LONDON: The British government can help tackle the root causes of extremism by strengthening its ties with civil society groups throughout the Gulf region, a London-based think-tank has said.
A report due to be published Tuesday by the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) urged the UK to support modernization projects across the GCC rather than simply focusing on sharing intelligence with the council’s members.
It encouraged London to throw its weight behind the Vision 2030 plan to modernize the Saudi economy and society.
“The UK should increase its anti-terrorism cooperation with the GCC, beyond intelligence and security information sharing, by creating more joint initiatives and collaborative programs to prevent radicalization,” said report author Najah Al-Otaibi, research fellow at the Center for the Response to Radicalization and Terrorism at HJS.
“By getting involved with more civil society initiatives — addressing the root causes and threats of terrorism, and thereby challenging ISIS’s (Daesh’s) own propaganda machine — the West can have a greater impact and lessen the need for clumsy GCC legislation which so often stifles legitimate political opposition.”
The report, entitled “Terror Overseas: Understanding the GCC Counter Extremism and Counter Terrorism Trends” warned that the “large, young, online population” of Gulf states has left them “especially vulnerable” to radicalization via the Internet.
As a result, the UK needed to show a more imaginative, long-term approach, and support efforts to address “the root causes and threats of terrorism” in the region.
The report praised the principles behind the Vision 2030 plan but said Riyadh needed to provide more details on exactly how it intended to combat radicalism in the years ahead.
Among the positive measures highlighted by the report was a 2005 online initiative launched by Saudi Arabia in response to a wave of Al-Qaeda attacks in the Kingdom. The scheme employs moderate Saudi scholars to engage with radicals over the Internet and was the first of its kind in the country.
More recently, as part of “cultural and media war against extremism,” Saudi-backed TV stations broadcast a 2017 TV series entitled “Gharabeeb Al-Soud” (“Black Crows”), which focused on the plight of women recruited by Daesh. The HJS report also said a government-run program to rehabilitate extremist prisoners in Saudi Arabia had achieved “some remarkable successes.”
The report warned GCC members against committing human rights violations and criminalizing free speech under the guise of “anti-extremism policies.” It urged the UK to continue supporting existing counter-extremism initiatives in the region while “exercising more leverage where excessive suppression of GCC citizens is concerned.”