Saudi Arabia forms international coalition to combat atheism and ladies who drive cars

Good news, everybody! Terrorism is over! Yes, it had a good run, but like all passing fads, it finally overstayed its welcome and now people are actively hating on it. I guess it might come back as kitsch in a couple of decades, but for now, this is clearly the end of the line:

A new Saudi-led Islamic alliance to fight terrorism will share information and train, equip and provide forces if necessary for the fight against Islamic State militants, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia announced earlier on Tuesday the formation of a 34-nation Islamic military coalition to combat terrorism, a move welcomed by the United States which has been urging a greater regional involvement in the campaign against the militants who control swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

“Nothing is off the table,” al-Jubeir said when asked whether the initiative could include troops on the ground.

You know, I’d say this was a little like leaving the fox to guard the hen house, but there’s a fox that lives in our neighborhood and it seems nice, so I’d rather not drag it through the mud like that. But anyway, with these guys undoubtedly focused like a laser on ISIS, there shouldn’t be any prob–

In a rare press conference on Tuesday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s 30-year-old deputy crown prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman said the new coalition aimed to “coordinate” efforts to fight terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan.

“There will be international coordination with major powers and international organizations … In terms of operations in Syria and Iraq, we can’t undertake these operations without coordinating with legitimacy in this place and the international community,” bin Salman said, without elaborating.

He offered few concrete indications of how the new coalition’s military efforts might proceed.

Asked if the new alliance would focus only on Islamic State, bin Salman said it would confront “any terrorist organization that appears in front of us“.

Oh, cool, so it’s whomever you guys want to hit then, eh? If this anti-terror alliance gets off the ground and you all decide, say, to put troops into Syria, whom are they going to attack? ISIS? Or the guy whom former Saudi intelligence chief Turki b. Faisal describes as the “biggest terrorist” in that country, Bashar al-Assad? You know, the guy who’s backed by the country that current Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir says is “the biggest sponsor of terrorism in the world,” Iran?

There’s a good chance that this alliance initiative is King Salman’s idea (or at least an idea being carried out in his name) to give Muhammad, his son and the kingdom’s Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince, a splashy new line item for his resume. It’s no secret, anymore, that there are at least a few Saudi princes who aren’t pleased with the very young, very inexperienced Muhammad’s ascendance in Salman’s court, and I’m sure the feeling is that the more high-profile assignments he can take on, the less grumbling he’ll face. Ultimately, the goal may well be to position Muhammad b. Salman as the heir to his father, cutting out the current heir apparent, Crown Prince Muhammad b. Nayef, but Muhammad b. Salman will have to bolster his credentials significantly before that becomes thinkable. Meanwhile, like I wrote a while ago, if I were Muhammad b. Nayef I’d be trying really hard to grow eyes in the back of my head.

Muhammad b. Salman, the guy at the center of all Saudi drama these days (Wikimedia | Mazen AlDarrab)

Say, leaving aside the Iran issue, what other things do the Saudis consider to be terrorism? The answer is surprisingly comprehensive:

The interior ministry regulations include other sweeping provisions that authorities can use to criminalize virtually any expression or association critical of the government and its understanding of Islam. These “terrorism” provisions include the following:

  • Article 1: “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”

  • Article 2: “Anyone who throws away their loyalty to the country’s rulers, or who swears allegiance to any party, organization, current [of thought], group, or individual inside or outside [the kingdom].”

  • Article 4: “Anyone who aids [“terrorist”] organizations, groups, currents [of thought], associations, or parties, or demonstrates affiliation with them, or sympathy with them, or promotes them, or holds meetings under their umbrella, either inside or outside the kingdom; this includes participation in audio, written, or visual media; social media in its audio, written, or visual forms; internet websites; or circulating their contents in any form, or using slogans of these groups and currents [of thought], or any symbols which point to support or sympathy with them.”

  • Article 6: “Contact or correspondence with any groups, currents [of thought], or individuals hostile to the kingdom.”

  • Article 8: “Seeking to shake the social fabric or national cohesion, or calling, participating, promoting, or inciting sit-ins, protests, meetings, or group statements in any form, or anyone who harms the unity or stability of the kingdom by any means.”

  • Article 9: “Attending conferences, seminars, or meetings inside or outside [the kingdom] targeting the security of society, or sowing discord in society.”

  • Article 11: “Inciting or making countries, committees, or international organizations antagonistic to the kingdom.”

Cool, so under Saudi law, “terrorism” includes: being atheist, “calling into question” Islam (or really Wahhabism), declaring loyalty to anyone other than the Saudi royal family, thinking the wrong thing, visiting the wrong website, attending the wrong conferences, corresponding with the wrong people, and protesting non-violently. Nothing overly restrictive of people’s basic civil rights there, no way.

Anything else? Yep, here’s one more thing:

Two Saudi women detained for nearly a month for defying a ban on females driving were referred to a court established to try terrorism cases on Thursday, according to friends of the defendants.

Activists said it was the first time female drivers have been referred to the specialised criminal court in Riyadh, and that their detention is the longest of female drivers in Saudi history.

Four people close to Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, said they are not being charged for defying the driving ban but for voicing opinions online. They declined to elaborate on the specific charges because of the sensitivity of the case and anonymously for fear of government reprisal.

Hey, anybody who’s spent any time on the roads can tell you that women drivers are the real terrorists, am I right folks? BOOM!

Under the most charitable interpretation of that case, Hathloul and Amoudi were sent to the terrorism court for “voicing opinions online.” Now, how confident should anybody be that the same country that funds Wahhabi mosques all over the world, while classifying lady drivers as terrorists, is going to be able to run an effective anti-terror coalition?

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