Alwaght- Saudi Arabia, the self-proclaimed leader of the Arab world, always uses security agreements and financial aids to paint itself as the big brother of other Arab states. Meanwhile, amid intensifying rivalry among the West Asian powers in recent years, North Africa has become one of the grounds of this competition, encouraging Riyadh to play a role in most of developments in this region.
Morocco is one of the North African countries that has established close ties with Saudi Arabia through inking a variety of agreements and expanding cooperation. As part of this cooperation, the two countries on Tuesday signed a ‘security cooperation expansion’ agreement to fight terrorism and its funding networks. The agreement was signed in the capital Rabat between the Moroccan intelligence chief and Saudi deputy intelligence chief. Morocco held that this agreement is driven by the desire of the two countries to expand bilateral cooperation. It includes increasing security and intelligence cooperation and coordination in the field of fighting terrorism and extremism, the statement further said. Although Saudi Arabia is trying to upgrade its relations with other Arab states through such security deals, behind them lie other goals that go beyond security cooperation.
Terrorism in Saudi viewpoint
The sarcastic point is that Saudi Arabia is chanting slogans regarding fighting terrorism while it is widely recognized as the godfather of terrorism worldwide and over years has spend billions of dollars on terrorist organizations to destabilize states not aligned to its policies. Examples of implementation of this policy are Syria and Iraq where the Saudis supported barbarous terrorists to topple their governments which the Saudis claim are under Iranian influence.
Therefore, in the Riyadh rulers’ view, terrorism has its specific sense and terrorists are the home dissidents who challenge the Al Saud dictatorial policies for justice and freedom. The reality is that the Saudi political atmosphere is tightened day by day and every opposite voice is silenced, with prisons inundated with political prisoners and Shiite religious leaders. In the past years, Saudi Arabia has sentenced hundreds of domestic dissidents, mainly Shiites, to death on charges of terrorist acts. According to human rights organizations, many of these people have been sentenced to death without any evidence or documents indicating that they carried out terrorist activities. The widespread arrest of Shiite clerics and mass executions, which have raised the voice of human rights groups, are carried out with the aim of quelling any dare by the opposition to challenge the despotic rule in Riyadh. This time, too, the Saudis are seeking to put strains on the home dissidents under the cover of security agreements.
From a regional perspective, Saudi Arabia looks at terrorism from its viewpoint. This viewpoint mainly targets the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), an Islamist movement with large number of supporters across the Arab and Muslim worlds. In March 2014, the Arab kingdom banned the MB under terror label and since then has taken many measures to counter it. Riyadh considers the movement to be a deviant and seditious one that seeks to disrupt coexistence of Arab countries, a claim rejected by many Arab states.
Saudi Arabia has already taken many measures to counter the rise of MB-affiliated groups in the region. Supporting Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army in eastern Libya, Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE, tried to overthrow the Tripoli-based MB-affiliated National Unity Government and install its submissive government.
In Sudan and Egypt, the Saudis, with extensive support to the governments in these countries, blocked the way of the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence gain, to the point that in Egypt all the leaders of this movement were executed or sentenced to life imprisonment, all of which were done with Riyadh’s planning in order to remove the obstacles to the implementation of its policies in the region. Even the main reason for the downturn of Saudi Arabia’s relations with Turkey was Ankara’s support for the MB. Riyadh-Ankara relations remained strained for a decade.
Actually, in the eyes of the Saudi leaders, terrorism does not apply to ISIS and Al Nusra Front that killed thousands of people; rather, any group that moves against the Saudi policies is labeled terrorist. This time, the Saudis have picked Morocco to realize their goal of checking MB power gain in this North African country.
Moroccan government, on the other hand, signed this agreement to remove its home opponents on the strength of the Saudis. Struggling with Polisario Front nightmare for five decades and tensions between the two sides escalate occasionally, Morocco is seeking to fight this militia under battling terrorism.
Playing in Israeli game
Saudi and Moroccan measures against MB is a good service to the Israelis because Gaza-based Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have MB-affiliated tendencies, are top threat to the Israeli regime and confronting them by Arab countries plays into the hands of Tel Aviv.
Crackdown on MB saw a sharp rise after the movement gained substantial power following Arab uprisings of 2011 driven by wave of Islamic awakening. In Egypt, this movement assumed the power, though for just a year, under the leadership of President Mohamed Morsi. In Libya, Fayez al-Sarraj, the head National Unity Government, whose UN-recognized government had pro-MB tendencies and was supported by Turkey and Qatar. He held the position for several years until an agreement to share the power with the opposition. In Tunisia, the MB under Ennahda took over the majority in the parliament for a decade and were identified as the most powerful political party post-revolution.
Although MB-affiliated parties now do not hold power in any of these three countries and are suppressed by the governments there, in Morocco they are still active in the country’s politics layers. In the Moroccan parliamentary elections held in 2016, the Islamist Justice and Development Party with MB tendencies won the majority of seats, but in the 2021 elections, it lost to the liberal parties, showing that MB is on the decline in Morocco, and Saudi Arabia is trying to strike the final nail in the coffin of this movement in Morocco.
Morocco has diplomatic relations with the Israeli regime and has tried to develop its relations with Tel Aviv in the past two years. Holding joint military exercises and signing security contracts serve this aim. Saudi Arabia, which has not yet joined the Arab-Israeli normalization process, supports the countries that are in normalization path in order to pave the way for others.
Saudi Arabia’s anti-MB measures have drawn welcome and admiration of the Israelis. Reacting to Saudi Council of Senior Scholars (CSS) labeling of Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, Israeli foreign ministry in November 2020 in a Twitter post said: “We are happy in Israel to see such approach that stands against exploitation of religion for incitement and sedition....We are in bad need for a discourse that calls for tolerance and mutual cooperation in the region.”
Hamas, gaining further power everyday and creating a deterrence equation against Tel Aviv, is considered a major threat for the Israelis. Therefore, the Saudis are pushing to help their new ally in the region to further enhance its security. Riyadh is aspiring for an Israeli-Arab alliance to counter Iran’s, and in a broader sense Axis of Resistance’s, policies in the region. A distribution of duties seems to have been done and Riyadh is partly tasked with undermining Palestinian and other resistance groups. By blacklisting Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemen’s Nasrallah as terrorist movements, Riyadh is actually rolling out red carpet for the Israelis for them to pave his way for ascension to the throne via their powerful lobbies despite vast Western criticism against his human rights abuses. Netanyahu has recently claimed that Saudi Arabia will soon normalize its ties with the Israeli regime and crackdown on the anti-Israeli factions is a prelude to conclusion of normalization project.