The article was formerly published in Russia Review (June – July 2018).
Over the past two decades, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was targeted prolifically by terrorists. In response, it developed an effective, far-reaching approach to fostering security by countering and deterring terrorism. It is a holistic approach — national, regional, and international — fusing bold action by the security sector, an aggressive financial clampdown, and intellectual and cultural interventions in Saudi society and beyond. The kingdom has also participated vigorously in a range of international initiatives under the umbrella of the United Nations, among other global efforts. These efforts may be summarized nationally, regionally, and internationally, as follows:
On the national level, the kingdom has introduced cutting-edge counterterrorism practices. They include enhanced cooperation and collaboration within the security sector and between security sector players and civil and other government instructions. They also include stringent constraints on making, importing, selling, possessing, dealing, or acquiring weapons, munitions, and chemical materials. The security sector has also dealt firmly with perpetrators of terrorist crimes: They are pursued vigorously and prosecuted according to newly streamlined legal and statutory measures. These measures support the kingdom’s international commitments and are in accord with Islamic legal principles.
With respect to the kingdom’s efforts to counter money laundering and terrorism financing, in 2002 the kingdom established a unit for financial investigations and a standing national counterterrorism committee. In addition to combating money laundering and terrorism financing, they serve to counter the use of information technology and social media as mechanisms for committing such crimes.
Meanwhile, the kingdom has committed to fighting terrorism on the level of intellectual activity. Adopting the view that political violence stems primarily from ideological inculcation, the kingdom works to fight the indoctrination by fostering a culture of dialogue and civil peace. These efforts focus on the particular challenge of reaching the nation’s young people — before they fall prey to extremist recruitment. It is an educational process, using media, new schools curricula, and religious discourse. New television programming, for example, refutes the distortions of Islam upon which terrorists rely to build their followings. Meanwhile, the “Mohamed Bin Nayef Center for Counseling and Care Center, established in 2004, has innovated a holistic approach to rehabilitating convicted terrorists intellectually and emotionally, and training them to return to a peaceful life and decent living in Saudi society.
All these efforts arose from concerted, methodical plans and strategies. They engage Saudi families, educational systems, mosques, media outlets, and a range of organized social gatherings. They also include preemptive measures to counter the exploitation of social media by terrorists to radicalize young people and coordinate their operations. Saudi efforts seek to clamp down on online criminality, as well as refute their radical arguments through a discourse of reason. Meanwhile, the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue engages the grass roots of Saudi society, through a variety of initiatives aiming to spread a culture of dialogue.
On the regional level, since 2002, the kingdom has also taken the lead in bringing together other Gulf Cooperation Council member states to work together in the struggle against extremism and terrorism. The approach adopts a policy of cooperation, coordination, and pooling information among participating GCC states. This campaign has made a further contribution to foiling attacks and preempted radicalization and recruitment. The kingdom also supports pan-Arab efforts by joining in counterterrorist initiatives led by the Council of Arab Interior Ministries, all aimed at consolidating security cooperation among Arab countries. Those include the widely touted “Arab Counterterrorism Strategy” (1998) and the “Arab Counterterrorism Agreement” (1998).
On an international level, the kingdom’s unique status as the global spiritual center of the Islamic faith has enabled it to deepen cooperation among all Muslim-majority countries and communities worldwide. Through the framework of the Muslim World League, the kingdom now works to promote social cohesion in Muslim countries fractured along sectarian and, for that matter, ethnic lines. Among its global initiatives, perhaps the most prominent is the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, established in 2005. Ten years later, the kingdom went on to establish the “Islamic Military Counterterrorism Coalition,” bringing together 41 Islamic countries. Meanwhile, under the auspices of the UN, the kingdom ratified and joined all of the organization’s 16 counterterrorism agreements. It also participated in counterterrorism-related working groups at the “G20 summit” and implemented the recommendations that arose from them. The kingdom has worked with the international “Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering” and, in 2004, was deemed to have satisfied its standards. As a forerunner in calling for interreligious & intercultural dialogue, the kingdom invested $100 million in the nascent “UN Counterterrorism Center.”
In 2017, the Saudi capital of Riyadh saw the establishment of the “Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology” (Etidal) as well as the “Center for Cultural War,” a new division of the Saudi Ministry of Defense. Those efforts have yielded a rich exchange of unclassified information among the gamut of allied states. They have contributed to the effort to dismantle terrorist cells and arresting their leaders, planners, and intellectual and spiritual guides. They have also blocked a large number of terrorist operations before they could reach the operational stage, saving thousands of innocent lives.