that Rida was receiving funds from Saudi Arabia on a regular basis, including a lump sum of six thousands English Pounds awarded by bin Saud. Rida wrote a book singing the praises of the radical sect, but the real danger came when, in 1928, he inspired his follower Hassan al-Banna (1905-1949) to name his fledging society “The Brotherhood” after the Wahhabi Brotherhood movement, and to embrace the Takfir ideology…. and so Wahhabism gained its first foothold in Egypt through Rashid Rida and Hassan al-Banna.

In 1953, Abdul-Aziz bin Saud passed away, and his eldest son Saud assumed power. However, the Wahhabi sheikhs objected to Saud until he was deposed on November 2nd, 1964, and replaced by his brother Faisal (Faisal bin Tarfa Al-Sheikh, who grew up in the household of his Wahhabi grandfather after the death of his mother when he was only 6 years old). Thus began a new chapter in the history of international Wahhabism, and in the ongoing conflict with Egypt. Faisal, supported by Muslim Brotherhood leaders who fled from Abdel Nasser, is considered the real founder of the phenomenon of contemporary Islamic terrorism.

The sixties saw the beginnings of a serious conflict between Arab nationalism led by Abdel Nasser and the tide of fundamentalist Islam led by Saudi Arabia. The conflict, dubbed “The Cold Arab War” at that time, intensified when Abdel Nasser toppled al-Imam regime in Yemen. It escalated to a point where, in one of his speeches, Abdel Nasser said that there is more honour in the shoes of Egyptian soldiers who died in Yemen than in the crown of King Saud!

Meanwhile, Faisal attracted radical Brotherhood members from all over the world, in addition to radical members of the Pakistani-Indian groups led by Abu Ala Mawdudi, and together they set the foundation for global Islamic fundamentalism, which turned into a huge network of contemporary terrorist organizations.

In another turn of events, Abdel Nasser lost the Arab-Israeli war in 1967, and ended up accepting Saudi support and funds from King Faisal during the Khartoum Arab summit in August 1967. This spelled the end of the Egyptian role, and gave Saudi Arabia free reign in the region.

The second and more dangerous Saudi infiltration of Egypt took place under Sadat. At the end of 1974, Faisal asked Intelligence Chief Kamal Adham to act as an intermediary between Sadat and the Brotherhood. The negotiations leading to that reconciliation proved to be disastrous to Egypt in every way, as Sadat granted the Brotherhood full rights to engage in advocacy and preaching according to their radical approach, and secured the return of their leaders who had fled to Saudi Arabia. He also granted their request to hold the deanship of the colleges of Education in Egypt (the teachers’ colleges, as a mean to influence the educational system), and did not hinder their access to al-Azhar. Furthermore, he assigned them political posts, such as the appointment of Mohammed Osman Ismail, a Muslim Brotherhood leader who had fled to Saudi Arabia, as governor of Assiut. Ismail launched a movement focusing on the creation of Islamic groups in Egyptian universities, particularly in the governorates of Assiut and Minya in upper Egypt, dispensing weapons to students, as reported by Newsweek magazine at the time. This heralded a troubling period in Egypt’s history, with the emergence of dozens of terrorist organizations under the umbrella of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Saudi Arabia did not content itself with planting Brotherhood members in Egyptian institutions, but was pumping funds copiously in Al-Azhar institution, to seduce it into embracing Wahhabism, awarding its clerics unbelievable compensation on occasional visits and sometimes even when there were no visits. It also assisted Muslim Brotherhood leaders in infiltrating the institution. After Faisal’s death and the creation of an award in his name, the prize was awarded to the most radical figures in Al-Azhar, such as Muhammad al-Ghazali who was rewarded for his denunciation of the “infidel” intellectuals, and his efforts to radicalize Algeria. The award was also given to the late Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Gad al-Haq Ali Gad al-Haq, who called Jews and Christians infidels and heathens who should be fought against. In the year 2000, Al-Azhar itself was the recipient of that award.

Saudi funds did not only sustain Egyptian terrorist organizations, but found their way to a significant numbers of writers and intellectuals, buying the conscience of political parties and entire media institutions. A dark Saudi influence swept over Egypt then, as renowned extremists returned from Saudi Arabia back to Egypt, including icons such as al-Shaarawy, al-Ghazali, Zaghloul El-Naggar, Mohammed Hassan, Safwat Hegazy, Ayman Alzawahri, Abu-Ishaq al-Hewini, along with Muslim Brotherhood leaders. It is worth mentioning that the champions of radicalism in Egypt have all lived in Saudi Arabia for a number of years.

The Saudi influence was even more overwhelming during Mubarak’s era, given that Mubarak, in my opinion, was merely a follower of Saudi Arabia. The deluge of Saudi funds and extravagant bribes took away Mubarak’s ability and willingness to stand up to Saudi Arabia. He even granted the late Saudi Minister of Interior, Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, access to the Egyptian State Security Investigations “SSI” confidential documents and files, as well as the right to give instructions to SSI leaders as if he were the head of the Egyptian state.

On the other hand, al-Sisi was quite fortunate that Saudi Arabia “broke up” with the Muslim Brotherhood, over the movement’s apparent betrayal of Saudi Arabia and its new intimacy with Qatar—a conduct which was considered hostile by King Abdullah, and provoked his ire at the Movement. Furthermore, in the aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring, the Muslim Brotherhood came close to seizing control of the political landscape of the region, resulting in Saudi Arabia’s visible hostility at their former protégé, which seemed intent on subjugating the entire region at the expense of the Saudi presence, and prompting their subsequent support of al-Sisi.

With the death of King Abdullah, the conservative Saudi wing, led by Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, gained the upper hand in Saudi Arabia. King Salman seems to be walking away from the legacy of his brother, the late Abdullah, as he chose to appoint radical figures in the Saudi royal family to major positions. Egyptians are starting to fear that Salman may opt to reconcile with the Brotherhood at Egypt’s expense.

I personally estimate that Egypt’s recovery will remain out of reach unless this destructive Wahhabi infiltration is eradicated. The Saudi era had a devastating impact on Egypt and the Middle East, and its effects may have even reached the farthest corners of the world…. Egypt needs to completely shake off this dark influence, so that it can finally reclaim its soul.

For more details, please see:

Dore Gold: Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism.

Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.

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