US embassy cable - 91RIYADH1809

OVERVIEW OF SAUDI ARABIA'S JIHAD CONVENTION

Identifier: 91RIYADH1809
Wikileaks: View 91RIYADH1809 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Riyadh
Created: 1991-02-22 11:04:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: KISL PROP PREL IZ SA
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
O 221104Z FEB 91
FM AMEMBASSY RIYADH
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7706
INFO RUEHVV/ISLAMIC CONFERENCE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY PORT OF SPAIN PRIORITY
USIA WASHDC PRIORITY 8869
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 RIYADH 01809 
 
 
USIA FOR NEA - RUGH 
 
E.O. 12356:  DECL: OADR 
TAGS:  KISL, PROP, PREL, IZ, SA 
SUBJECT:  OVERVIEW OF SAUDI ARABIA'S JIHAD CONVENTION 
 
REF:  (A) RIYADH 1663 (NOTAL); (B) RIYADH 1724 (NOTAL); 
(C) RIYADH 1789 (NOTAL) 
 
1.  (CONFIDENTIAL - ENTIRE TEXT.) 
 
2.  SUMMARY:  THE UNPRECEDENTED CONVENTION ON THE CONCEPT 
OF JIHAD AND ITS RELATION TO THE GULF CRISIS ENDED IN 
RIYADH FEBRUARY 20 AFTER THREE DAYS OF DISCUSSION BY 
PERHAPS THE MOST DIVERSE GATHERING EVER OF SAUDI 
RELIGIOUS, GOVERNMENT, AND MEDIA PERSONALITIES.  THE 
HOLDING OF THE CONVENTION WAS ITSELF A MAJOR STEP FORWARD 
IN THE KINGDOM'S EFFORTS TO DEFINE THE TERMS OF DEBATE 
ABOUT THE GULF WAR IN BOTH SAUDI ARABIA AND OTHER 
COUNTRIES WITH MUSLIM POPULATIONS.  WITH A DAILY AUDIENCE 
OF MORE THAN 1000 PEOPLE, INCLUDING SOME 200 FOREIGN 
GUESTS WHOSE EXPENSES WERE COVERED BY SAUDI AUTHORITIES, 
AND WITH IN-DEPTH COVERAGE FROM ALL SAUDI MEDIA, THE SAG 
CLEARLY PUT FORTH ITS BEST POSSIBLE EFFORTS IN HELPING TO 
HOST AND ADMINISTER THE CONVENTION. 
 
3.  THE CONVENTION'S MAJOR TOPICS OF DISCUSSION WERE 
GENERALLY THE SAME ONES PROMOTED BY THE SAG SINCE LAST 
AUGUST:  FINDING RELIGIOUS GROUNDS FOR ACTIONS AGAINST 
SADDAM, INCLUDING THE PRESENCE OF FOREIGN FORCES IN THE 
KINGDOM; EXPLAINING POPULAR PERCEPTIONS OF THE CRISIS IN 
THE ARAB AND MUSLIM WORLD; AND DESCRIBING THE ROLES 
PLAYED BY LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL MEDIA IN COVERAGE OF 
THE CRISIS.  ATTENDEES LEFT THE CONVENTION WITH THEIR OWN 
BELIEFS STRENGTHENED AND, ESPECIALLY IN THE CASE OF 
FOREIGN GUESTS, AN INCREASED ABILITY TO SUPPORT SAG 
POSITIONS ON THE GULF WAR AND COUNTER IRAQI PROPAGANDA 
EFFORTS.  END SUMMARY. 
 
4.  THIS IS THE FIRST OF SEVERAL REPORTS ON THE JIHAD 
CONVENTION AND PROVIDES AN OVERVIEW OF DISCUSSION DURING 
THE THREE DAYS.  OTHER REPORTS WILL FOCUS ON SPECIFIC 
ASPECTS OF THE CONVENTION AND REACTION BY PARTICIPANTS AS 
WELL AS OTHER SAUDIS. 
 
 
SAUDI PARTICIPANTS: THE GANG'S ALL HERE 
--------------------------------------- 
 
5.  AS REPORTED REF A, A LEADING SAUDI ISLAMIC UNIVERSITY 
SERVED AS HOST FOR A THREE-DAY CONVENTION (MUHRAJAN) TO 
DISCUSS THE CONCEPT OF JIHAD AND ITS APPLICATION TO THE 
GULF WAR.  PRE-CONVENTION ANNOUNCEMENTS, HOWEVER, DID NOT 
MAKE CLEAR THE UNUSUALLY LARGE NUMBER AND SCOPE OF SAUDI 
LUMINARIES WHO WOULD PARTICIPATE IN THE SIX OFFICIAL 
SESSIONS.  THE CONFERENCE WAS OPENED BY DEFENSE MINISTER 
SULTAN, WHO READ A SPEECH BY KING FAHD (REF A) AND HELD 
AN IMPROMPTU PRESS CONFERENCE AFTERWARDS.  OTHER 
IMPORTANT SAUDIS AND FOREIGNERS ON STAGE FOR THE OPENING 
SESSION INCLUDED EDUCATION MINISTER ABDULLAH 
AL-KHUWAYTIR, OIC SECRETARY-GENERAL HAMID AL-GABID, 
EGYPTIAN GRAND MUFTI MOHAMMED SYED TANTAWI, AL-AZHAR 
VICE-PRESIDENT AHMED OMAR HASHEM, AND THE HOST OF THE 
CONFERENCE, DR. ABDALLAH BIN ABDULRAHMAN AL-TURKI, THE 
RECTOR OF IMAM MOHAMED BIN SAUD UNIVERSITY. 
 
 
RELIGIOUS AND ROYAL ATTENDANCE: EVEN BIN BAZ COMES OUT 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
 
6.  PERHAPS THE GREATEST SURPRISE OF THE CONVENTION WAS 
THE REGULAR ATTENDANCE OF SENIOR SAUDI RELIGIOUS SCHOLAR 
SHAYKH ABDULAZIZ BIN ABDULLAH BIN BAZ.  SEATED ON 
SULTAN'S RIGHT FOR THE OPENING SESSION AND IN THE FRONT 
ROW OF THE AUDITORIUM FOR THE SYMPOSIA WHICH FOLLOWED, 
THE ELDERLY AND BLIND BIN BAZ WAS QUICK TO MAKE 
CONTRIBUTIONS THROUGHOUT THE CONVENTION.  HE MADE THE 
THIRD SPEECH OF THE OPENING SESSION (FOLLOWING SULTAN AND 
DR. AL-TURKI) AND WAS REGULARLY INVITED TO MAKE CLOSING 
COMMENTS FOR ALL OTHER SESSIONS.  DURING A PRIVATE 
AUDIENCE OF FOREIGN GUESTS WITH KING FAHD AND CROWN 
PRINCE ABDULLAH (REF C), BIN BAZ EVEN INTERUPTED THE KING 
TO EXPOUND UPON RELIGIOUS JUSTIFICATION FOR THE KINGDOM'S 
GULF CRISIS POLICIES.  BIN BAZ WAS JOINED AT ALL SESSIONS 
OF THE CONVENTION BY SEVERAL MEMBERS OF THE SUPREME 
COUNCIL OF ULEMA, THE HIGHEST SAUDI RELIGIOUS BODY, AS 
WELL AS NUMEROUS OTHER SAUDI RELIGIOUS FIGURES.  TO NO 
ONE'S SURPRISE, MOST OF THE RELIGIOUS COMMENTARY REPEATED 
THE SAME CALLS OF SUPPORT FOR GOD AND KINGDOM HEARD IN 
THE EARLY DAYS OF THE CRISIS, ALTHOUGH A FEW AWKWARD 
MOMENTS PROVED THAT THE MOST SENIOR OFFICIALS WERE STILL 
UNFAMILIAR WITH THE INTRICACIES OF PUBLIC DISCUSSION 
BEFORE A LARGE GROUP (REPORTED SEPTEL). 
 
 
7.  ROYAL ATTENDEES WHO SPOKE AT VARIOUS SESSIONS 
INCLUDED SEVERAL REGULAR EMBASSY CONTACTS, SUCH AS MFA 
OFFICIAL (AND KING FAHD'S SON-IN-LAW) DR. PRINCE TURKI 
BIN MOHAMMED SAUD AL-KABIR, DEPUTY INTERIOR MINISTER (AND 
POET) IBRAHIM AL-AWAJI, AND PETROLEUM MINISTRY ADVISOR 
PRINCE ABDULAZIZ BIN SALMAN.  AMONG THE MANY OTHER 
PROMINENT SAUDI SPEAKERS WERE OFFICIALS FROM THE MINISTRY 
OF INFORMATION, MILITARY AND CIVIL DEFENSE OFFICERS, 
POETS AND OTHER LITERATI, AND PRINT MEDIA EDITORS.  IN 
ADDITION, NUMEROUS VIP SEATS WERE OCCUPIED THROUGHOUT THE 
CONFERENCE BY MEMBERS OF THE ROYAL FAMILY AND VARIOUS 
RELIGIOUS FIGURES, AND MINISTER OF INTERIOR PRICE NAYIF 
BIN ABD AL-AZIZ HOSTED A LUNCHEON FOR SELECTED 
PARTICIPANTS ON THE FINAL DAY. 
 
 
FOREIGN GUESTS: LITTLE SPEAKING TIME, ALL EXPENSES PAID 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
 
8.  FOREIGNERS ATTENDING THE CONVENTION WERE GENERALLY 
RESTRICTED TO SHORT COMMENTARIES ABOUT PRESENTATIONS BY 
SAUDIS ON THE SIX PANELS.  OF THE FEW FOREIGNERS GRANTED 
COMPARABLE SPEAKING TIME, THE BEST RECEIVED WERE THE 
WELL-KNOWN KUWAITI RELIGIOUS LEADER SHAYKH AHMED AL-QITAN 
(ONE OF THE FEW NON-SAUDIS SEATED ON STAGE AFTER THE 
OPENING SESSION) AND TWO REPRESENTATIVES OF THE AFGHAN 
MUJAHIDEEN.  IN CONTRAST TO THE SOMEWHAT BLAND 
PRESENTATIONS MADE BY MOST SAUDI SPEAKERS, THE KUWAITI 
AND AFGHANIS HELD THE AUDIENCE'S ATTENTION AND RECIEVED 
THE STRONGEST RESPONSES BY NOTING, RESPECTIVELY, THE 
ATROCITIES OF THE IRAQI MILITARY IN KUWAIT AND THE 
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN KUWAIT AND AFGHANISTAN. 
 
9.  NONETHELESS, THE NUMEROUS FOREIGN ATTENDEES SEEMED 
SATISFIED WITH THE CONFERENCE.  OUR EARLY ESTIMATES ARE 
THAT 15-20 OF THE 31 COUNTRIES INVITED SENT 
REPRESENTATIVES, APPARENTLY WITH ALL EXPENSES PAID BY THE 
SAG.  A WESTERN HEMISPHERE GROUP INCLUDED A TRINIDAD 
GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL AS WELL AS SEVERAL REPRESENTATIVES OF 
THE MUSLIM AMERICAN COMMUNITY (MAC).  OTHER COUNTRIES 
REPRESENTED INCLUDED MALAYSIA, NIGERIA, PAKISTAN, SUDAN, 
SYRIA, AND SPAIN. 
 
 
MEDIA: GOOD COVERAGE, BUT WANDERING DISCUSSIONS 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
10.  MEDIA REPRESENTATIVES WERE VISIBLE DURING ALL 
PROCEEDINGS, WITH SAUDI TELEVISION PROVIDING LIVE 
COVERAGE OF SEVERAL SESSIONS AS WELL AS NUMEROUS 
INTERVIEWS WITH CONVENTION ATTENDEES.  LOCAL PRESS 
COVERAGE WAS SIMILARLY COMPLETE, WITH LONG QUOTES FROM A 
NUMBER OF PANELISTS APPEARING IN SEVERAL ARABIC DAILIES. 
FOREIGN JOURNALISTS WERE NOT VISIBLE DURING MOST OF THE 
CONFERENCE, ALTHOUGH THE SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF PRINTED 
MATERIAL AND TRANSLATION SERVICES MADE AVAILABLE WILL 
PROBABLY HELP TO DISSEMINATE CONFERENCE RESULTS. 
 
11.  DISCUSSION OF GULF CRISIS MEDIA COVERAGE WAS 
SOMEWHAT LESS THAN EXCELLENT, HOWEVER, AS PANELISTS OFTEN 
CONTRADICTED THEMSELVES AND ONE ANOTHER ABOUT THE BEST 
WAY TO RESPOND TO IRAQI PROPAGANDA.  SPECULATIONS BY A 
NUMBER OF PANELISTS ABOUT THE SOURCES OF SADDAM'S SUPPORT 
IN OTHER COUNTRIES WERE INCONCLUSIVE, AS WERE DISCUSSIONS 
REGARDING THE OVERALL ROLE OF ARAB AND WESTERN MEDIA IN 
THE CRISIS (REPORTED SEPTEL). 
 
 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
12.  THE HOLDING OF THE CONVENTION MAY ITSELF PROVE TO BE 
ITS MOST SIGNIFICANT RESULT OVER THE LONG TERM.  WHILE 
FURTHER EVALUATION OF THE CONVENTION'S IMPORT WILL TAKE 
SOME TIME TO EMERGE, ATTENDANCE BY SUCH A WIDE RANGE OF 
SAUDI LUMINARIES COULD HAVE POSITIVE IMPLICATIONS FOR 
FUTURE PUBLIC DEBATE OF POLITICAL AND SOCIAL ISSUES, 
PERHAPS EVEN BEYOND THE END OF SADDAM'S WAR.  MOREOVER, 
DECISIONS TO HOLD THE CONVENTION IN RIYADH AND CONVENE A 
NUMBER OF PANELS ON NON-RELIGIOUS THEMES MADE FOR FAR 
MORE INTERESTING DISCUSSION THAN WOULD HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE 
IN THE MORE TYPICAL CONFERENCE VENUES OF MECCA OR MEDINA. 
 
FREEMAN 

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