Showing posts with label middle east. Show all posts
Showing posts with label middle east. Show all posts

United Arab Republic (UAR)

The United Arab Republic, a union of Egypt and Syria, lasted from 1958 to 1961. As Syrian political parties on the left and right vied for power, Syria became enmeshed in a cycle of political instability and short-lived coalition governments. The Ba’ath Party, under pressure from the Syrian Communist Party, was instrumental in approaching Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt to propose a union between the two Arab nations early in 1968.

Recognizing the difficulties posed by the lack of a contiguous border, with Israel between them, and the political and economic differences between the two countries, Gamal Abdel Nasser was reluctant to join such a union. The Ba’athists, who mistakenly thought they would control the direction of the union from behind the scenes, convinced Nasser to become the leader of the union.

A February 1958 plebiscite on the union received nearly unanimous support from the citizens of both Egypt and Syria, and the union was implemented in late February. The Yemeni imam, or ruler, also joined the union, but Yemen was never fully integrated into the UAR.


Gamal Abdel Nasser served as president, and the Syrian leader Shukri al-Quwatli became vice president, but the real power rested with Egypt, which was by far the larger, more populous, and more powerful of the two nations. Shortly after the establishment of the UAR, Gamal Abdel Nasser made a tumultuous tour of Syria, where he received overwhelming popular support.

It was the apogee of pan-Arabism, but the honeymoon was short-lived. Under the terms of the union all Syrian political parties were dissolved, although the Ba’ath Party had anticipated that it would play a key role.

Gamal Abdel Nasser made a tumultuous tour of Syria,
where he received overwhelming popular support

In addition, Egyptian political and economic policies, including land reform, were instituted. Although health services and conditions for the working and urban middle classes improved the Syrian upper class, many Ba’athists and the military grew increasingly disenchanted with Nasser.

Initially Nasser’s close associate General Abd al-Hakim Amer was appointed to oversee the government in Syria, but by 1960 the former Syrian interior minister, Abd al-Hamid Sarraj, became the strongman within the administration. Syrians chafed under his heavy-handed rule.

The UAR also faced considerable opposition from conservative Arab regimes and Western nations, especially the United States. To counter Nasser’s growing strength, the Hashemite monarchs in Jordan and Iraq announced a union between their two nations, but it was never really implemented.

Saudi Arabia was also opposed to the union and feared the political shift toward the left. The United States viewed the union through the prism of the cold war and was determined to prevent possible Soviet expansion into the region.

The civil war in Lebanon and the revolution in Iraq, both in 1958, accentuated the rivalries between the progressive, leftist Arab regimes dominated by Gamal Abdel Nasser and the conservative monarchies in what has been called the Arab cold war. The West blamed Gamal Abdel Nasser for both the Lebanese civil war and the Iraqi revolution. Although Nasser supported both, he was not primarily responsible for either.

The nationalization of banks and many large businesses in the summer of 1961 created a form of state socialism that was unpopular in Syria. In reaction, army officers led a coup in September 1961 to withdraw from the union, and Gamal Abdel Nasser reluctantly agreed to the breakup.

Gamal Abdel Nasser blamed Syrian feudal elites and conservative Arab regimes, particularly Saudi Arabia, for the collapse of the union. For the remainder of the 1960s he turned increasingly to the left and to support from the Soviet Union. In Syria the breakup of the UAR allowed the Ba’ath Party gradually to become the dominant political force.

Following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Hafez al-Assad, a committed Ba’athist, seized power and established a regime that remained in power into the 21st century. Although both Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Ba’ath Party continued to advocate Arab union, no effective political or economic unions among Arab nations were formed after the collapse of the UAR.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)

United Arab Emirates (UAE) flag
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), an oil-rich Arab country, is located on the southeast side of the Arabian Peninsula. This country, bordering Oman and Saudi Arabia, comprises seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Al Fujayrah, Ras al-Khaymah, Shariqah, and Um Al Qaywayn.

Formerly known as the Trucial States, a term dating from the 19th-century agreement between British and Arab leaders, the UAE was created when six of the emirates merged in 1971; Ras al-Khaymah joined in 1972.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyanis served as president from the country’s founding until his death in 2004. His son, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, succeeded as president. The Supreme Council comprises the individual rulers of the seven emirates, and the president and vice president are elected by the council every five years. The position of the presidency is an unofficial hereditary post for the Al Nahyan family.

The council also elects the Council of Ministers and an appointed Federal National Council reviews legislation. The federal court system includes all the emirates except Dubai and Ras Al-Khaymah. All of the emirates have a mix of secular law and sharia (Islamic law)is with civil, criminal, and high courts.


The UAE is a member of the United Nations and the Arab League, and has diplomatic relationships with more than 60 countries. It plays a moderate role in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

The UAE plays a vital role in the affairs of the region because of its massive foreign development and moderate foreign policy positions. Unlike its neighbors, the UAE, under the leadership of Sheikh Zayed, promotes religious tolerance. Sheikh Zayed also encouraged foreign development and investment.

The UAE is one of the largest producers of oil, after Saudi Arabia and Iran, in the Middle East. Since its formation, the UAE has transformed from an impoverished desert country to a modern, wealthy country.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) map

Zayed invested the country’s oil revenues in hospitals, schools, and universities and gave all citizens free and universal access to these public services. He distributed free land and held majlis (traditional Arab consultation councils) that were open to the public.

Zayed was a contemporary liberal who advocated for women’s rights and for the education and participation of women in the work force. Education was one of the most significant achievements in the rapid transformation of the UAE. The country boasts numerous universities and colleges and hundreds of schools.

Hassan ‘abd Tuhan al-Turabi

Hassan  ‘abd Yang Mahakuasa al-Turabi

Hassan al-Turabi was born into a respected and educated family in the central Sudan in 1932. His father was a judge, and al-Turabi is related by marriage to Sadiq al-Mahdi, the great-grandson of the 19th-century Mahdi and a former Sudanese prime minister. He is also related by marriage to the Saudi Arabian Islamist Osama bin Laden.

As a youth, Hassan ‘abd Yang Mahakuasa al-Turabi received an Islamic education, but he also earned a law degree from Khartoum University and a doctorate in law from the Sorbonne in Paris. In the 1950s he joined the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood and later the Islamic Charter Front (ICF), an offshoot of the brotherhood. The party’s goal was the creation of an Islamic state as delineated in the Islamic Charter for an Islamic State.

The constitution, as revised by Hassan ‘abd Yang Mahakuasa al-Turabi in the 1960s, provided for the full equality of women and non-Muslims but also advocated the creation of a presidential rather than a parliamentary state. The ICF also encouraged missionary efforts to spread Islam throughout the south.


Hassan ‘abd Yang Mahakuasa al-Turabi opposed the military dictatorship of Ibrahim Abboud (r. 1958–64), who was overthrown in 1964. Turabi won a parliamentary seat in the 1965 elections. When Sadiq al-Mahdi became prime minister, Turabi’s influence increased until Mahdi’s political fortunes waned by 1968.

In 1969 Jaafar Numeiri, with the support of Sudanese communist allies, successfully overthrew the parliamentary government in a military coup d’état, and Charter Front members were arrested. Hassan ‘abd Yang Mahakuasa al-Turabi was jailed and then went into exile in Libya. Numeiri, struggling to retain power, disavowed his former communist allies and moved closer to the Islamic forces in the Sudan.

Jaafar Numeiri: 4th President of Sudan, jailed Turabi and sent him into exile.

Turabi was permitted to return in 1977 and was subsequently appointed attorney general. With Turabi’s support in 1983 Numeiri instituted sharia law in Sudan, thereby exacerbating relations with the large Christian population in the southern Sudanese provinces.

This directly contributed to an escalation in the ongoing civil war between the predominantly Muslim government in the north and the southern Christian and animist south. During this period the brotherhood’s influence in key institutions, especially schools and the military, markedly increased.

In 1985 Numeiri, who had become increasingly isolated from all his former allies, was overthrown in a bloodless coup led by General Abdel Rahman Mohammed Hassan Siwar al-Dahab.

In 1991 Turabi established the Popular Arab and Islamic People’s Congress, an umbrella organization of Islamist groups, and worked to bring Sunni and Shi’i Muslims closer together. He was elected secretary-general of the Congress in 1992. In the same year Turabi toured Europe, Canada, and the United States, speaking on behalf of the creation of liberal, nonviolent Islamic states.

During the 1990s he also offered protection to the radical Osama bin Laden after bin Laden left Saudi Arabia for Sudan. Turabi was elected to Parliament in 1996 and became speaker of Parliament under the military dictatorship of Colonel Umar Hasan al-Bashir, who had seized power in 1989.

Umar Hasan al-Bashir. He imprisoned Turabi in 2004.

But in 2004 al-Bashir had Turabi imprisoned; he was freed in 2005. After that time, Turabi adopted a far lower public profile, and although he was thought to exercise considerable political influence in the government, his exact role or impact remained unclear.

Turabi has never published a comprehensive study of his ideology, but his career has demonstrated considerable political flexibility. Under his leadership Islamist forces in the Sudan have played key roles in the Sudanese civil service, professions, and military. He also supported the export of Islamic movements to neighboring African nations in the north and east, particularly in Egypt.



Osama bin Laden was born on March 10, 1957, in Riyadh, into a family who owned a construction dynasty estimated worth $5 billion by the mid-1990s. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, they began a war in which 1 million people were killed and 5 million were sent into exile.

During the war, Osama bin Laden, then 22, lobbied his family and friends to support the cause of the Afghan freedom fighters, the mujahideen, and made several trips to Pakistan, where he continued his fundraising work.

During this time the United States also supported the cause of the mujahideen against the Soviets. The Reagan administration authorized the CIA to establish training camps for the mujahideen in Afghanistan and Pakistan and asked King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to match U.S. contributions.


King Fahd instructed the minister of intelligence, Turki al-Faisal, to raise money from private sources and Faisal, knowing of bin Laden’s efforts toward the cause, entrusted bin Laden with the task of raising money. Besides raising money for the effort, bin Laden helped encourage Arab volunteers to fight in Afghanistan against the Soviets. He kept a database of his volunteers; the word database translates to Arabic as al-Qaeda.

When the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, the United States withdrew its support for the mujahideen, and the country was plunged into chaos and civil war. When Iraq, built up as a major military power by the United States against Iran, invaded Kuwait, the United States sent thousands of troops into Saudi Arabia. The U.S.-Saudi alliance was criticized by bin Laden, who objected to the presence of U.S. troops on land sacred to Muslims.

Bin Laden began publicly criticizing the Saudi regime. As a result, he was placed under house arrest. He convinced King Fahd that he had business to take care of in Pakistan as a means of escaping the country, and eventually found refuge in Sudan with Hasan al-Turabi, the leader of the country’s Islamic Front.

While in Sudan, bin Laden opposed the presence of U.S. troops in Somalia, and al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen bombed two hotels housing American troops in transit to Somalia. Following an attack by al-Qaeda on the World Trade Center in 1993, the Saudi government froze bin Laden’s assets in the country and stripped him of his citizenship.

Meanwhile, in 1994, the Taliban (translated as "students"), a small group of graduates from madrassas (schools of Islamic learning) led by Mullah Muhammad Umar, took control of the city of Kandahar, Afghanistan. The Taliban were able to seize leaders of warring factions, and called for the city to disarm. Fatigued by two years of anarchy, the city willingly agreed to the restoration of order.

The Taliban announced that it was their duty to set up an Islamic society in Afghanistan, and gained popular support. By 1996 they had taken Kabul and established a government willing to provide sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and to accept his support of their regime.

In 2000, bin Laden was linked to the attack on the American guided missile destroyer USS Cole in Aden Harbor, Yemen, and on September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda was held responsible by the United States for the attack on the twin towers and the Pentagon. While the Taliban regime fell as a result of U.S. attacks on Afghanistan on October 10, 2001, the United States was unable to capture Osama bin Laden or destroy the Taliban.

Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the largest Arab country on the Arabian Peninsula. Bordering Jordan, Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen, Saudi Arabia has played an important strategic role in the Middle East. Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, are located in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is divided into 13 provinces, and, until the 1960s, most of the population was nomadic. Most Saudis are ethnically Arab, although some are of mixed ethnic origins. Many Arabs from neighboring countries work and live in Saudi Arabia but are not citizens. Of a population numbering approximately 26 million, 7 million are foreign citizens, mostly from South Asia. There are also a significant number of Westerners living in Saudi Arabia. All citizens are required to be Muslims.

Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz al-Saud, who assumed the throne upon the death of his half brother Fahd bin Abd al-Aziz al-Saud in 2005. The 1992 Basic Law established the system of government and the rights of citizens and provided for rule according to sharia, which is Islamic law. The Qu’ran is the constitution of the land, and there is no separation of church and state.


The country held its first municipal elections in 2005. The king is an absolute monarch whose powers are tempered only by the sharia and other Saudi traditions. The king consults with the Majlis al-Shura, or Consultative Council; the Council of Ministers; the ulema (religious leaders); and other senior members of the Saudi royal family. The Council of Ministers approves legislation, which must be compatible with sharia.

While the Basic Law provides for an independent judiciary, the king serves as the highest court. The Saudi judicial system imposes amputations of hands and feet for serious robbery, floggings for lesser crimes such as sexual deviance and drunkenness, and beheadings for more serious crimes. Religious police enforce strict social rules.

The Saudi economy is based on petroleum and gas resources, and the government controls most of the revenues. Approximately 40 percent of the economy is privatized. Saudi Arabia contains nearly 25 percent of the world’s oil reserves and is the largest exporter of petroleum in the world. Saudi Arabia has also played a central role in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

Oil production increased during the reign of King Faisal ibn Abd al-Aziz; Faisal became king following the abdication of his inept half brother King Saud ibn Abd al-Aziz. He introduced various reforms and attempted to modernize the kingdom. With the support of his wife, Queen Iffat, Faisal introduced education for females.

A devout Muslim, Faisal also worked to increase the Islamic political identity in the Arab world. After the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Saudi Arabia’s strategic importance increased, and Faisal built up the nation’s military capabilities. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Faisal moved to mix oil and politics by withdrawing Saudi oil from nations that supported Israel.

He also advocated the return of Jerusalem to Muslim rule. In 1975 Faisal was assassinated by a nephew, and his half brother, King Khaled ibn Abd al-Aziz, known for his pro–United States stance, assumed the throne. Following his death in 1982, Fahd ibn Abd al-Aziz became king.

The Saudi government supported the growth of the private sector to decrease economic dependence on oil and to increase employment opportunities. In the 1990s, water shortages hampered efforts toward agricultural self-sufficiency and the per capita income decreased from almost $25,000 in the 1980s to about $8,000 by 2000. In order to increase employment for its citizens, the government attempted to Saudize the economy by replacing foreign labor with Saudi workers.

Counterterrorism efforts dominated Saudi politics in the early 21st century. After 15 Saudi hijackers perpetrated the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the Saudi government intensified its antiterrorism campaign.

However, the future of the authoritarian monarchy remained uncertain as the Saudi government attempted to combine sweeping programs of modernization with the continuation of traditional and puritanical ways of life.

Yitzhak Rabin

Yitzhak Rabin was a key Israeli military and political leader. Born in Jerusalem in 1922, Rabin earned a degree from an agricultural college and joined the elite Palmach forces that fought in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. He became chief of staff and led the army during the stunning Israeli victory in the 1967 war.

Rabin was the Israeli ambassador to the United States from 1968 to 1973. After returning to Israel, he ran for the Knesset on the Labor Party ticket. He vied with his rival Shimon Peres for the position of prime minister after Golda Meir’s government fell and defeated Peres for the leadership position.

Rabin served as prime minister from 1974 to 1977 and was instrumental in rebuilding the army after the 1973 war (Yom Kippur War). He also signed the initial disengagement agreement with Egypt over the Sinai Peninsula. Following reports of his wife having had, under Israeli law, an illegal bank account in the United States, Rabin stepped down as prime minister.

For much of his military career, Rabin was a hard-liner with regard to the Palestinians and Arab nations. He advocated the use of strong force to crush the Palestinian Intifada when it erupted in the Occupied Territories (the Gaza Strip and the West Bank) in 1987. Rabin was again elected prime minister in 1992.

Following protracted secret negotiations, he agreed to the 1993 Oslo accords and signed a much-publicized agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), represented by Yasir Arafat, in a ceremony hosted by then president Bill Clinton on the White House lawn. Under the agreement the Israelis agreed to a gradual pullout from selected portions of the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for full recognition by the PLO.

The agreement was opposed by both Israeli and Palestinian extremists and hard-liners. In 1994 Rabin signed a peace treaty with King Hussein of Jordan, with whom—in contrast to Arafat—he had cordial relations. Rabin was awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize along with Peres and Arafat.

Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, an Israeli fanatic who opposed the settlement with the Palestinians, in 1995. The assassination shocked Israeli society but it also reflected the deep divisions within Israel over the exchange of peace for land.

Sayyid Qutb

Sayyid Qutb

Sayyid Qutb was born in an Egyptian village in 1906. Although the family was poor, Qutb’s father was educated and was an early supporter of the Egyptian nationalist movement. As a boy Qutb attended the local religious school (kuttab), where he reputedly had memorized the Qu’ran before his teenage years.

He attended a teacher’s college in Cairo and in 1933 earned a degree from Dar al-Ulam, the prestigious secular Egyptian university established in the late 19th century. After graduation Qutb worked for the Ministry of Education. A prolific writer, Qutb wrote fiction, poetry, and news articles during the 1930s.

Qutb studied for a master’s degree in education in the United States on a scholarship from 1948 to 1950. Qutb’s enmity toward the West seems to date from his stay in the United States, where he was infuriated by the racism, materialism, and casual social exchanges between the sexes that he observed there.


After traveling through Europe, he returned to Egypt and resigned from the Ministry of Education. In 1953 he joined the Muslim Brotherhood and was appointed director of the brotherhood’s propaganda section.

In the early 1950s Qutb may have been the brotherhood’s go-between with Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Free Officers Group; he initially supported the 1952 revolution and the overthrow of the corrupt monarchy of King Farouk.

But after Nasser refused to institute an Islamic state, the brotherhood opposed him. After a failed assassination attempt on Nasser in 1954, members of the brotherhood were persecuted, and Qutb was imprisoned and tortured.

He observed other brotherhood members being tortured and killed and concluded that violence was justifiable to overthrow Muslim leaders and regimes that were unjust and did not adhere to the sharia and Islamic precepts.

While in prison Qutb wrote a commentary on the Qu’ran and an Islamic manifesto, Ma’alim fi al-Tariq (Milestones). He became more radical as the repression of the brotherhood intensified.

Qutb condemned Western civilization as primitive and materialistic and argued that Muslim leaders who adopted or cooperated with the West were in conflict with Islamic culture and tradition. He warned of jahiliyyah (ignorance), which he believed was imposed by the adoption of Western culture.

He rejected the ideologies of Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, and Karl Marx, asserting that Marxism resulted in the enslavement of mankind. Qutb held an ultraconservative view of the role of women in society. He argued that although the Qu’ran mandated the equality of all humans the role of women was to maintain family values, with men as the head of households.

For Qutb the Qu’ranic text, and to a lesser degree the Hadith, were the sources of all law; be believed that the Qu’ran provided a comprehensive guideline for the conduct of all aspects of human life. Authority emanated from God and the Qu’ran; therefore jihad, or holy war against the modernization of the West and against unjust, corrupt Muslim rulers was the duty of true believers.

He advocated the creation of committed cadres of devout believers to teach Muslim youth and to struggle against "ignorant" or unjust regimes in the Islamic world as well as against the West.

Qutb was released from prison in 1964, but shortly thereafter was imprisoned again on charges of sedition and terrorism. Although in Milestones he had fallen just short of advocating the overthrow of Nasser’s regime, he was found guilty after a public trial. Qutb was executed in 1966 and promptly became a martyr for members of the brotherhood and a myriad of breakaway Islamist organizations.

For Qutb a theocracy was an ideal, and he envisioned the creation of a new society and government. He was a major force in 20th century Islamist movements. His books were translated into many languages and influenced a wide variety of contemporary Islamist movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, and Iran. Qutb’s brother taught in Saudi Arabia, where he also influenced future Islamist radicals.

The Egyptian Ayman Zawahiri followed Qutb’s precepts and in turn became a theoretical mentor to Osama bin Laden. Qutb’s works have also remained a major force for the Muslim Brotherhood, an important factor in Egyptian politics until the present day.



Al-Qaeda (Arabic for "the base") is a worldwide Sunni Islamist militant insurgent group. Founded by Osama bin Laden in 1988 in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda is now dedicated to driving the United States out of the Middle East specifically and out of Muslim countries generally, to destroying Israel, and to toppling pro-Western governments in Islamic countries and replacing them with Islamic fundamentalist governments.

These three goals lead to the organization’s ultimate goal, which is the reestablishment of the caliphate, a nation uniting Muslims and spanning the Islamic world.

The organization is believed to be highly redundant, both financially and operationally. While the various cells that make up the organization are accountable to higher-level leadership, operations appear to be left to the individual cells, while higher levels provide material and logistical support.


Ideas and targets coming from the upper echelons filter down to the individual cells responsible for coordinating and executing the attacks. This redundancy increases the organization’s resiliency; when cells are destroyed or captured, the losses can be contained more effectively than if al-Qaeda were a more linear organization.

Al-Qaeda’s training camps are likewise well organized. The extent of the training and organization is best seen in the group’s multivolume Encyclopedia of Jihad. Several thousand pages in length, the encyclopedia details the bureaucratic workings of the group.

Covered topics include guerrilla warfare, assembling booby traps, tactics for fighting against armored or aerial combat units, urban warfare, intelligence security, data gathering, and chemical weapons tactics.

The group has been linked to or accused of taking part in terrorist acts across the globe beginning in the early 1990s. A list of the attacks against U.S. interests attributed to al-Qaeda includes the 1992 hotel bombings in Aden, Yemen; the February 6, 1993, bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City; attacks carried out on U.S. military forces in Somalia in 1993 and 1994; the June 25, 1996, truck bombing of the Khobar Towers residential compound in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia; the near-simultaneous bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on August 7, 1998; the suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen on October 12, 2000; and the September 11, 2001, airline hijackings and attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

The United States is not the group’s only target, however. Al-Qaeda also is linked to the April 2002 bombing of the El Ghriba synagogue in Tunisia; the October 2002 nightclub bombing in Bali, Indonesia; the November 2003 bombings of synagogues and a British bank in Istanbul, Turkey; the March 11, 2004, train bombings in Madrid, Spain; and the July 7, 2005, London transit bombings.

Al-Qaeda is most often represented and understood in regard to its founder, Osama bin Laden (aka Abu Abdallah). Bin Laden was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on March 10, 1957. When he was six months old, his father, Muhammad bin Laden, the Yemeni immigrant who established the Saudi Binladin Group, relocated to Jeddah, where Osama grew up.

The Soviet Union’s December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan galvanized the Muslim world in defense of Afghanistan and provided the West with a proxy war through which to combat the Soviet Union. Bin Laden, who had studied economics at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, was one of many spurred to action in defense of Afghanistan.

He made his first trip to neighboring Pakistan in 1980, where he sought ways to contribute to the jihad. Bin Laden made several monetary contributions to the mujahideen, but quickly began looking for other ways to contribute.

Bin Laden joined with Palestinian cleric Abdullah Azzam to found the Services Bureau (Makhtab al-Khidimat, or MAK) in Pakistan in 1984. Azzam, who had taught at King Abdul Aziz University while bin Laden studied there, was indispensable in recruiting.

In addition to providing relief to war victims in Afghanistan, the MAK organized and coordinated the volunteers, donations, and weapons coming into Pakistan and Afghanistan in support of the jihad.

Azzam believed that the young Arab men streaming to Pakistan to participate in the jihad should be scattered among the Afghan functions. Azzam felt that such a mixing of Arabs among the local forces would reap benefits both in Afghanistan and abroad.

Bin Laden saw the situation differently and sought to create his own separate Arab fighting force. He believed that such a force would be a superior fighting unit compared to local Afghan forces. Bin Laden broke with Azzam and established training camps for his Arab force near Jaji, in eastern Afghanistan.

From this base, which they dubbed al-Masadah (the Lion’s Den), bin Laden’s "Arab Afghans" engaged the Soviets in the battle of Jaji in the spring of 1987. It was at this time that bin Laden grew closer to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) and one of its most prominent members, Ayman al Zawahiri, who would become bin Laden’s deputy in al-Qaeda.

When the Soviets announced their planned withdrawal in April 1988, bin Laden began preparations to perpetuate and expand his forces. He began by moving his unit to the area around Jalalabad, Afghanistan, which became known as al-Qaeda; bin Laden would later say that the name remained with the group by accident. Following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia.

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, bin Laden, who had consistently expressed his contempt for the "atheist" Hussein and his Ba’athist government, approached the Saudi king with a plan to use his Arab Afghans to drive Hussein’s forces from Kuwait.

The Saudi government sought to restrict his movements within the kingdom. Bin Laden obtained permission in early 1991 to travel to Pakistan on the pretext of checking in on some business interests and never returned to Saudi Arabia.

In early 1992 bin Laden and al-Qaeda moved to Sudan, where they remained until 1996. Al-Qaeda and the National Islamic Front (NIF), the ruling party in Sudan, enjoyed a symbiotic relationship.

The NIF granted al-Qaeda a safe haven and freedom of movement, while bin Laden made substantial investments in Sudanese industry and agriculture and undertook several large-scale construction projects to develop the infrastructure and agricultural and industrial production capacity of Sudan.

While in the Sudan, bin Laden directed his forces in actions against the communist government of South Yemen. The Arab Afghans also were sent to Bosnia, where they had a substantial impact on that conflict. Bin Laden dispatched al-Qaeda forces into Somalia in response to the buildup of U.S. forces.

In December 1992 President George H. W. Bush sent 28,000 U.S. troops into Somalia on a humanitarian mission in support of United Nations (UN) relief efforts. Bin Laden and al-Qaeda dismissed all humanitarian claims and interpreted the U.S. presence as a way of putting pressure on Islamic regimes and as an effort to establish another base from which to attack Muslim nations.

Al-Qaeda regarded Yemen as a major victory. First, even though the hotels bombed in Yemen did not house U.S. personnel, the transfer of U.S. troops out of Yemen shortly after the hotel bombings indicated to al-Qaeda that they had been successful in driving the Americans from Yemen.

Bin Laden also claimed that the militarily superior U.S. forces were driven from Somalia by a poor, ill-armed people whose only strength was their faith. In his 1996 aliran declaring war against the United States, bin Laden claimed that the most important lesson to be learned from Somalia was that the United States would flee at the first sign of resistance.

The year 1994 was a watershed for bin Laden. He survived two assassination attempts and in April was stripped of his Saudi citizenship in response to the growing threat he represented to the regime.

A jawaban step in his radicalization came in August, when the Saudi government imprisoned clerics Salman al Awdah and Safar al Hawali, who were among the first and most prominent of the clerics circulating cassettes of their sermons against the continued U.S. presence in the Arabian Peninsula, and whose imprisonment bin Laden would later mention in his 1996 fatwa.

Bin Laden and al-Qaeda left Sudan in 1996 and returned to Afghanistan, a move prompted by several factors. In addition to the assassination attempts, bin Laden faced international pressure on the NIF and its de facto leader, Hassan al-Turabi.

The United States and Saudi Arabia sought to have bin Laden silenced and his activities curtailed, and al-Turabi found it increasingly difficult to maneuver and protect bin Laden.

When Sudan started pressuring bin Laden, he returned to Jalalabad. There bin Laden and al-Qaeda entered into a symbiotic relationship with the Taliban ("the students"), who were in the process of consolidating their control over much of the country.

This relationship was similar to that with the NIF in Sudan; bin Laden and his organization gained considerable freedom of movement and protection, while his benefactors benefited from agricultural, infrastructural, and industrial investment and development.

It was during the period between bin Laden’s return to Afghanistan and the 1998 aliran that civilians became targets. Both the 1996 aliran and bin Laden’s 1997 CNN interview spoke of civilians as collateral damage, not as legitimate targets in and of themselves.

By 1998 this had changed, and the aliran issued February 22, 1998, explicitly stated that Americans and their allies, civilians and military alike, were now al-Qaeda targets anywhere they could be found.

Communications from al-Qaeda repeatedly stress their belief that Western governments oppress Muslims and Muslim nations and are engaged in a war against Islam. Bin Laden describes the presence of U.S. forces in "the Land of the Two Holy Places" (Saudi Arabia) as the greatest insult and threat faced by the Islamic world since Muhammad’s lifetime.

In addition to decrying U.S. support for Israel, the group condemns U.S. support for what it considers "apostate regimes", particularly Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden also points to the sanctions imposed on Iraq following the Gulf War as one reason to reject any human rights arguments coming from the West.

Al-Qaeda’s idea of the ummah (community of believers; the Islamic world) in opposition to the world derives from the teachings of two prominent Islamic scholars.

Ibn Taymiyyah (1263–1328) was a 14th-century Islamic scholar who taught that jihad is the duty of each individual Muslim when Islam is attacked, that the Qu’ran should be interpreted literally, and that all Muslims should read the Qu’ran and Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet) for themselves and not rely on a learned clergy. A second influence on al-Qaeda was Sayyid Qutb (1906–66), an Islamist associated with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

Describing the world as existing between states of belief (Islam) and unbelief (jahiliyya), Qutb condemned Western and Christian civilization. Urging jihad against all enemies of Islam, Qutb believed that there is no middle ground and that all Muslims must take to jihad when Islam is threatened.

These influences are apparent in al-Qaeda’s activities and rhetoric. Bin Laden believes that since the Christians, Jews, and Hindus have nuclear weapons, it is only fitting that Muslims obtain them as well.

Bin Laden also echoes Ibn Taymiyyah in his assertions that the Saudi government is aiding the "crusaders" in plundering the wealth of the ummah, the vast Middle Eastern oil reserves, and by acting to keep oil prices below fair-market value.

Al-Qaeda’s leadership cadre is well educated. Bin Laden has a university degree in economics, and his inner circle contains doctors; agricultural, civil, and electrical engineers; and computer scientists, but no religious scholars.

Rahman’s aliran echoed the call to attack the United States and its allies—civilian and military, anywhere in the world—and contained exhortations to sink ships, shoot down airplanes, and burn corporations and businesses.

Two separate attacks on U.S. warships were made in subsequent years, with the USS Cole attack following an unsuccessful attack on the USS The Sullivans one year earlier. On September 11, 2001, the plot masterminded by Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who were arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and 2003, respectively, proceeded along the lines of Rahman’s fatwa.

Muammar Qaddafi

Muammar Qaddafi

Muammar Qaddafi was born in the desert region of Sidra (Sirte), Libya, in 1942. He was the youngest child from a nomadic Bedouin family. Qaddafi attended the Sebha preparatory school in Fezzan, where he formed a secret society, the Free Officers, patterned on Gamal Abdel Nasser’s group in Egypt that championed the causes of pan-Arabism and Arab socialism.

In 1961 Qaddafi was expelled from Sebha because of his political activism. In April 1963 Qaddafi became a trainee officer at the military academy in Benghazi and began to work his way up through the army officer corps.

In 1966 he volunteered to go and study with the Royal Corps of Signals in Britain, where he learned radio electronics and telecommunications. He was able to develop a code that the secret Free Officers group used to maintain contact with one another throughout Libya.


Qaddafi and his close friends from Sebha became the core of the revolutionary group that overthrew King Idris and removed Italian influence from Libya. Qaddafi called off the projected coup against the king twice before going ahead with it on September 1, 1969.

While Idris was out of the country, the Free Officers arrested the king’s leading supporters in a bloodless coup. The first objective was to take control of the main barracks and the radio station. After securing the radio station, Qaddafi gave an impromptu speech announcing that the monarchy had ended and that Libya had been given back to the people.

Qaddafi was appointed president of the Revolutionary Command Council, the main governing body of the country. The Free Officers promptly refused to renew agreements with Britain and the United States for their military bases in Libya; they also emphasized Arab unity.

They nationalized most banks and other business and declared Islam the religion of the state while stating that religious freedom would be accorded to all other faiths. In the midst of the cold war, the Western nations,—particularly the United States—were hostile to these changes and Qaddafi’s fiery brand of Arab nationalism.

In hopes of creating a pan-Arab state, Qaddafi proclaimed the Federation of Arab Republics (Libya, Egypt, and Syria) in 1972, but the three countries could not agree on specific terms. In 1973 Qaddafi talked for the first time about his third universal theory, an economic and political philosophy that was neither capitalist nor communist.

At this time he also nationalized all foreign petroleum assets. Increased revenues from petroleum during the 1970s enabled Qaddafi to initiate massive programs of domestic development and to build a modern infrastructure.

At the same time, Libyan forces occupied the 60-mile-wide Aouzou Strip on the border of Chad. The skirmishes between Libya and Chad continued sporadically for years to come. Qaddafi gave massive amounts of financial aid to African nations and was a prominent figure in the Organization of African Unity.

In 1974 Qaddafi gave up all his political and administrative functions, but still remained head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. On March 2, 1974, Qaddafi proclaimed that Libya was to be known as the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahariya. He subsequently stepped down from all public offices but remained the real ruler of Libya from behind the scenes.

In 1975, Qaddafi published the first of three documents called The Green Book, which expounded his personal philosophy and political belief translated into a aktivitas of action. The Green Book became part of every Libyan’s life and was studied in schools; extracts were broadcast daily, and its slogans were publicized throughout the nation.

Part one of the book, The Solution of the Problem of Democracy—The Authority of the People, concentrated on the political structure of Libya and rejected the concept of parliamentary democracy.

Part two, published in 1977 and entitled The Solution of the Economic Problem—Socialism, discussed the weaknesses of both communism and capitalism. Part three, published in 1981 and entitled The Social Basis of the Third Universal Theory, dealt with a wide range of issues including nationalism and the status of minorities and women.

Qaddafi’s hostility toward Israel and the West brought him closer to the Soviet Union. Western governments also blamed him for a series of terrorist attacks against civilian targets.

Gaddafi at the 12th Summit of the African Union, February 2009

In 1981 U.S. and Libyan air forces clashed over the Gulf of Sidra. Hoping to stop terrorist attacks, President Ronald Reagan authorized a bombing raid to assassinate Qaddafi in 1986. Although his adopted daughter died in the attack, Qaddafi survived this and other attempts on his life.

During the 1990s, Qaddafi began to adopt a more moderate approach to the West and provided financial compensation for some terrorist victims in order to repair diplomatic relations.

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was established in 1964 under Ahmed Shukairy to represent Palestinian national demands for self-determination. In 1964 the Palestine National Council (PNC, or parliament) of 350 representatives met in East Jerusalem and voted on the Palestine National Charter, or declaration of independence, that declared historic Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian Arabs. The charter has been amended several times.

In 1968 the charter added that "armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine". In 1988 the PLO under Yasir Arafat’s orders agreed to drop the use of terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and essentially accept the establishment of the independent state of Palestine in the Occupied Territories of the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank—the so-called mini-state solution.

Although some Palestinian groups opposed Arafat on these issues—the changes were agreed upon by the Palestine National Council, dominated by pro-Fatah Arafat supporters. Fatah (the Palestine National Liberation Movement) continued to dominate the PLO until 2006.


After the Arab defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Shukairy stepped down as chairman of the PLO, and Yasir Arafat, the leader of Fatah, the largest guerrilla group, was elected chairman.

Arafat remained the leader of the Palestinian national movement until his death in 2004. The PLO constantly struggled to remain independent from any Arab government and often found it difficult to steer a neutral course among rival Arab governments.

Secular and all-inclusive, the PLO was an umbrella organization of some 10 different Palestinian groups, including the Marxist-Leninist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), under Dr. George Habash, and the Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PDFLP), led by Naif Hawatmeh; the Arab Liberation Front, supported by Iraq; and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command, a PFLP splinter group supported by Syria and sometimes Libya.

The Palestine National Council operated until the 1993 Oslo Accords as a government in exile. The PNC comprised over 300 members, including fighters, union members, students, and women. The Palestine Central Council acted as an advisory board of approximately 60 representatives from all the various factions.

The Executive Committee ran the PLO on a daily basis and comprised 15 members. In contrast to many other Arab governments, the PLO was highly democratic and engaged in lively and often public debates about strategies and tactics.

The Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) was the PLO’s military wing and was often made up of fedayeen (self-sacrificers). By the 1970s the PLA had an estimated 10,000 fighters based mostly in Lebanon and Syria.

After the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon the PLA was forced to scatter to a number of Arab countries. After the establishment of the Palestine Authority (PA) under the 1993 Oslo Accords, many soldiers were subsumed under the police force.

The Palestine National Fund was the PLO’s economic arm. The fund was financed by donations from Palestinians in exile as well as taxes levied on Palestinians working in some Arab nations such as Libya. Individual Arab governments, such as oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, also provided aid. Those regimes cut off aid after the PLO supported Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the First Gulf War.

After the 1967 war, some groups within the PLO endorsed terrorist attacks on civilians. The PFLP simultaneously skyjacked four planes, landing them at a remote airstrip in Jordan in 1970; this incident precipitated "Black September", when the Jordanian army attacked and defeated Palestinian forces and ousted the PLO, which then moved its base of operations to Lebanon.

Attacks on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics followed in 1972. The cycle of violence escalated as PLO groups launched raids inside and outside of Israel and Israel assassinated Palestinian leaders in the Middle East and Europe. As a result many innocent civilians on both sides were killed and wounded.

Within the Arab world the PLO was recognized as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Although it was condemned as a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States, the PLO gradually gained international recognition, and, once it renounced terrorism and recognized Israel’s right to exist, even Israel and the United States entered into both public and secret negotiations with it.

The PLO also established an extensive network of social services, including schools, orphanages, and hospitals. The Palestine Red Crescent was active in providing health and emergency care. SAMED provided an economic infrastructure of small businesses, workshops, and factories manufacturing textiles and even office furniture in Lebanon and Syria.

Many of these institutions were destroyed in the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. In the 1970s the PLO also sponsored some agricultural cooperatives in Sudan, Somalia, and other African nations. It also sponsored art and cultural events.

The Palestine Research Center, based in Beirut, focused on collecting materials and publishing books and articles on Palestinian history in order to preserve its cultural heritage. The center was also destroyed, and materials were taken by the Israelis in the 1982 war. The PLO also maintained information bureaus and had diplomatic representatives in major world capitals.

In the midst of the 1987 Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, in the occupied territories, a rival Islamist organization, Hamas, emerged to challenge Fatah’s leadership. Financed by devout Muslims, especially in conservative Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Hamas prospered first among poor Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip.

Because it competed with the PLO, Israel initially ignored Hamas but subsequently found that in many ways it proved a more dangerous enemy. When the PLO, in spite of concessions to Israel, failed to achieve a viable Palestinian state, many more young Palestinians who had grown up under Israeli military occupation joined Hamas.

When the Palestine Authority was established in the territories evacuated by the Israeli military in 1994, Arafat became the leader of the PA; he won a clear-cut majority as president in open and fair elections in 1996.

However, the PA leaders, most of whom were members of Fatah who had spent years outside the Occupied Territories, were also accused of corruption and inefficiency. After Arafat’s death Mahmud Abbas was elected president in 2005.

Fatah dominated the Palestinian parliament until it was defeated by the Islamist Hamas party in the 2006 elections and Ismail Haniyeh became prime minister. As the two main political forces—Fatah and Hamas—competed for power and the Israeli occupation of most of the territories continued, the future of the PLO remained uncertain.