Since 1744, when the first Saudi emirate was established through a pact between tribal chief Muhammad ibn Saud and puritan preacher Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the phenomenon which has come to be known as Wahhabism has been the official and dominant religious discourse in Saudi Arabia. In the 1960s, as the Saudis simultaneously tried to combat communism and the secular Arab nationalist tide sweeping across the Middle East, they adopted a policy allowing the immigration of Muslim Brotherhood members suppressed by other governments, such as that of Gamal Abd al-Nasser in Egypt. The Brothers, in turn, integrated into Saudi society and assumed influential roles in the government bureaucracy (especially in the education system).1
Although the influx of these Islamists achieved the main Saudi goal of reinforcing an Islamic society, the Brothers’ interpretation of Islam posed the first major challenge to the Wahhabi establishment’s uncontested legitimacy and discourse within the kingdom. That immigration policy coincided with the foreign policy of King Faisal, which centered on exporting Wahhabi doctrine through organizations like the Muslim World League, schools and literature, as well as supporting groups in Africa and Asia who were likewise opposed to more liberal forms of Islam, such as Sufism, and other “blasphemous” religious practices.2
1979 proved to be another turning point in the evolution of Wahhabism, as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan caused the Saudis to reactivate the long-dormant policy of jihad,3 while they concurrently funded a broad network of religious schools which eventually produced a new generation of sheikhs, professors, and students. And, just as Saudis were influenced domestically by the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, those who went to fight abroad were themselves influenced by other interpretations of Islam.
This is the context out of which the Islamist movements in Saudi Arabia emerged. Indeed, these movements are a reaction to, and a refutation of, the official religious and political discourse of the Saudi monarchy. On the one hand, the government promotes an extremely conservative social sphere, while at the same time conducting a secular foreign policy. That contradiction between government rhetoric and practice eventually boiled over, and the kingdom is still recovering from it.
Islamism in Saudi Arabia is characterized by competing trends, which—while all conservative and fundamentalist—hold significantly different ideas about the relationship between political Islam and society.
One such trend can be termed “rejectionist.” Its adherents oppose any role or voice in the nation’s political discourse, and for that matter the Saudi state. They instead choose to focus solely on faith and ritual practice, rejecting all schools of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), and relying solely on the unmediated sayings of Prophet Muhammad (hadith). The “rejectionists” confine themselves to their own communities, where they educate their children and live a strict orthodox lifestyle. Like any other Islamist movement, the members of this trend are not monolithic, and some have formed socio-political protest movements.
The most well-known of these is the al-Jama’a al-Salafiyya al-Muhtasiba (JSM), which formed in the 1970s and was inspired by the Syrian religious scholar Nasr al-Din al-Albani.4 In 1979, JSM posed the first serious challenge in half a century to the Saudi regime when a group of its members, led by Juhayman al-Utaybi, seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca and announced over the loudspeaker that the messiah, or mehdi, had come in the form of Muhammad ibn Abdullah al-Qahtani, who was present inside the mosque.5 Eventually, after days of attempting to coax the zealots out of the mosque, the Saudis employed the help of French intelligence to end the siege; al-Qahtani was killed during the raid,6 and al-Utaybi and sixty-two other JSM members subsequently were publicly beheaded.7
After the Grand Mosque incident, the JSM fled to Kuwait, Yemen, and the northern Saudi desert, and returned to their preferred isolation. Despite being unsuccessful, the mosque takeover served as a tipping point for the Saudis. 1979 also saw the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional nemesis; Shi’a protests in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province; and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. These events cumulatively drove the Saudis to undertake drastic measures to reclaim the banner of Islam and appease rising domestic extremism. They accomplished both objectives through the exportation of a politicized Wahhabism, which was directed as a foreign policy tool against the Soviets and competing strands of Islam alike.8
Another trend is the Sahwa (awakened) movement. Sahwa clerics trace their roots back to the 1960s and the rise to global prominence of the Muslim Brotherhood. As a natural result of their interaction with Brotherhood members who were their contemporaries, the ideology of Sahwa clerics has become a synthesis of Salafi-Wahhabi theological teachings and the political activism of the Brotherhood movement.9 Far from being homogenous, the Sahwa are extremely diverse and include religious scholars, scientists, doctors, and academics. They are commonly divided into at least two main camps: those who follow Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Brotherhood, and those who follow his more extreme ideological successor, Sayyid Qutb. Their ability to comment on a range of issues outside of religion, which the official Saudi religious establishment could not do, has garnered them broad public appeal.10
The Sahwa became widely recognized in 1990 for their virulent opposition to King Fahd’s reliance on a non-Muslim military coalition, led by the United States, to defend the Arabian Peninsula from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. That royal decision, legitimized with a fatwa (religious edict) by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abd al-Aziz ibn Abdallah ibn Baz, stoked the ire of Salman al-Awdah and Saffar al-Hawali, two of the most famous firebrand clerics associated with the Sahwa. They, in turn, issued sermons denouncing the Saudi monarchy and the religious establishment.11 In the eyes of these and other prominent Sahwa clerics, the legitimacy of the Al Saud leadership and the religious establishment was permanently destroyed.12 Thereafter, the Sahwa called for greater Islamization of Saudi society and demanded a more prominent role in social and foreign affairs.13 Between 1991 and 1992, they and other religious scholars directed two major critiques at the king. The first was the “Letter of Demands,” signed by 400 scholars, calling for stricter rules in the public sphere. The second, signed by 107 scholars and entitled “Memorandum of Advice,” was an extraordinarily blunt and wide-ranging call to the king to outlaw the teaching of Western law, create a half-million man army to fight the Jews and aid Muslims, and end foreign aid to atheistic regimes.14
In 1994, al-Awdah, al-Hawali, and nearly 1,300 Sahwa affiliates were arrested for their vehement opposition to the Saudi regime.15 Their five years in prison cemented the clerics’ standing as courageous men in the eyes of their followers, and granted them more popular legitimacy than the official ulema. However, upon being released in 1999, they were confronted with the choice of withdrawing from the public eye or acquiescing to the authority of the state. As a result, the Sahwa splintered; some of its members joined other Saudi Islamist movements, including the jihadist trend, or decided to abandon Islamism entirely. The tone of those that remained has since changed dramatically; they now rarely criticize the civilian government or religious establishment. In fact, they have come to defend the regime and condemn those who try to undermine stability in the kingdom.16
A distinct jihadist trend is also manifest in Saudi society, encapsulated most clearly (and notoriously) by the rise of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. Thought by many analysts to have been formally established in Peshawar, Pakistan by bin Laden and Palestinian jihadist theoretician Abdullah Azzam toward the end of the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-1989), al-Qaeda’s services bureau (makhtab al-khidamat) supported the victorious Afghan jihad logistically and materially. Following the Soviet defeat, many mujahideen returned home as war heroes in the eyes of their Muslim brethren. The year 1990 proved to be pivotal in the evolution of al-Qaeda, after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. A sense of invincibility pervaded the “Afghan Arabs,” and bin Laden petitioned the Saudi monarch, King Fahd, to allow him and his men from the war in Afghanistan to defend the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam. Unwilling to entrust the safety of the Peninsula to the mujahideen, the King declined bin Laden’s offer and soon welcomed a U.S.-led Western coalition of nearly 500,000 troops for the mission. As bin Laden later said, by doing so Saudi Arabia “betrayed the Ummah [worldwide Muslim community] and joined the Kufr [infidels], assisting and helping them against Muslims.”17
From 1999 through 2001, conflicts in the Muslim world (Chechnya, Kosovo, and the Palestinian Territories), and a powerful recruiting network in Saudi Arabia allowed bin Laden to attract a wave of Saudis to al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda’s operations are known to be well-funded by Saudi individuals and organizations. In 2004, the 9/11 Commission reported that bin Laden used an informal financial network of charities, including the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation and other non-governmental organizations, which allowed Saudi and Gulf financiers to send funds to Arabs fighting in Afghanistan and then later to al-Qaeda.18
In early 2002, between 300 and 1,000 Saudi al-Qaeda members returned to Saudi Arabia after the network’s base of operations in Afghanistan was compromised following the fall of the Taliban the previous year. Two independent networks were subsequently formed, and the organization’s operatives began preparing for operations by stockpiling weapons, renting safe houses, setting up training camps, and recruiting other “Afghan Arabs.”19 Members of the organization were almost entirely male, with the exception of a small number of females who were involved in its logistics or media. Al-Qaeda militants were typically older than members of other Islamist groups, with an average age of 27, and most had only been educated to the high school level or below.20 The organization consisted principally of Saudis, and maintained a small percentage of foreign nationals. Interestingly, the majority of al-Qaeda members were not from regions typically considered to be the most religiously conservative or impoverished rural areas. Rather, the overwhelming majority of the organization was formed of urbanites from Riyadh, most of whom had the shared experience of previously fighting in Afghanistan against the Soviets and later against the U.S.21
On February 14, 2003, bin Laden released a statement outlining his grievances against the Saudi regime and its Western allies. He lambasted the Saudi betrayal of the Ottoman Empire in favor of the British in World War I, leading to what he described as Crusader and Zionist domination of the Muslim world. The Saudis’ greatest crime in his eyes, however, was forsaking the Palestinian cause in favor of “Jews and Americans,” a transgression for which the monarchy should be overthrown. Bin Laden thus posited the struggle in Saudi Arabia in the context of pan-Islamism and unity of the greater Muslim nation, which served to justify al-Qaeda’s “defensive jihad” as a religious duty to bring an end to Western oppression of Muslims throughout the world.
Over the next several years, al-Qaeda militants embarked on the longest-sustained violent campaign in the history of the modern Saudi state. They assassinated senior officers in the Ministry of Interior; killed nine people at the U.S. consulate in Jeddah on December 6, 2004;22 and targeted the kingdom’s largest oil processing facility at Abqaiq in February 2006. In total, between May 2003 and December 2004 AQS carried out more than 30 attacks, killing at least 91 foreign nationals and Saudi civilians, 41 security officers, and injuring nearly 730 people.23
According to Saudi officials, the campaign progressed through three phases: Momentum, Regrouping, and Fragmentation. From May 2003 to June 2004, the group planned and executed operations with a network of local and foreign individuals well-trained in document forgery, fundraising, publishing, weapons, and security. This initial “momentum” phase culminated with the May 29, 2004 attack on an office building and residential complex in Al-Khobar which killed 22, including one American and three Saudis.24 (The phase is believed to have ended with the subsequent death of the organization’s Saudi head, Abd al-Aziz al-Muqrin, in June 2004). During the subsequent “regrouping” phase, which spanned from June 2004 to April 2005, the organization split into smaller cells under new leadership in an effort to counter the initial counterterrorism successes of the Kingdom. That phase ended when Saudi forces killed al-Muqrin’s successor, Saud al-Otaibi. In the final “fragmentation” phase, which is theoretically still in effect, the organization’s cells in Saudi Arabia are far less organized, lack central leadership, and do not appear to retain the skills and training they previously demonstrated.25
The strength of Saudi counterterrorism efforts eventually caused al-Qaeda’s Saudi branch to relocate to Yemen. In January 2009, the Saudi and Yemeni branches of al-Qaeda merged to become al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and a number of Saudis assumed leadership positions in the new franchise.26 In its first year of joint operations, AQAP was nearly successful in assassinating Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, the Saudi Deputy Interior Minister in charge of counterterrorism.27
Cells of AQAP still operate in the Kingdom, though Saudi security forces have arrested hundreds of members over the past year. In November 2010, Saudi authorities announced that they had arrested more than 149 suspected members over the previous eight months and prevented attacks on government officials, media personalities, and civilian targets. The Interior Ministry reported that AQAP members had organized three networks that were unaware of each other, as well as smaller cells.28 Many Saudis remain wanted outside of the Kingdom for their suspected links to the group, and on January 10, 2011 the Saudis released an updated “most wanted” list of 47 individuals between the ages of 17 and 39.29 Interpol circulated a “red” list two days later to begin pursuing the men, and authorities suspected at the time that 16 were in Yemen, 27 in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and four in Iraq.
The final Islamist trend finds its home in the country’s Shi’a minority. Regularly branded as unbelievers (kuffar) since the time of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, Saudi Shi’a are still severely marginalized in the modern state.30 And while Shi’a Islamists have never been nearly as organized as the Sahwa, or even the jihadists in Saudi Arabia, instances of Islamist activity have still taken place. One frequently-documented incident of Shi’a opposition took place in early 1980, in the wake of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Radio Tehran’s Arabic channel had been broadcasting propaganda against the Saudi regime to the Shi’a population, which is located primarily in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province. That propaganda sparked a riot in Qatif, with citizens attacking the town’s central market.31 Since that time, the Saudi government has been extremely wary of any meddling in its affairs by Iran.
As Arab regimes across the Middle East face massive protests—dubbed the “Arab Spring” by many observers—Shi’a Islamists in Saudi Arabia have organized themselves through social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, issuing petitions for political and social reforms such as the transition to a constitutional monarchy and an end to sectarian discrimination. These protests, however, have not been able to mobilize significant numbers. The Saudi government has proven well prepared to suppress any potential for demonstrations, mobilizing its security forces and religious establishment.32 Moreover, because Shi’a represent just 10 percent of the population, and the Sunni majority does not share the same grievances against the government, the purely Shi’a protests of the “Arab Spring” have served to alienate Sunnis, and transformed a potential cause for national unity into sectarian division.33
As a result of the conservative Islamic nature of Saudi Arabia, its vast oil wealth, and the Wahhabi mandate of allegiance to the ruler (wali al-amr), Islamist movements have failed to garner enough societal support to mount a sustained or serious challenge to the ruling House of Saud. The societal support that Islamists enjoy is difficult to quantify, but there are several telling cases which suggest that such support is substantial.
The Sahwa clerics became very influential when they contested the Islamic credentials of the ruling family and religious establishment between 1990 and 1994, and their imprisonment only increased their status and notoriety. A clear manifestation of their appeal was their ability to mobilize Saudis to fight in Iraq against Coalition forces. In an “Open Sermon to the Militant Iraqi People,” issued on November 5, 2004, on the eve of the American siege of Fallujah,34 twenty-six clerics signed on to a statement that legitimized participation in the Iraqi insurgency as part of a “defense jihad” against the “aggressor” Coalition. The number of Saudis who went to Iraq to fight against Western forces is believed to have peaked after the sermon was released.35
The bloody campaign waged by al-Qaeda against the Saudi state in 2003 and 2004 likewise was given a stamp of approval from radical clerics within the Kingdom, who utilized the Internet to propagate their messages. These clerics accused the Saudi ruling family of subservience to infidels, and insisted, using traditional Wahhabi discourse and authorities, that their aid to the infidels in Afghanistan against true believers justified them as targets for jihad.36 Yet despite support from these clerics and substantial local manpower during those years, support for al-Qaeda remains weak in Saudi society as a whole. Generally, those of its members who returned from fighting in Afghanistan have been significantly more radicalized than Saudi society as a whole, and broad support for their effort to carry out jihad on the Arabian Peninsula is strikingly absent.37 As a result, their attacks were denounced by the leading Sahwa clerics, who by that time became government-backers. Concurrently, the insurgency in Iraq was raging, gaining popular support and diverting attention and resources away from the organization. For many Saudis who would have been ideologically inclined to fight, the Iraqi cause was considered more legitimate as a defensive jihad against Western aggression.38
Since September 11, 2001, significant criticism has been directed toward Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, with allegations that both public and private funds from those countries contribute to financing terrorism abroad. In 2007, Former Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey said that, “If I could somehow snap my fingers and cut off funding from one country, it would be Saudi Arabia.”39 The exact amount of financial support for terrorism from Saudi sources is extremely difficult to determine, though Islamic charities are commonly singled out as the primary source of illicit funds. Charitable contributions being one of the five pillars of Islam, they are often given anonymously and from all sectors of society. One former State Department official estimated in 2003 that Saudis donate between $3 billion and $4 billion annually, nearly $100 million of which is sent abroad.40
Saudis have been accused of funding numerous terrorist groups and activities during the past 30 years. The 9/11 Commission noted the “Golden Chain,” a network of Saudi and other Gulf financiers used by Osama bin Laden to collect and channel funds to support the anti-Soviet jihad during the 1980s in Afghanistan. The financiers used charities and other NGOs as conduits for their donations to the jihad and this network later became influential in the establishment of al-Qaeda’s base in Afghanistan in the late 1990s.41
In 2004, two civil lawsuits seeking $2 billion in damages were filed in the U.S. District Court of New York against Jordan’s Arab Bank by families of victims killed or injured in terror attacks in Israel. The lawsuits claim that the Saudi Committee for the Support of the Al Quds Intifada, a government-sanctioned charity, funneled money through charities and individuals in the West Bank and Gaza Strip connected with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups. According to the lawsuits, the Committee used Arab Bank branches in the Palestinian Territories to provide “insurance benefits” to the families of suicide bombers and others who were casualties of conflict with Israel.42 While the Arab Bank denied that it had prior knowledge of payments to the families of suicide bombers through its branches, executive manager of the Saudi Committee, Mubarak Al-Biker, said that, “We support the families of Palestinian martyrs, without differentiating between whether the Palestinian was a bomber or was killed by Israeli troops.”43
On May 22, 2011, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported on a Wikileaks cable from 2008 which was sent by the former Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Lahore to the State Department. The cable alleged that nearly $100 million in annual financial support to Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith clerics in southern Punjab was originating in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Families with multiple children and severe financial difficulties would be targeted for recruitment, initially under the pretense of charity. Later a maulana from one of the two sects would offer to educate the children in his madrassa and “find them employment in the service of Islam.” The children would undergo indoctrination suited to their ages, and teachers would assess their proclivity “to engage in violence and acceptance of jihadi culture.” The parents of those who are chosen for martyrdom operations receive cash payments averaging $6,500 per child.44
These anecdotes of Saudi support for jihad and terrorist organizations are not necessarily indicative of broad approval from society. A late 2009 poll of Saudi attitudes found 75 percent of respondents to have an unfavorable view of al-Qaeda and its message, with just 20 percent “somewhat favorable” toward the organization. However, 36 percent of those polled said that they consider it an Islamic duty to provide “financial support for armed mujahedin fighting in various places around the world."45 If these polling results are representative of Saudi society at large, they lend credence to the notion that Saudis indeed support jihad, but with strong consideration for the justifications of jihad in each locality and the methods by which the mujahedin attempt to reach their objectives.
The ruling al-Saud family has a long history of suppressing Islamist challenges to maintain their hold on power. The al-Saud faced their first major Islamist uprising from a group known as the Ikhwan from 1914 through 1930. Several decades prior to that conflict, the Ikhwan had been considered idolatrous nomads whom the Wahhabi ulema converted to help enforce Saudi expansion. These nomads were gathered in communities called hujara, which were literally places of migration from the “abode of idolatry” to the “abode of Islam.” This was an effective tool for the Saudis to depopulate areas of idolatry and unbelief in Arabia, as the tribesmen and clan leaders were trained in Wahhabi doctrine.46 Gradually, they became zealous adherents to the Salafi notion of al-wala’ wa ‘l-bara’ (association with Muslims and dissociation from infidels), a central principle of modern jihadi ideology. That put them in direct conflict with Ibn Saud, who accepted military subsidies from the British in order to conquer Arabia.47
Ibn Saud accepted some of the grievances of the Ikhwan, and subsequently imposed stricter regulations on Shi’a; Iraqi Shi’a were banned from entering Najd, and the Shi’a of al-Hasa were forcibly indoctrinated.48 As the Ikhwan sought greater control over domestic affairs, however, Ibn Saud had to balance their demands with his duty as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, a post that demanded he ensure religious pluralism and allow the Shi’a some leniency to practice freely and perform pilgrimage.49 This strategy of internally consolidating their rule over a loyal population while accommodating deviations from the “true path” became a trademark of the Saudi regime. The Ikhwan, however, simply could not be reined in, and continued to conduct raids against tribes and towns in northern Arabia where Ibn Saud had no authority. The Ikhwan expected to participate as local governors and chiefs in newly conquered areas, rather than remaining Ibn Saud’s agents for expansion. Ibn Saud would never allow them such a reward.50 Finally, in December 1928, the Ikhwan raided a caravan of merchants in the Wahhabi stronghold of Burayda, which Ibn Saud considered an attack on his people. In response, between March 1929 and January 1930, Ibn Saud’s troops battled the Ikhwan, eventually forcing them to surrender. Rather than punishing them harshly, however, he mixed their punishment with religious rehabilitation so as to mollify the zealous nature of the Ikhwan. That dual policy also became a staple of the Saudis in their subsequent struggle against jihadis.51
Throughout the 20th century, the official Wahhabi religious establishment used the tools of hijra, takfir, and jihad to consolidate the Saudi realm. Hijra (migration) requires an individual to physically migrate to the land of the pious state (Saudi Arabia) and abandon other lands of blasphemy and misguidance. Takfir (excommunication) was used to divide the pious Muslims from the non-believers, and was often directed against other secular Arab leaders like Gamal Abdel Nasser, Muammar Gadhafi, and Saddam Hussein. Jihad (struggle in the way of God) became defined as an armed struggle against Muslim oppression in Afghanistan.52 The Saudis lent support to Islamists abroad in order to further their foreign policy objectives, while at home radicals were quelled.
Under King Faysal, the Saudis developed a policy of supporting Islamic institutions abroad in an effort to combat the spread of secularism and communism. In 1962, the World Muslim League (WML) was created to facilitate the spread of Wahhabi ideology, and the WML supported sects and organizations throughout the world that would challenge Sufi Islam and eliminate popular religious practices which are forbidden in the Wahhabi interpretation. In South Asia, the WML supported Deobandis, and groups like Ahl-i Hadith and Jamaati Islami. Missionaries who distributed religious literature were sent to West Africa, along with funding for schools in countries like Nigeria, Mali, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Guinea.53
The WML was followed by a variety of other Saudi institutions, including the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), the Al Haramain Foundation, and the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), among others. From 1973-2002, Saudi government figures show that more than $80 billion was spent to build Islamic institutions and activities solely in the non-Muslim world. That largesse allowed for the construction of over 1,500 mosques, 150 Islamic centers, 202 Muslim colleges, and 2,000 Islamic schools.54 With Saudi funding, there are now an estimated 10,000 Deobandi-run madrassas in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The Balkan countries are also a major target for the Wahhabi mission, with large Muslim communities in Bosnia, Albania, and Kosovo. The Saudis have spent about $600 million alone in Bosnia.55
This unprecedented outreach campaign has brought nearly 80 percent of all Islamic institutions in the U.S. and Canada under its sponsorship, and Saudi-funded mosques and Islamic centers can be found in nearly every city in Western Europe. After 9/11, Saudi-sponsored institutions in the U.S. came under heavy scrutiny, and of nearly 50 that have been raided, shut down, or had their assets frozen because of suspected links to terrorism, most have been controlled or funded by Saudis. Among those institutions were the World Muslim League, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, the Al Haramain Foundation, the SAAR Foundation, the International Institute of Islamic Thought, and the School of Islamic and Social Sciences.56
The Saudis have been largely successful at defeating the Islamist challenges inside their kingdom using a range of tools, from accommodation to repression to co-optation to lethal force. Against the JSM in 1979, they simply used force to retake the Grand Mosque from Juhayman al-Utaybi and his followers. To quiet the Sahwa, the Saudis repressed them and imprisoned their leaders until they agreed to fall in line with the government agenda. The same individuals who issued petitions to the government to enforce a more Islamic society in the 1990s are those who now align themselves closely with the regime and oblige the Saudi people to do the same.
To combat the jihadist threat posed by al-Qaeda, the Saudi approach has been more extensive, focusing on “men, money, and mindset.” Between 2003 and 2008, Saudi security forces broke up al-Qaeda’s cells in the Kingdom, arresting and killing thousands of militants and people suspected of planning attacks. Since then, officials from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs have continued to monitor tens of thousands of the country’s nearly 70,000 mosques, in addition to schools and websites; reprimand those who express extreme or “deviant” ideologies; and to reeducate them. Saudi and U.S. officials have targeted individuals and organizations in Saudi Arabia and abroad that have been linked to financing terrorism, prosecuting, sanctioning or dissolving them.57
Lastly, the Saudi government is careful to leave the door open for extremists to be de-radicalized, and officially says that they hold “deviant” ideologies, rather than branding them as terrorists. There are two rehabilitation programs, one governmental, called the Counseling Program,58 and one independent but government-supported, called Al-Sakina (Tranquility).59 Both rely on clerics, some of them also former radicals, who engage the deviants in theological discussions in order to prove their faulty understanding of the religion. Prisoners who have not committed terrorist acts on Saudi soil, and can prove that they have renounced their extreme views, are released and assisted with jobs, government stipends for marriage and education, cars, and housing. Whereas the Saudis used to claim a 100 percent success rate for their government program, some estimates of the recidivism rate, that by which rehabilitated extremists return to militancy, place it at near 20 percent of all participants. Those numbers do not tell the entire story, however, as the only individuals released from the program are those who have not committed terrorist acts inside Saudi Arabia.
Saudi television regularly broadcasts interviews with repentant former militants who describe the errors in their previous ways. In 2003, following the initial al-Qaeda attacks in Riyadh, several high profile clerics espousing takfir (excommunication), appeared in public and renounced their views.60 In recent months, former members of AQAP have similarly chosen—or were possibly forced to—relinquish their support for militancy. One of the men was Jabir al-Fifi, who reportedly tipped off Saudi authorities about the cargo bomb plot originating from Yemen in October 2010.61 Another notable figure is Muhammad al-Awfi, who was a former field commander of AQAP and also an inmate at Guantanamo Bay. Al-Awfi surrendered to Yemeni authorities in February 2009, and appeared on television in November 2010 to discuss his experience and describe how the organization exploits Saudi youth to advance its own agenda.
With the outbreak of the “Arab Spring,” the Saudis have moved swiftly to stave off potentially escalating demands for national reforms. Notably, the government recently approved an estimated $130 billion subsidy package for Saudi citizens, which includes 60,000 Ministry of Interior jobs, 500,000 new houses, and a minimum wage for the public-sector of 3,000 Saudi Rials ($800) per month. By contrast, in the private-sector, which provides nearly 8 million jobs and is dominated by foreign employees, the average wage is only 1,000 Saudi Rials per month.62 Municipal elections have also been promised in September 2011, with voter registration currently underway, though women have predictably been forbidden from participating.63
 “Saudi Arabia Backgrounder: Who Are The Islamists?” International Crisis Group, September 21, 2004, 2, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/saud/themes/backgrounder.pdf.
 David Commins, The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia (London: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd., 2009), 152-3.
 David Commins, “The Jihadi Factor in Wahhabi Islam,” UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies, November 13, 2007, 8, http://www.international.ucla.edu/cms/files/davidcomminsrvsd.pdf.
 “Saudi Arabia Backgrounder: Who Are The Islamists?”
 See Commins, The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia.
 Rachel Bronson, Thicker Than Oil America’s Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 147-8.
 “Mosque Has Violent Past,” The New York Times, August 2, 1987, http://www.nytimes.com/1987/08/02/world/mosque-has-violent-past.html?src=pm
 Madawi al-Rasheed, Contesting the Saudi State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
 Ondrej Beranek, “Divided We Survive: A Landscape of Fragmentation in Saudi Arabia,” Brandeis University Crown Center for Middle East Studies Middle East Brief no. 28, January 2009, 3, http://www.brandeis.edu/crown/publications/meb/MEB33.pdf.
 Al-Rasheed, Contesting the Saudi State.
 Beranek, “The Sword and the Book.”
 M. Ehsan Ahrari, “Saudi Arabia: A Simmering Cauldron of Instability?” Brown Journal of World Affairs, Summer/Fall 1999, 220, http://www.watsoninstitute.org/bjwa/archive/6.2/Essay/Ahrari.pdf.
 Rachel Bronson, “Rethinking Religion: the Legacy of the U.S.-Saudi Relationship,” The Washington Quarterly, Autumn 2005, 127, http://www.twq.com/05autumn/docs/05autumn_bronson.pdf.
 Bronson, Thicker Than Oil, 212-3.
 Shmuel Bachar, Shmuel Bar, Rachel Machtiger and Yair Minzili, Establishment Ulama and Radicalism in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan (Washington, DC: Hudson Institute, December 2006), 18, http://www.currenttrends.org/docLib/20061226_UlamaandRadicalismfinal.pdf
 When al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula attacked three foreign housing complexes in Riyadh in May 2003, killing 34 and injuring 200, al-Awdah and al-Hawali issued a statement with nearly 50 other clerics, condemning the attacks and declaring the perpetrators ignorant, misguided young men. See “Saudi Bombing Deaths Rise,” BBC (London), May 13, 2003, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3022473.stm; Then, in December 2004, al-Awdah, Aidh al-Qarni, and 33 other sheikhs signed a statement denouncing London-based Saudi dissident Saad al-Faqih’s attempts to organize demonstrations against the regime. See Toby Craig Jones, “The Clerics, the Sahwa and the Saudi State,” Center for Contemporary Conflict Strategic Insights, March 2005, 4, http://www.nps.edu/Academics/centers/ccc/publications/OnlineJournal/2005/Mar/jonesMar05.pdf. Subsequently, in January 2005, in response to a failed attack on the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh the previous month, 41 clerics issued a statement on al-Awdah’s website, Islam Today, warning against actions and discourse targeting the Saudi regime.
 For a detailed discussion, see the World Almanac of Islamism’s chapter on “Al-Qaeda.”
 National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, “The 9/11 Commission Report,” July 22, 2004.
 Thomas Hegghammer, “Islamist Violence and Regime Stability in Saudi Arabia,” International Affairs 84, no. 4 (2008), http://hegghammer.com/_files/Hegghammer_-Islamist_violence_and_regime_stability_in_Saudi_Arabia.pdf.
 Thomas Hegghammer, “Terrorist Recruitment and Radicalization in Saudi Arabia,” Middle East Policy, Winter 2006, 42, http://chenry.webhost.utexas.edu/usme/2007/Saudi-Terrorist_Recruitmen_87543a.pdf.
 Bruce Riedel and Bilal Y. Saab, “Al Qaeda’s Third Front: Saudi Arabia,” The Washington Quarterly, Spring 2008, http://www.twq.com/08spring/docs/08spring_riedel.pdf.
 Angel Rabasa et al., Deradicalizing Islamist Extremists (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2008), http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG1053.pdf.
 Anthony H. Cordesman, Saudi Arabia: National Security in a Troubled Region (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2009).
 Christopher M. Blanchard, “Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations,” Congressional Research Service, June 14, 2010, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33533.pdf.
 “Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” Al Jazeera (Doha), December 29, 2009, http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2009/12/2009122935812371810.html
 Scott Stewart, “AQAP: Paradigm Shifts and Lessons Learned,” Stratfor, September 2, 2009, http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20090902_aqap_paradigm_shifts_and_lessons_learned.
 “Saudi Arabia Arrests 149 Al Qaida Suspects,” Huffington Post, November 26, 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/27/saudi-arabia-arrests-149-_n_788736.html
 Ahmad Moussalli, “Wahhabism, Salafism, and Islamism: Who is the Enemy?” American University of Beirut, January 2009, 6, http://conflictsforum.org/briefings/Wahhabism-Salafism-and-Islamism.pdf.
 Bronson, Thicker Than Oil, 147.
 Madawi Al-Rasheed, “Preachers of Hate as Loyal Subjects,” New York Times, March 14, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/03/14/how-stable-is-saudi-arabia/preachers-of-hate-as-loyal-subjects.
 Bernard Haykel, “What Makes the Kingdom Different,” New York Times, March 14, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/03/14/how-stable-is-saudi-arabia/what-makes-the-kingdom-different.
 “The House of Saud: The Fatwa of the 26 Clerics: Open Sermon to the Militant Iraqi People,” PBS Frontline, February 8, 2005, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/saud/etc/fatwa.html.
 Thomas Hegghammer, “Saudis in Iraq: Patterns of Radicalization and Recruitment,” Revues.org, June 12, 2008, http://conflits.revues.org/index10042.html.
 Commins, “The Jihadi Factor in Wahhabi Islam,” 13.
 Hegghammer, “Terrorist Recruitment and Radicalization in Saudi Arabia.”
 Hegghammer, “Islamist Violence and Regime Stability in Saudi Arabia.”
 Brian Ross, “U.S.: Saudis Still Filling Al Qaeda’s Coffers,” ABC News, September 11,2007.
 Jonathan M. Winer, Testimony before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, July 31, 2003.
 Christopher Blanchard and Alfred Prados, “Saudi Arabia: Terrorist Financing Issues,” Congressional Research Service, September 14, 2007, 6, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/terror/RL32499.pdf
 Ibid., 8.
 Ra’id Qusti, “Saudi Telethon Funds Go Direct to Palestinian Victims,” Arab News
(Jedda), May 27, 2002. http://archive.arabnews.com/?page=1§ion=0&article=15591&d=27&m=5&y=2002
 Qurat ul ain Siddiqui, “Saudi Arabia, UAE Financing Extremism in South Punjab,” Dawn, May 22, 2011, http://www.dawn.com/2011/05/22/saudi-arabia-uae-financing-extremism-in-south-punjab.html
 David Pollock, “Polling Saudis and Egyptians: Iran, Jihad, and the Economy,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, December 17, 2009, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/templateC05.php?CID=3156
 Commins, The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia.
 Al-Rasheed, Contesting the Saudi State.
 Commins, The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia, 88.
 Ibid., 77.
 Madawi Al-Rasheed, A History of Saudi Arabia, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 67.
 Commins, The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia.
 Al-Rasheed, Contesting the Saudi State.
 Commins, The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia, 152-3.
 Alexander Alexiev, The Wages of Extremism: Radical Islam’s Threat to the West and the Muslim World (Washington, DC: Hudson Institute, March 2011), 44, http://www.hudson.org/files/publications/AAlexievWagesofExtremism032011.pdf
 Alexiev, “The End of an Alliance,” National Review, October 28, 2002, http://old.nationalreview.com/flashback/flashback-alexiev112602.asp.
 U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Combating Terrorism: U.S. Agencies Report Progress Countering Terrorism and Its Financing in Saudi Arabia, but Continued Focus on Counter Terrorism Financing Efforts Needed,” September 2009, 13 http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09883.pdf.
 Rabasa et al., Deradicalizing Islamist Extremists.
 Online at http://www.assakina.com/.
 Jones, “The Clerics, the Sahwa and the Saudi State,” 4.
 Dan Murphy, “Who saved the day in Yemen bomb plot? Once again, a Muslim,” Christian Science Monitor, November 2, 2010, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2010/1102/Who-saved-the-day-in-Yemen-bomb-plot-Once-again-a-Muslim.
 Steffen Hertog, “The Costs of Counter-Revolution in the GCC,” Foreign Policy, May 31, 2011, http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/05/31/the_costs_of_counter_revolution_in_the_gcc.
No Votes for Women in Saudi Municipal Elections,” Reuters, March 28, 2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/28/us-saudi-elections-idUSTRE72R65E20110328.