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Analysts:  Saudi Amnesty Offer a Good Start - 2004-06-24


Regional experts say Saudi Arabia's offer of amnesty for people involved in terrorist groups is a good step for the kingdom, where harsh tactics have been used against those suspected in the attacks on Western targets in the country. But some say the offer can have only limited success, because it does not address the causes of militancy and will not reach the truly committed terrorists.

At the offices of the Arab News in Jeddah, Editor-in-Chief Khaled AlMaeena says Saudi Arabia is uniquely suited to this type of amnesty offer. He says past amnesties, and the positive way the kingdom dealt with people who surrendered will be guarantee enough for anyone involved with a terrorist group who wants to return to society.

"Many of these people are young people whose minds have been preyed upon by evil thugs and murderers, and if you notice some of them are in their teens; others are in their early 20's and mid-20's, they are not Afghan war veterans, they have never fought, yet the ring leaders have bloody experience, and in order that these [young] people not follow that path, I think the crown prince was very right [to offer amnesty] and this was welcomed by a large segment of the population," he said.

Mr. AlMaeena describes the oil-rich kingdom as "a patriarchal society," in which people, in his words, "look up to the higher ups." As a result, he believes many of the terrorists will grant the king's request, and surrender or be forced to by their relatives.

"This is a very patriarchal society," he explained. "What I think will happen is that the parents or uncles or father in law or somebody will intervene and ask these people to turn themselves in. It has happened in the past, and I think it is going to happen again in the future, because the main thing I think both the government and the people in society and the community would like to see is an end to bloodshed.'

Mr. AlMaeena says he envisions a scenario in which former terrorists would be "rehabilitated" and then released into society to lead normal lives. There was no immediate word from Saudi officials about whether this will happen.

Former Egyptian diplomat Abdullah El Ashaal says it will not be that easy.

"I think that some of them may find themselves in a difficulty to understand it and some of them may be waiting for any loophole to come back, but I think that the majority of the people, the terrorists I mean, are very much attracted to their leadership, everywhere, and this wouldn't be enough," the diplomat said.

Mr. El Ashaal served in senior posts at the Egyptian embassy in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s and 90s and has written three books on the politics of the monarchy and the Gulf. He calls the amnesty offer a shift in Saudi policy and says it is a sign the kingdom is becoming aware that more than just force is needed to combat terror.

"The question is that I don't know whether being very harsh and killing the ring leader of the group in Saudi Arabia or in Arabia in general, would be enough or the police or security attitude is the only way," he added. "I think this is a new shift in the Saudi attitude, they wanted to combine both of them. They wanted to show that they could be merciful."

But Mr. El Ashaal says the Saudi government will have to do more if it really wants to compete with the terrorist leaders for the hearts and minds of the country's young people. He says the Saudi leaders need to implement economic and political reforms, end poverty and deliver more personal freedoms to their people.

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