Saudi Arabia has been a part-time ally of the U.S., crushing Al-Qaeda terrorists trying to overthrow the Royal Family in its own territory but promoting radical Islam outside of it. The U.S. has made the largest arms sale in history to the Saudis but these weapons could end up in dangerous hands, especially if Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud becomes king.
King Abdullah is 86 years old and in poor health. His designated successor, Crown Prince Sultan, is 82 and widely thought to have cancer. Aware that he and his successor could die in a short period of time, King Abdullah made Prince Nayef the Second Deputy Prime Minister in March of 2009, a position which is viewed as being the slot just below the successor. A cable from the U.S. embassy in Riyadh released by WikiLeaks is dated May 2009 and reports that “Crown Prince Sultan has been incapacitated by illness for at least (the) past year.” This means that Prince Nayef effectively becomes the king when Abdullah passes.
Prince Nayef is already extremely powerful. As Interior Minister, he oversees the security forces including the religious police that enforce the Sharia law on the country. He is also the chairman of the Supreme Committee on the Hajj, making him the manager of the most important trip for Muslims all around the world. He also exercises power over foreign policy, such as by leading the delegation to the Gulf Cooperation Council summit this month.
Nayef is understood to be an ally of the Wahhabist clerics and an opponent of the more reform-minded elements of the Royal Family like King Abdullah. His role in promoting extremism is so deep that in 2003, Senator Chuck Schumer wrote a letter to the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. requesting that Nayef be sacked because of his “well-documented history of suborning terrorist financing and ignoring the evidence when it comes to investigating terrorist attacks on Americans.”
According to former CIA case officer Robert Baer’s book, Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude, Nayef bluntly said shortly after the 9⁄11 attacks that “the great power that controls the earth, now is an enemy of Arabs and Muslims.” He was also the head of the Saudi Committee for Support of the Al-Quds Intifada and told a Saudi newspaper on November 29, 2002 that “It is impossible that 19 youths carried out the operation of September 11, or that Bin Laden or Al-Qaeda did that alone…I think [the Zionists] are behind these events.” In May 2004, he reiterated this belief, saying “Al-Qaeda is backed by Israel and Zionism.”
In his capacity as Interior Minister, Nayef has ruled with an iron fist. He is known to jail activists for reform and has power over the clergy that regularly spews radical Islamic doctrine. He is thought to be the one behind raids by the religious police on shopping malls, resorts and other institutions that are viewed as promoting moral corruption. On the other hand, there are some encouraging things about Nayef. If for no other reason than self-preservation, he has been effective in combating Al-Qaeda elements in the country. In November 2002, he said “All our problems come from the Muslim Brotherhood.” And in October 2008, he slammed the clergy for not combating extremism, saying “the imams have failed miserably.”
This limited and self-serving support should not be mistaken for a genuine commitment against terrorism and radical Islam as a whole. As a cable from Secretary of State Clinton from December 30, 2009 states, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” She complains, “It has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority.” This supply line could certainly be severed if Nayef wished.
Nayef’s past raises the question of what a Saudi Arabia under King Nayef will act like. Dr. Ali H. Alyami, the Executive Director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, doesn’t expect any changes to the relationship with the U.S.
“No matter what king rules Saudi Arabia, he will be obliged to maintain close ties to the West, especially the U.S. Regardless of the Saudi royals’ overt complaints and criticism of the U.S. and its policies, they don’t trust any other country to protect them and defend their country,” Dr. Alyami told FrontPage. He said that there is an increasing desire for freedom and the U.S. preservation of ties with the Royal Family at the people’s expense is causing anti-Americanism.
Stephen Schwartz, Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, agreed that there is a “conflict between the younger generation seeking reform and the Wahhabi clerics.” He told FrontPage that Nayef’s ascent to the position of king could spark “serious social upheaval” because of his opposition to reform and hardline views. He also said that it is “probable” that Nayef would roll back or eliminate current Saudi anti-terrorism programs.
“Nayef is an extreme Wahhabi and it is hard to imagine his fanatical support for that doctrine decreasing,” Schwartz said. “Saudi Arabia has ‘exported’ Al-Qaeda to Yemen. Nayef would likely bring them home.”
Former CIA case officer also foresees an increase in support for Wahhabism.
“One thing we can count on is a resuming of funding to Wahhabists—the takfiris and the attendant Sunni terrorism. It is taken as a fact among Arab governments that Nayef is currently funding the takfiris in Lebanon and Iraq, as well as places like Iranian Baluchistan,” Baer told FrontPage.
The sale of $60 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia must not be done just with King Abdullah or Iran in mind. It seems likely that Prince Nayef will become king and as he promotes Wahhabism and staffs his regime, groups like Al-Qaeda and other extremists will have a growing number of sympathizers in the Saudi government and military. The U.S. must be aware that by arming today’s part-time friend it may be arming tomorrow’s enemy.