Thursday, June 17, 2004

Saudi Revolution Watch - Is It a Civil War if Only One Side Fights?

Some people have started referring to the terrorism/insurgency/rebellion as civil war. Can it really be a civil war if only al Qaeda is fighting? Sure the Saudis have arrested 600 and killed a few dozen. But they are still treating this as a crime spree, at best. Even the Saudi bagman in DC, Prince Bandar, son of Prince Sultan, the Saudi Defence Minister, wrote in the Washington Post that Saudi society does not yet consider this a war.

"I personally think that both the [Saudi] state and citizens have not yet reached that important, basic and necessary stage for [them to be able] to win the war. This means general mobilization for war in thought and in deed, as individuals and as a whole, in the media and in the culture -- a mobilization of all state institutions and the private sector towards this goal, and viewing everything in life based [on the premise that] we are at war.

"War means war. It does not mean Boy Scout camp. It is a war that does not mean delicacy, but brutality."


He compares the current situation to a key event in Saudi history. In 1930 King Saud's rule was threatened by the same fanatical Wahhabi militia , the Ikhwan, that had helped him seize power years earlier. Saud mobilized the military and brutally crushed them. A Saudi version of the Night of the Long Knives.

Bandar believes that al Qaeda isn't as strong as the Ikhwan and that the current Saudi state is stronger than it was 75 years ago. Technically he's right. Al Qaeda does not have thousands of armed soldiers and the Saudi military is very well supplied with some impressive military hardware. Bandar wishes it were a civil war. On paper the Saudis win easily since it's such a lopsided battle.

Except that it's not a battle. This is not a fledgling state fighting a pitched battle in the desert. Al Qaeda doesn't have to defeat the Saudi military on the battlefield. This is a revolution. The dynamics are completely different. The ancient regime is always militarily superior to the revolutionary force. Ask the Shah or the Czar.

The oil wealth has made the country incomparably more vulnerable than it was in 1930. The modern infrastructure, the dependence on foreign workers, the complexity of the oil facilities make the country almost delicate in the face of a well-armed, well-trained, Leninist sytle vanguard. As bad as Bandar thinks, it's worse.

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