By Minna Jaffery
Terrorism has constantly been at the forefront of news, but for years there was barely any mention of it emerging from Saudi Arabia. Things changed in 2003 and 2004, when anti-foreign and nationalist sentiments reached a boiling point, leading Saudi nationalists to instigate terrorist attacks against Westerners. Ultimately, government control proved instrumental in the fight against terror in Saudi Arabia, because the government’s swift response eradicated virtually all threats within two years. Ultimately, government control was influential in maintaining the foreign presence and strong economy of the Kingdom.
Most of the unrest was concentrated in Riyadh, where large compounds of Westerners were targeted. The attacks began in 2000 with the targeting of individual expatriates but picked up steam in 2003. Positive relations with Western nations not only caused a large influx of expatriates, it also caused many Saudis to be replaced by expatriate workers, largely in the banking and oil industries. The nationalists plotting the attacks wanted the government to protect Saudi jobs, making these attacks very different from those of the Arab Spring- instead of rioting because the government was too powerful, the Saudi rioters wanted their government to exercise more power to protect its citizens from foreign job competition.
One such attack occurred on the Al-Hamra compound, which was attached to the British International School where I was a student at the time. The morning of May 12 was a confusing one as I woke up to utter chaos. After turning on the news, I (and many other confused children) learned that our school and the Al-Hamra compound had been attacked, and school was closed indefinitely. Similar attacks occurred across the city for many months- other compounds with predominantly Western residents were bombed and attacked, and the government began to crack down.
Following the attack, security all across Riyadh was heightened, but the attacks continued for a period of two years. They began to die down as security reached new highs- cars were meticulously checked before entering compounds, bags had to be searched and flashlights were shone into the car windows. This degree of security was both comforting and frightening- the fact that the security guards were so thorough made me feel protected, but the fact that there was the need for this much security was threatening.
Increased security did work. The attacks died down and since then, Saudi terrorism has been essentially eradicated. The government’s quick response to these attacks proved how serious they were about eliminating any acts of terrorism, and their efforts to set up a separate criminal court for acts of terrorism, where the accused suspects were tried and found guilty, showed their dedication.
Because Saudi Arabia has been able to keep such tight control of their own internal problems, even those during the Arab Spring, the state remains one of the United States’ most valuable allies in the region. The Saudi government has proven that it wields enough power, both over its own citizens and other nations in the gulf, to play an integral role in foreign relations. For example, Saudi was a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, allowing for better communication and relations between Gulf nations. Saudi also provides much of the world’s oil, allowing it to maintain favorable trade relations with nations such as India and Japan. The strength of the monarchy allows for stable alliances that are mutually beneficial. Had the Saudi government been inefficient in controlling it internal issues, it would have been unable to expand its trade partners on such a large scale; the Saudi economy is completely dependent on the Saudi monarchy’s ability to maintain order in a volatile nation comprised of many contrary groups.
The sheer power that the government demonstrated has allowed them to have a considerable amount of influence over domestic politics and international relations, yet many people are unaware of how quickly internal conflicts are dealt with, because the Saudi monarchy controls the press closely, so as not to raise panic. The government’s strong and swift response to terrorist threats proves that many nations in the region may actually be more stable than they seem, and we should not be so quick to assume that unrest in the Middle East means unrest in every nation.