Doubts Linger Over Saudi-Led, Islamic Anti-Terrorism Coalition

by JUSTIN SALHANI –

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Saudi Arabia announced on Monday that it will lead an anti-terror military alliance of predominantly Muslim countries, with a joint operations center located in Riyadh. The formation of this coalition comes amid calls for Gulf states to do more to comprehensively fight radicalism.

This new anti-terror alliance has drawn skepticism from some analysts for a number of reasons. Gulf states faced heavy criticism for funding regional proxies, particularly in the Syrian civil war, including certain extremist groups. Saudi Arabia in particular has come under fire as of late, with many commentators suggesting that the exportation of their Wahhabi ideology is to blame for the rise of extremists around the Muslim world.

It’s unclear what effect the new coalition will have on the U.S.’ fight against ISIS, as Saudi Arabia provided few details, other than that the coalition would focus on more than just fighting ISIS.

But analysts also wonder if this coalition will focus on fighting extremism or simply further crack down on local activists, something that Saudi Arabia is notorious for.

“…there is the question of the exact definition of terrorism. The Saudi authorities’ interpretation of it extends far beyond the violent actions of armed insurgents,” BBC’s Security Correspondent Frank Gardner said. “Recent legislation has branded peaceful opposition activists and reformers, whether online or in the street, as suspected “terrorists” and a security risk to the state. Amnesty International said it had concerns that this new coalition could be used to further restrict human rights.”

Farea al-Muslimi, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Centre, told AFP that most of the coalition countries could be called “honorary members.”

“[The coalition] seemed to have been cooked at the last minute,” he said.

Muslimi said the coalition seems like an attempt by Saudi Arabia to ease some of the international pressure it has faced on the issue.

Ten Middle Eastern countries bombed ISIS to date, but statistics are hard to find considering this is a politically sensitive topic for Middle Eastern populations. While Arab and Muslim countries overwhelmingly disapprove of groups like ISIS, their populations might be apprehensive to bomb civilians, or help the United States — a country many view with hostility after years of what they perceive to be anti-Muslim or anti-Arab policies.

The Saudi-led coalition will include Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Chad, Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Maldives, Mali, Malaysia, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Qatar, the Palestinians, Pakistan, Senegal, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

“Currently, every Muslim country is fighting terrorism individually,” Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince said at a news conference in Riyadh. “So co-ordinating efforts is very important.”

 

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress