In a statement harkening back to the war against the Soviet Union 36 years ago in Afghanistan, fifty-five Saudi Wahhabi clerics have signed a call for jihad against Russia for its military intervention in Syria. America and the West are accused of colluding with Moscow by only pretending to support the Syrian opposition since 2011. The statement is not an official document of the Kingdom, but it undoubtedly has much support in the House of Saud.
The statement calls on all Sunni Muslims to unite to defeat “tsars and Caesars” who have backed the “Christian regime” and its Alawi partners in Damascus. Russians, the “fanatical people of the cross,” are warned to remember how the Afghan mujaheddin destroyed the Soviet Union in 1989 in Afghanistan. The Russian state will suffer the same fate.
Iran is also targeted for the jihad. The Persians and their Iraqi Shiite allies—as well as Hezbollah—have aligned themselves with the Russian Orthodox Christians against Islam. All of the Safavids (the Persian dynasty that adopted Shiism as the state religion) are legitimate targets for the holy war, the statement says.
So too are America and the West for promising to help the Syrian people but never delivering anti-aircraft missiles or other sophisticated weapons. Washington feigns opposition to Moscow, the statement alleges, but is really part of the plot against Sunnis. The signatories remind their readers that President George Bush waged a “crusade” in Iraq that installed a Shiite government and accuse Washington and Moscow of being engaged in “evil scheming.”
The Sunni-Shiite war has been escalating for the last few decades but it is now boiling at a fever pitch.
The signatories include some clerics with a past history of supporting al-Qaida. None appear to be members of the Al Sheikh family, the descendants of Muhammad Ibn Abd Al Wahhab (the founder of Wahhabism and the most prominent clerical family in Saudi Arabia with the closest ties to the royals). Nonetheless, the statement reflects the views of many Saudis about Russia’s intervention to back up Bashar Assad and U.S. failure to depose him.
The statement reflects the growing intensification of sectarian extremism in the region. The Sunni-Shiite war has been escalating for the last few decades but it is now boiling at a fever pitch.
Editors’ note: Since the original publication of the post, we have added a link (Arabic) to the letter signed by 55 Saudi clerics.
[On Russia, Saudi Arabia and oil prices] This is testing out what prices everyone can live with, and it sounds like the Russians can live with prices slightly lower than what the Saudis want to live with. How durable is this Russia-Saudi agreement? They made it under some serious duress after the price drops from 2014-16, and they didn't have much choice. Do their interests align over the long term? We may begin to see the answer as they begin to chat at the G20.
[On oil prices] The question is whether they want to get crosswise with the Saudis or not. It's not friendly cooperation, especially the Saudis and the Russians. This is definitely more a marriage of convenience than love.