12/16/2015, 00.00
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Islamic anti-terrorism coalition, a way for Riyadh to "save face"

by Paul Dakiki
The alliance comprises 35 nations with a Muslim majority population. Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan are excluded. Fears that fight against terrorism might be used to stifle human rights of these countries’ populations. The approval of Al-Azhar, which has long demanded a commitment to correct the literalist interpretations of the Koran. The criticism of Hezbollah.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - The military alliance launched by Saudi Arabia against jihadist terrorism seems to have been drawn toghether "too quickly" and perhaps "to save the face of the Saudis" known for advocating the ideology and supplying weapons to fundamentalist groups . This is the opinion of al-Farea Muslimi, a scholar of the Carnegie Middle East Centre, reacting to yesterday's news that Saudi Arabia has gathered a coalition of 35 Muslim-majority nations to militarily and ideologically combat terrorism.

Apart from Riyadh, the countries that have joined are: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE and Yemen.

What stands out is that countries such as Iran, Iraq and Syria, as well as Afghanistan are excluded from this alliance.

There is a strong suspicion that such an alliance is in fact an anti-Tehran move, to control and influence the Islamic world and subtract it from Iranian influence.

The Saudi Minister of Defense, Mohammed bin Salman, said that the coalition will coordinate efforts to combat extremists in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan.

But the absence of Syria and Iraq (and Afghanistan) raises questions about how such an alliance can carry out military actions against Isis terrorists in these territories without the permission of the respective governments.

Another issue raised by analysts is what Riyadh means by "terrorism". From the Arab Spring onwards, Saudi Arabia has defended itself from any movement of social criticism, killing and imprisoning democracy activists on its soil. The Saudi army intervened militarily in Bahrain to crush the democratic uprisings of the Shiite majority against the Sunni leadership. They are also engaged in a war against Houthi minorities in Yemen. Amnesty International said that the new coalition would be used to restrict  the human rights of the populations of these Islamic countries even further.

The University of Al-Azhar, the highest authority in the Sunni world, called on all Islamic countries to join the coalition,  defining  the decision to fight "the evils of terrorism" as "historical". Months ago at a meeting in Mecca, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb, asked for a new curriculum of Koranic studies to combat terrorism by preventing the literalist interpretation of the Koran. It would seem that this is not among the main objectives of the coalition.

Finally, it is noteworthy the coalition includes Lebanon, a country that is not Muslim, nor Christian but secular, although suffering from Saudi Arabia's great political and financial influence in its internal affairs. The decision to join the alliance was taken by Prime Minister Tammam Salam without consultation: even the foreign ministry in Beirut was unaware, provoking the ire of the Hezbollah Party, formed by Shia militant, allies of Syria’s Bashar Assad.

Analysts wonder whether this coalition, instead of fighting terrorism, risks further exacerbating the struggle between Sunnis and Shiites.

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