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Daily Telegraph: How King Abdullah has tackled terrorism

By David Blair
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 30/10/2007

Whenever the King of Saudi Arabia pays a state visit to a Western ally, all the ingredients for controversy are present.

No matter how many flags line the Mall, the absolute monarch of a theocratic state that oppresses women and routinely tortures opponents will never receive a warm public welcome.

The row over King Abdullah’s visit to Britain this week is predictable – and many of the criticisms of Saudi Arabia are justified. But a few salient points are at risk of being lost.

The unavoidable reality is that Britain badly needs to keep Saudi Arabia as an ally; hardly any other country is of greater long-term importance. Defeating al-Qa’eda or the wider threat posed by global terrorism will be impossible without a strong alliance with Saudi Arabia.

Abdullah’s authority does not rest on his possession of the throne of an absolute monarchy. The basis of his power is his status as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina, the birthplaces of Islam. This makes him a pivotal figure across the Muslim world. The king’s consistent denunciations of the “scourge” of terrorism – he has called al-Qa’eda’s “evil” ideology the “work of the devil” – carry weight in the Muslim world.

Osama bin Laden has been the Saudi royal family’s most fanatical foe ever since he was expelled from the kingdom and stripped of his citizenship in 1991.

There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia bears a heavy responsibility for creating bin Laden’s brand of Sunni extremism.

Throughout the 1980s, the kingdom armed and financed the Mujahideen who fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, serving in a war which became the incubator for al-Qa’eda.

Saudi petrodollars have funded extremist mosques and madrassas worldwide. But the monster that the kingdom helped to create turned on its benefactor. Al-Qa’eda mounted a deadly campaign inside Saudi Arabia in 2003 and 2004, carrying out a series of bomb attacks.

Abdullah’s response was notably effective. Saudi Arabia has probably succeeded in crushing most of the al-Qa’eda cells inside its borders. While the possibility of an attack remains, the threat has been greatly reduced.

Saudi Arabia’s success cannot be explained by the brutality of its security forces. The kingdom runs a sophisticated campaign to rehabilitate terrorists inside its jails. Prisoners are brought before religious scholars who point out their erroneous interpretation of Islam.

If judged rehabilitated, ex-terrorists are rewarded with their freedom, a car and a job. Of the roughly 700 detainees who have experienced this course, the failure rate is between 10 and 20 per cent. Given reoffending rates in British jails, we might have something to learn.

Spurning one of the few countries that has inflicted a major defeat on al-Qa’eda and that occupies a unique position in the hearts of Muslims might salve a few Western consciences, but it would be a spectacular own goal in the fight against terrorism.

If we refused to welcome Abdullah, does anyone believe that Saudi Arabia would become a democracy? Would torture disappear from its prisons? Britain’s ability to influence the kingdom’s internal politics, is virtually zero.

Moreover, if you disapprove of Abdullah, take a look at the people who want to overthrow him.

The most likely alternative to the House of Saud is not a collection of benign liberals, desperate to free women and introduce democracy. Instead, the regime’s deadliest opponents believe that Saudi Arabia is not nearly repressive or religious enough.

They hate the fact that Abdullah educates women and allows them to work. Never mind banning women from driving cars, the royal family’s enemies would throw them out of schools and universities. If the Saudi regime were ever overthrown, its successors would probably be the most fanatical extremists on earth.

These are not natural allies of Vincent Cable, the temporary leader of the Lib Dems, who ostentatiously rejected his invitation to attend the state banquet in honour of the king – despite the fact that he spent much of his career working for Shell, which was happy to do business with Saudi Arabia.

Mr Cable apparently thinks that taking a salary from an oil company that made handsome profits in Saudi Arabia is fine, but sharing a table with the country’s king is unconscionable.

Mr Cable will never hold any power so he can afford the luxury of ignoring harsh realities. Britain needs Saudi Arabia’s friendship – and King Abdullah is the best hope we have. and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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