What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Charities, terror, horror, error

Via the Terrorism Finance blog I became aware of this interview with Alex Alexiev, prepared in the wake of the recent U.S. decision to name the al-Haramain Foundation of Saudi Arabia (the whole of it, not just some branches as before) a sponsor of terrorism. I'm no apologist for the Saudi Kingdom, that's no part of my job, but Alexiev does appear to me to go out of the realm of reality with some of the claims he makes.
Of course, Saudi Arabia is pretty relevant with regards to whether international efforts to consolidate the situation in Iraq, and to turn it around decisively in Afghanistan, are concerned. And of course it's worth to know how the Saudi charity system works. Saudi Arabia is one of the major aid donors in Afghanistan after all. Alexiev takes anxiety over this relevance a little too far. For example, contrary to what he inaccurately says, Saudi Arabia as such is not a hostile state really - though Alexiev says it's a "sworn enemy" of the U.S. If Saudi Arabia, as a sworn enemy, would be capable of having feelings along the likes of a unitary actor, it probably wouldn't feel like selling all that oil to the U.S. and other Western countries.
If Saudi efforts to control charity financing more tightly would be entirely staged and Saudis would make a sport of lying all the time, "lying blatantly" as Alexiev claims, Osama bin Laden wouldn't have been so worried about the effects of similar efforts already way before 2001. Measures gradually made the regime governing the operation of charities stricter over the last decade and a half, since the mid-1990s. At stake is a sum of several billion dollars every year, of which several hundred million dollars find their place for purposes deemed "appropriate" outside the country.
The concern is not that the Saudi state might hand out a load of money to terrorists queuing up for their monthly allowance, but that a great sum might still find its way out of the kingdom, in spite of official efforts to stop this, into hostiles' hands. One feels that through informal transfers and clandestine, radical charities this might still be possible, sometimes by assistance from above-the-surface organisations or members of Saudi nobility. The royal family is not in a position to fully object to this in the name of raison d'état.
In fact, this interaction is somewhat similar in terms of its basic dynamics to what I once described (here and here) in Pakistan's case, theorising of how a fragmented security sector and its factions might work. In this case the phenomenon occurs on a smaller scale, but with no less significance. A major difference is that in Saudi Arabia, family ties make the picture much more blurred in a way within the security sector, compared to Pakistan (e.g. the boundaries of the security sector may be less clear, or they may be more difficult to enforce). On the other hand this also brings in an element of added "social control," i.e. family control in actuality, which might mitigate processes of fragmentation and limit the possibility of how rogue one can go in the kingdom.

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