Brothels and bombs in Saudi Arabia
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - The suicide bomb attack at the Muhaya residential compound in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh on November 9 in which at least 17 people were killed - most of them foreign Arabs - was neither an episode of global jihadi terrorism nor part of a conspiracy to destabilize the House of Saud.
A Pakistani undercover intelligence operator who recently returned from Riyadh told Asia Times Online that the attack was in fact the result of a deep divide within Saudi society between strict religious conservatives with little exposure to the outside world, and a more "liberal" element with the money and power to indulge in restricted activities.
The compound attacked on November 9 was inhabited mainly by Lebanese, Palestinians and Egyptians, and it had earned notoriety as a "pleasure ground" for Saudi "playboys" in a country in which prostitution is outlawed. Apparently, some of the female residents of the compound were well known for their "exotic erotica", for which they were showered with money and gifts.
According to an Associated Press report, "Muhaya had a coffee shop where residents of both sexes chatted over water pipes and watched foreign movies and other entertainment on a big screen television. It was located next to a pool where women swam in bikinis."
The goings-on in the compound were seemingly known to the authorities, including agents of the Saudi religious police - the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice - but nothing had been done about it, much to the anger of conservatives who wanted to "eliminate the evil in their society" and what they called the "Arab brothel of Riyadh".
It was as a result of this anger that the conservatives decided to bomb the complex, according to the Pakistani intelligence agent.
Initially, after the attack, several conservative groups stepped up their calls in support of the enforcement of strict rules in the country, but under immense pressure and the house arrest of two leading clerics by the Saudi government, these segments condemned "these acts of terror". The Saudi government has officially blamed al-Qaeda, even though the group is highly unlikely to be the culprit.
But though the motives behind the Riyadh bomb blast were local and social, not political and global, it shows possible problems ahead:
In the past, dissatisfaction within the ranks of the conservatives has occurred, but it has been papered over. In the era of mass communication, though, such cracks will become increasingly difficult to hide.
The conservative elements in the past have embodied a religious ideology, to which has now been added a hatred for the West.
The divide within the House of Saud, in which some factions support reforms and others do not, is as wide as ever.
People have started taking the law into their own hands.
The "pleasure center" at the Muhaya compound was not the only one of its kind in the country. More trouble can be expected.
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