Analysis & Opinions - Agence Global

Kuwait, GCC again signal regional Arab challenges

| August 15, 2015

The good news from Kuwait this week is that security forces busted a terror cell that had a massive cache of weapons and explosives hidden in a farm in the Abdaly area north of Kuwait City, and arrested three Kuwaiti men who are accused of operating a terror cell. The bad news is that such terror cells appear to have become more common phenomena in Kuwait and other Gulf states.

The suicide bomb that killed and injured dozens of civilians in a mosque in Kuwait on June 26 was detonated by a Saudi young man; 29 people were arrested after that incident, and Kuwaiti authorities seek the death penalty for 11 of them. Another four Kuwaiti nationals were arrested in late July, and allegedly were linked to the “Islamic State.” In Saudi Arabia, after a string of bombings killed dozens of Saudi civilians and security officers, authorities last month arrested 431 people — most of them Saudi nationals — who are accused of being members or associates of “Islamic State” (ISIS). The Saudi authorities also said they had thwarted six other planned attacks against government facilities and embassies.

Why would some young men in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia engage in this kind of violence against innocent civilians in their own countries? The perpetrators of such terror attacks do not seem to mirror the profiles of young men in mangled and stressed societies like Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Tunisia, who have few other life options, and see themselves and their families condemned to lifelong poverty, marginalization and pain.

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are wealthy societies that go out of their way to provide their citizens with their basic needs in health, education, housing and employment, in most cases for free. While some of their nationals historically have raised grievances related to issues like discrimination or (as in the bidoon in Kuwait) serious lack of citizen rights, political differences usually do not reach the point of public violence. Bouts of violence and terror attacks in the past probably reflected the extreme views of very small groups of religious fanatics, such as those who took over the Great Mosque in Mecca in 1979, or the followers or Osama Bin Laden in the 1990s.

The current wave of terror attacks and the people who carry them out seem to reflect a new set of conditions and mindsets, related heavily to the ISIS phenomenon that has secured very few but violent supporters in countries around the region, including in the Gulf. This is a regional phenomenon and threat that requires collective action by many Arab states to defeat it. While using all available police and legal means to thwart the growth of such dangerous groups, we must also work much more diligently and honestly to understand precisely what drives otherwise average or normal citizens to join the ranks of killers like ISIS or Al-Qaeda.

Having already plunged a dagger (temporary, I suspect) into the hearts of Arab states like Iraq and Syria, the new danger from groups like ISIS is that they are taking their savagery into the heart of Arab urban regions that historically were spared such terror attacks. As troubling as the discovery of the cache of weaponry in Kuwait this week was the beheading of a kidnapped Croatian civilian in Egypt by ISIS’ local affiliate, the so-called “Sinai Province” that emerged from indigenous Islamist groups in northern Sinai that have become increasingly radicalized in recent years.

The kidnapping and beheading of this victim happened on the outskirts of Cairo. Should we expect soon to see ISIS kidnap Arabs or foreigners inside major towns, or behead a captive in some big city square? Logistically, it is very easy for a small cell of fanatics to carry out such deeds in any Arab urban center, especially if they are willing to die in the process. The arrests of hundreds of alleged terrorists shows that they do not lack numbers of supporters or accomplices.

These remain for now isolated acts carried out by very small numbers of individuals whose personal or political torments drive them towards such deviant behavior. The danger we all face is that this trend, however small, appears to continue spreading, despite the thousands of aerial attacks against ISIS in the past year in Syria-Iraq and the Egyptian army massive security clampdowns in Sinai.

Unless we figure out the exact balance between political issues and personal troubles that explain the behavior of ISIS true believers, we will probably have to live with this situation for many years. Both the public politics and the personal psychology issues in the mind and world of an ISIS member can be addressed; but these must be clearly identified first, and we still seem far away from that, as Cairo and Kuwait remind us this week.

For more information on this publication: Please contact Middle East Initiative
For Academic Citation: Khouri, Rami..“Kuwait, GCC again signal regional Arab challenges.” Agence Global, August 15, 2015.