The Long Saudi-Islamic Fundamentalist Alliance Is on the Rocks
It is hard to explain how the abduction of an Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilead Shalit, by the Palestinian Hamas on June 25 could have driven a jagged fissure down the middle of the Arab world. But that is what has happened.
One bloc, which may be termed pragmatic, is headed by the Saudi King Abdullah and the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. It is in deep dispute with the grouping best described as belligerent, dominated by Syrian president Bashar Assad and the Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal, who never hitherto fitted into any leadership slot in regional Arab politics.
The latter two were joined this week by the triumphant Hizballah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah.
The Saudi monarch has taken the drastic step of cutting off aid to the two fundamentalist Muslim movements which for decades gave Riyadh the intro to the Arab Muslim scene as a pre-eminent force: the Muslim Brotherhood and its Palestinian offshoot, Hamas.
Monday, July 10, King Abdullah presided over the enactment of an extreme policy departure by the weekly cabinet meeting in Riyadh.
His action was prompted by the public slap in the face administered him by the Syrian president. It came in the form of Sunday’s press appearance by Khaled Meshaal in Damascus, two days after the king had asked the Syrian president to keep the Hamas leader’s presence in the Syrian capital quiet, as a gesture of support for the Saudi effort to broker a deal for the return of the Israeli hostage.
Abdullah had no intention of letting this snub go unanswered.
He therefore dictated two decisions to his cabinet:
1. Palestinian affairs must be left in Palestinian hands – meaning that the Saudi government disqualifies as unwarranted Assad’s interference in Hamas decisions about its Israeli hostage.
2. Saudi Arabia opposes the mixing of selfish considerations in Palestinian policy-making. This dig aimed at disqualifying Meshaal’s leadership on the grounds of his ulterior self-serving motives.
Immediately after the cabinet session, officials close to King Abdullah invited Arab diplomats posted to Riyadh for a briefing on the royal view on the affair.
They were told that Meshaal was guilty of perpetrating a second abduction of the Israeli soldier; the first by the Hamas military arm was legitimate, but the second was a ruse to promote the Damascus-based Hamas chief’s personal interests and those of the Muslim Brotherhood. The hostage affair ought to have served to buy the freedom of Palestinian prisoners and benefit the people. Saudi royal courtiers accused not only Meshaal, but the Syrians and the Iranians too, of hijacking the Hamas movement for their own selfish ends. No one could deny that the king was hopping mad.
Long Saudi-fundamentalist Muslim marriage is on the rocks
In all the decades of Saudi funding and backing for Hamas, never has a member of the ruling caste launched into such angry recriminations against a prominent Hamas leader.
Twenty-four hours later, Abdullah had his answer. It did not come from Damascus, but indirectly from Cairo, where a Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammed Aqef, launched a wounding diatribe against the Saudi ruler.
He said that the soldier’s abduction was a pretext which Israel had long sought to strike out against the Gaza Strip. Israeli leaders, he claimed, were resorting to aggression to break the Palestinians’ spirit and resolve. He urged Hamas to hold onto Gilead Shalit and so defeat Israel’s scheme. The Muslims, he said, must keep the soldier hidden for many years like the Israeli navigator Ron Arad, who disappeared in Lebanon 19 years ago and was never heard of since.
The radical Muslim leader then delivered his final slur: The only ones feeling the heat of the hostage affair are Egypt and Saudi Arabia – not Hamas, he said. And the failure of their efforts to solve the case is testimony to the moral bankruptcy of their regimes.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Muslim experts stress that the violence of the Muslim Brotherhood member’s attack is unprecedented. A condemnation of moral bankruptcy has the same weight as a declaration of war on King Abdullah.
In 1954, Saudi Arabia granted asylum to Muslim Brotherhood fugitives from Egypt after their failure to assassinate Gemal Abdel Nasser. For half a century, the movement’s leaders were very close to the Saudi throne. In the last two years, they played a helpful role in the Saudi security crackdown on al Qaeda.
But Akef’s words in Cairo Tuesday in the wake of the hostage affair showed him turning his back on his Saudi friends and allies and opting instead for the war camp and its hero, Khaled Meshaal.
The radical Egyptian’s agenda was clear: He was using the Israeli hostage case as a lever to elevate Meshaal as Hamas leader and make him the hub around which all the fundamentalist forces in the Middle East could unite.
The Saudi king, anxious to reinstate his authority and Islamic credentials, decided to menace Assad. He told Syrian foreign minister Walid Mualem to drop everything and be in Riyadh on Wednesday, July 12. A second secret summons went out from Cairo that same day, telling a group of senior Syrian intelligence officers to come over at once.
Both were to be informed of the folly of the disastrous course their president had chosen and the dangerous rift it had caused.
But the summonses went out too late.
By the time the Syrian officials arrived in the Saudi and Egyptian capitals, Hizballah had run off with the ball. Two more Israeli soldiers had been snatched by Hassan Nasrallah’s goons, leaving the Saudi and Egyptian rulers empty-handed.