Why Saudi reforms are bad news for the world’s terrorists

Why Saudi reforms are bad news for the world’s terrorists
Illustration by Luis Grañena
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Updated 12 December 2019

Why Saudi reforms are bad news for the world’s terrorists

Why Saudi reforms are bad news for the world’s terrorists
  • Norman T. Roule, CEO of Pharos Strategic Consulting LLC, spoke to Arab News on the sidelines of SALT Conference in Abu Dhabi
  • Roule expressed confidence that terrorism, extremism and radicalism will decline as long as Saudi Arabia succeeds

DUBAI: Terrorism, extremism and radicalism will decline as long as Saudi Arabia’s drive toward reform succeeds. If it does not, the West will suffer.

Who says so? Norman T. Roule says so — and he should know.

A 34-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency, Roule is now one of the world’s most respected analysts of Middle East affairs.

“It’s in our interest (for the Kingdom to succeed) because of terrorism and extremism, but not just because of that,” he said.

“There are millions in the region, in the states of Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, who require assistance and a better life. This is something the region has to lead with Western support.

“It’s not America’s job to come over and rebuild these countries. It’s the region’s job, with American and international support, andthe Saudi and Emirati leadership, working with friends in Kuwait, for example, or Bahrain. This is the path forward.

“The consequences of not doing that would be terrible for the people who live in these countries, and who so desperately need a better future.”

Roule, chief executive of Pharos Strategic Consulting LLC, which focuses on the Arab Gulf states and Iran, thinks the significance of the changes he has witnessed in Saudi Arabia in the course of his many visits to the region cannot be overstated.

“I see the same strong hearts and good aspirations that I’ve seen for 35 years — the family environment within the Kingdom and the desire to have a better future,” he told Arab News on the sidelines of this week’s SALT conference in Abu Dhabi.

Saudi Arabia has a generation with access to social media, and an engagement with the world that makes all things possible.

“What’s different now is that you have such a large young population, and the population is eager to transform the country to make it more effective in a very new world,” he said.

“It’s the same new world Americans will be facing in the coming decades. It’s no different for a 30-year-old in Ohio than it is for a 30-year-old in Riyadh or Abha.”

Talking about the opportunities that he thinks young Saudis, especially women, sense in their home country, he said: “I find that not only very heart- ening, but it underscores my point: What we need most from the Middle East is not oil and not a market for weapons. We need its people’s ideas, friend- ship and assistance in developing new technologies, and there’s no reason we can’t build a better world together.”

He added: “When you talk to the people on the streets in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere in the region, you see this is possible. And our entrepreneurs, our academics and the growing tourist population who come to the Kingdom are all seeing this underway.”

He attributed these developments to the decisions taken by the Saudi leadership. Although the king and crown prince are the country’s decision-makers, Roule described the Cabinet they are assisted by as extraordinarily able.

“This is probably one of the finest, most experienced and best educated cabinets any country could aspire to,” he said.

“The Saudi people also have a generation (that has) access to social media, and an engagement with the world that makes all these things possible. Many components are making this work.”

During his latest visit to the Kingdom for the Formula E Championship, he attended the much-acclaimed Riyadh Season, where he came across the coffee shop Toqa, owned by a Saudi entrepreneur.

“This entrepreneur, who has relations with the West, has had discussions with American and European businessmen. She has a product to offer that’s enjoyable, it’s fascinating, and it shows Saudi culture,” Roule said.

“Because of Saudi Arabia’s special role in Islam, and because of its geographic position, they have a historic responsibility to lead the region in a new direction.” 

“It’s exactly the type of thing that symbolizes what Saudi Arabia can bring to the West: Culture, enjoyment, people and business.”

He said over the years, publicity regarding Saudi Arabia in the US has been dominated by the 9/11 attacks and the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Yet, Roule added, every American he knows who has been to the Kingdom recently has witnessed the many “unknown” parts that had not been opened (to the public) until recently.

These include the governorate of AlUla, one of Saudi Arabia’s archaeological gems that is home to Madain Saleh, the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage site.

“AlUla is an amazing place. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing it, and the world should come to AlUla,” Roule said, adding that the governorate is a testament to the extraordinary work done by the Ministry of Culture.

Visitors “come away saying, ‘this is a lovely place that I wish I could come back to more often’,” he said.

“The potential for tourism and the potential to become a source of regional entertainment is vast.”

Looking at the bigger Middle East picture, Roule said Saudi Arabia and the UAE have a crucial role to play due to the size of their economies, and their interest and experience in working to improve regional stability.

“Because of Saudi Arabia’s special role in Islam, and because of its geographic position, they have a historic responsibility to lead the region in a new direction,” he added.

“I believe success in Saudi Arabia, by promoting a moderate Islam, can not only push back extremism but also improve dialogue between different civilizations of the world,” he said.

“I’ve met, on a number of occasions, with Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa of the Muslim World League. He’s an extraordinary man, and his vision of Islam and of interfaith dialogue is something that can not only transform the region, but also have an impact on global society.”

But will the West change its stance vis-a-vis the Kingdom in the near future? Roule is optimistic about business people and tourists, saying social media will propel some of this change, while governments move slowly.

On the subject of Yemen, Roule cited the Masam demining program to point out the billions of dollars that the Saudis, Emiratis and Kuwaitis have spent in that country, something that is “rarely seen or talked about” in the West.

“It tells a lot about the Saudi people and the Emiratis that they’re participating in this program as well as the Yemenis,” he said.

“But the international community should be behind the demining program, to rebuild Yemen once the conflict ends,” he added.

“So I encourage greater international partnership with the Kingdom and the UAE to solve the region’s problems, because it’s in the global interest to do so.”

A new era for the Middle East could be in the works due to such changes and transformations, Roule said.

“The speed with which it will achieve all of its goals is something I can’t predict, and I’m not sure anyone else can,” he added.

“But I do know that the intent of the Saudi and Emirati leaderships is honorable, and it’s something that benefits the international community. It will make the world safer, more prosperous and more interesting.”


Fraudsters up their game, posing as bank officials on the phone in Saudi Arabia

Fraudsters up their game, posing as bank officials on the phone in Saudi Arabia
Vishing that occurs during a telephone call aims to provoke fear in the victim so that customers will be more susceptible to giving out personal, financial, or security details. (shutterstock)
Updated 46 min 3 sec ago

Fraudsters up their game, posing as bank officials on the phone in Saudi Arabia

Fraudsters up their game, posing as bank officials on the phone in Saudi Arabia
  • The Saudi Central Bank has warned bank customers, both citizens and expatriates, not to fall victim to financial frauds being perpetrated by scammers

JEDDAH: Fraudsters have developed a new scam, contacting residents in Saudi Arabia and pretending to be bank staffers requesting customer details.
A number of Arab News staff have received such calls in recent weeks. One caller spoke Urdu while two other callers posing as senior officials from the headquarters of the bank spoke in English and Arabic with a local accent.
They used phone numbers that appeared to be local numbers but upon calling back, the lines failed to connect.
The racketeers collect phone numbers of customers and ring them up, saying that their bank account or ATM card requires immediate updating. The scammers use the information provided to gain access to their bank accounts.
Speaking to Arab News, Talat Zaki Hafiz, secretary-general of the Media and Banking Awareness Committee of Saudi banks, said: “Saudi banks represented by the Media and Banking Awareness Committee have repeatedly warned bank customers not to react to stray phone calls of any kind coming from unknown sources that ask to update their banking record or personal information.” He further confirmed that banks do not request such information through phone calls or SMS messages.
Mohammed Khurram Khan, a professor of cybersecurity at the King Saud University in Riyadh, told Arab News: “Phishing, an online scam which targets users through emails where individuals are encouraged to click on a link that takes them to fraudulent sites, was troubling people. Now it’s a different kind of scam known as ‘vishing,’ over-the-phone phishing, where scammers persuade users to share their banking information by impersonating a bank official.”

HIGHLIGHT

The racketeers collect phone numbers of customers and ring them up, saying that their bank account or ATM card requires immediate updating. The scammers use the information provided to gain access to their bank accounts.

Vishing that occurs during a telephone call aims to provoke fear in the victim so that customers will be more susceptible to giving out personal, financial, or security details.
Sharing his experience Zafar Hasan, an e-learning consultant in Riyadh, said: “I received a call from someone on an unknown mobile number who introduced himself as a bank employee and told me that my ATM card was going to be blocked. It required an immediate update so I should give my Iqama number (residence permit number) and sixteen-digit ATM card number. I felt something was fishy, so I told him that I would go personally to the bank to update the card.”
The Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) has warned bank customers, both citizens and expatriates, not to fall victim to financial frauds being perpetrated by scammers.
SAMA called on bank customers to take information only from the official channels of the bodies regulating the Kingdom’s financial and investment sectors and inform the competent security authorities about such fraudulent attempts.