The Magazine

Who is Prince Nayef?

The most powerful man in Saudi Arabia.

Dec 23, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 15 • By BILL TIERNEY
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The general meaning of jihad is the expenditure of effort in order to establish Allah's religion, call people to it, and establish its authority on the Earth, as well as reform the material circumstances of humanity. . . . The specific meaning of jihad is the military engagement of the unbelievers and those who carry the same legal status as the unbelievers. Jihad, by this meaning, becomes obligatory upon the inhabitants of the countries that come under the occupation of the unbelievers.

Today, Al-Oadah enjoys the protection of Prince Nayef's ministry.

Nor can such individuals be dismissed as fringe elements, the Saudi equivalent, say, of the Branch Davidians. When the Palestinians' Al-Aqsa Intifada began in the fall of 2000, senior members of the Saudi Ministry of Defense living in an upscale naval housing complex south of Riyadh heard their imam exhorting them as dutiful Muslims to fight Israel and those who support Israel. No wonder the Saudis hired a PR consultant to hit the Washington talk show circuit and discredit anyone who accuses them of being two-faced.

Some insist that the Saudis are with us behind closed doors, and serve up the standard verbiage purely for popular consumption. If this were so, it would follow that they would rein in the preachers who inspired the 9/11 attackers and the numerous other Saudis who joined forces with bin Laden. A review of the Saudi press and Islamic websites shows that the opposite is true.

AFTER SEPTEMBER 11, American strategists considered some worrisome long-term scenarios, including changes of government in Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Such change may already be underway in Saudi Arabia, where Prince Nayef is taking over before our eyes, retaining heir apparent Abdullah as window dressing.

Most discussions of the succession to King Fahd emphasize the competition between Crown Prince Abdullah, head of the National Guard, and Prince Sultan, head of the Ministry of Defense. These two factions would be major players if civil war broke out. But Prince Nayef already has his troops in place and hard at work. Less clear is whether his agents have infiltrated the other two organizations and have the authority to arrest "disloyal elements."

When the United States finally starts calling this war what it is--a war against jihadist Islam--then clarity will dispel the illusion that our relationship with the Saudis can ever go back to what it was before September 11. The Saudis claim they are combating terrorism. Can they also say they are combating jihad?

In this country, there are some old-school types who cling to their settled view of the Middle East; the academic community (with rare exceptions) is still sinking in the tar pit of postmodernism. But the Saudis have chosen their course, a path they presumably see as consistent with the dictates of the Koran. They will continue to play us for fools as long as they can. It is high time we stopped cooperating. We could begin by taking the measure of the man behind the throne.

Bill Tierney, a former military intelligence officer and UNSCOM inspector, is Middle East director for the background-check agency Owens Online.