Arab Coalition Formed To Fight Terrorism, But Many View It As Symbolic Gesture

The 34-member counter-terrorism military alliance announced by Saudi Arabia does not include Iran or Iraq, but marks a clear strategic move to organize against terrorist forces in the Middle East.

“A number of countries are in desperate need of assistance. Terrorism has hit Islamic countries. It is time that the Islamic world takes a stand,” said Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir on Tuesday, who added that nothing, including ground troops, was off the table.

It is not surprising that Saudi Arabia would lead the coalition, says Bruce Reidel of the Brookings Institution. He notes that Saudi Arabia “has sponsored the development of Islamic institutions to push Islamic causes since the 1960s” and “created the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Muslim World League” and sponsored the first Islamic summit to discuss ending Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1969.

As large as the coalition is, there are some notable absences from the list. Oman, Afghanistan, Algeria, which is the largest Muslim country in Africa, and the Central Asian states are not on the list of nations.

While it seems a positive movement, some are skeptical the coalition will have any measurable impact.

“The Saudis are under a lot of pressure, for what they’re doing in Yemen, from the accusations that they’re spreading Wahhabi ideology, and for what they are not doing on the military side of the US-led coalition to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq. So I can see that this would have some propaganda value for them,” the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Aaron David Miller, a former US diplomat in Middle Eastern affairs told The Christian Science Monitor.

With an existing coalition of 65 countries currently fighting ISIS, Miller said he did not “see how a coalition of 34 very diverse Muslim countries is going to have any more than symbolic value.”

It is far from clear how, in practice, the coalition would conduct counter-terrorism operations in IS-plagued Iraq and Syria without the agreement of those governments.

One hitch could be that the Saudi interpretation of terrorism extends far beyond the violent actions of armed insurgents. In fact, legislation has branded peaceful opposition activists and reformers, whether online or in the street, as suspected “terrorists” and a security risk to the state, reports the BBC.

Amnesty International said it had concerns that this new coalition could be used to further restrict human rights.

An editorial in The Independent sounded an equally skeptical tone, noting that there was no conference outlining a strategy, nor any resources devoted to fighting terrorism.

“The US was not informed of the alliance’s creation ahead of time – a further indication that the projection of Saudi leadership is likely to be the motivation here, over and above an increased military commitment to counter terrorism or anything of the sort that would indeed challenge Isis,” adds the editorial.

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