“What if revolution broke out in Saudi Arabia and Osama bin Laden wasn’t invited? This is the question the terrorist mastermind is pondering, as he makes clear in his latest audiotape, which appeared December 16 on the al Qaeda-affiliated al Qalah (the Fortress) website www.qal3ah.net . Osama is afraid that the cause he has been championing for over a decade, namely the fall of the House of Saud, might be achieved while he is still in exile. And after all that hard work he did. You can imagine him grumbling in his beard. There ain’t no justice.
The lengthy audiotape was released to coincide with planned demonstrations in the Saudi kingdom organized by the London-based Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA). The group has been led since 1996 by Saudi dissident and former surgeon Dr. Saad al-Faqih. MIRA had organized a similar protest in October 2003. Thursday supporters had planned to convene in predetermined locations in Riyadh and Jedda and march peacefully through the cities. But the Saudis threw up a strong security cordon and prevented most of the demonstrations from taking place. The Saudi-backed English language Arab News reported
that the effort had failed, and within the Kingdom there was no coverage at all. MIRA, which had been coordinating the demonstrations on live television and the internet, said that thousands of people had turned out and 800 had been arrested. Saudi figures had about 14 in custody. Al Faqih later admitted that the demonstration had some organizational problems, and announced that another, larger protest was to be held December 17 after Friday prayers, and would be covered as they happened on the Al-Islah Television network
. He gave detailed protest route information, and called for a peaceful demonstration, unless action needed to be taken in self defense. MIRA’s ultimate goal is to “fully change the ruling system.”
Osama bin Laden has been seeking regime change in Saudi for a long time, but he would much rather see it on his own terms. His December 16 statement is a forceful radical document, part John Locke and part Vladimir Lenin, dressed up in quotes from Muslim scholars and sprinkled with traditional poetry. Bin Laden propounds a familiar theory of revolution: that rulers are entrusted with seeing after the wellbeing of their people, and when they willfully neglect this duty they are no longer to be considered legitimate. “There is a contract between the ruler and his subjects entailing rights and obligations on both parties,” bin Laden says, but the House of Saud has not upheld its end of the bargain. It is thus the duty of the people–in this case led by bin Laden’s Mujahedin as the revolutionary vanguard–to rise up against the regime and replace it with one that more faithfully protects their interests. Like the Declaration of Independence, the bulk of bin Laden’s message is his list of grievances against the Saudi rulers, which can be divided into basically three categories: they have become captive of the interests of the infidel Zionist-Crusaders (that’s us); they have betrayed the public trust by living lavish lifestyles while others languish in poverty; and they have strayed from the Muslim faith to the point where it becomes obligatory for the people to depose them. “The people who reject armed dialogue with their governments are greatly mistaken,” he counsels. “Rights cannot be restored from a regime when the ruler becomes renegade or refuses to follow religion, except by force.”
But is this the right time and place for an uprising? Bin Laden says that the revolt would only make sense if it could succeed, and he has doubts that the timing is right in Saudi Arabia itself. Instead, he argues for taking the fight to the United States in Iraq, which he calls “a golden and unique opportunity.” He is particularly interested in targeting the oil infrastructure, to drive up prices and hurt our economy, as well as deny us the fruits of what he calls “the largest stealing operation in history.” Not surprisingly MIRA discourages Saudis from seeking to get involved in fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere, contending that homegrown jihad is just as valid.
The most revealing part of the statement is at the end, where bin Laden addresses “decision makers” in Riyadh, meaning not the ruling family but those who shape public opinion and buttress the legitimacy of the regime. Osama argues that they must quickly take the opportunity to leave Arabia and broker a peaceful regime change before violence breaks out, particularly among the youth. They need to set the conditions for the people to choose a new leader, an honest Imam, someone they can trust and who will not tolerate the presence of infidels in the land of the two holy places. This mirrors his suggestion from a year ago that a similar group of respected people form a Council of the Righteous to appoint a new supreme ruler. Of course, bin Laden never nominates himself for the office. He is above all that. “We do not compete with you for the remains of this world,” he said. Furthermore, he is content where he is. “In Afghanistan I have a home and companions, and God has a door for sustenance,” he said. He wants to come back home at some point, but notes that it is easy to be away “when it is for the sake of God.”
It is heartening to watch the infighting among the Muslim extremists, and there are potential operational benefits as well. The more Osama is tempted to release public statements, the more chances there are he will make a mistake that will lead us to him. Clearly Saad al-Faqih is getting under his skin, organizing the long-sought revolt in Saudi Arabia without Osama’s assistance, and doing so from the comfort of his London offices while bin Laden hunkers down somewhere on the Afghan-Pakistan border. If al-Faqih can help flush out our quarry, more power to him. Meanwhile Osama bin Laden will have to wait and watch events from afar, until his invitation arrives from the Council of the Righteous to assume the role of Caliph of the reunited Muslim people, and drive the Crusaders and Jews from the Middle East. Something he can ponder while eating cold rice in his spider hole.
–James S. Robbins is senior fellow in national-security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council and an NRO contributor.