The Peninsula states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Oman are under growing pressure from outspoken critics who use the language and authority of Islam in these overwhelmingly conservative Muslim societies to call for political and economic reform. The rise of a radically activist Islamic politics predates the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, but Sunni and Shia Muslim radicals received significant boosts from the establishment of Islamic government in Tehran and, more recently, from the Gulf War in 1990-91.
Regional specialists from the government, the academic community, and the private sector debated the impact of radicalized Islamic politics on the regimes and U.S. interests in recent roundtables at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS). They agreed that Islamic radicals throughout the region have common perceptions of the causes of their societies' ills. These include dissatisfaction with ruling families that are deemed unfit to rule; deep frustration over diminishing economic entitlements, rising unemployment, the inability of the traditional tribal, patriarchal system to provide for a population that is increasingly younger, poorer, and larger; and the sense that traditional government by tribal consensus no longer works.
The specialists noted that many radical groups agree on common goals, such as the establishment of "pure" Islamic government, rule by religious (sharia) law, the elimination of foreign (read U.S.) influence, and the concept of jihad as a political as well as a personal struggle. The radicals do not, however, agree on tactics. In some countries, like Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE, more moderate Islamists are able to push their agendas within the bounds of the political systems; in Kuwait, Islamists have been elected to the National Assembly and openly challenge the government on policy issues. They are questioning, for the first time, the Al Sabahs' failure to defend the country against Iraq, its expenditures of money invested in the special Reserve Fund for Future Generations, and corruption. By contrast, in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Oman, virtually all Islamic radicals are seen as a threat to be outlawed and contained, by force if necessary.
Several recent developments in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Oman raise the specter of violent change and potential efforts to disrupt regime-U.S. ties.
The November 13, 1995 bombing at SANG headquarters in Riyadh in which five Americans died. Three previously unknown groups -- the Tigers of the Gulf, the Ansar Allah, and the Islamic Movement for Change -- claimed responsibility for the attacks and threatened to continue them "until the departure of the last American soldier" from Saudi Arabia.
Recurrent unrest in Bahrain, including street demonstrations, bombings, and arson fires. In January, following several days of protests, the government arrested a leading Shia cleric and several hundred supporters allegedly for plotting to destabilize the regime. Dissident demands focus on economic reform, restoration of the parliament dissolved in 1975, and an end to political and economic discrimination against the majority Shia community. The U.S. Navy (NAVCENT) has extensive facilities here with 500-600 military and civilian personnel on shore. No U.S. interests have been directly threatened yet but two luxury hotels have been bombed.
The discovery of clandestine Muslim Brotherhood cells in Oman and the UAE which were allegedly plotting the overthrow of the Qaboos regime in Muscat. Muscat, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai allow the United States access to facilities and provide local support.
The political system of Islam is based on the three principles of towhid (Oneness with Allah), risala (Prophethood), and khilifa (Caliphate). Towhid means that one Allah alone is the Creator, Sustainer, and Master of the universe and of all that exists in it- organic or inorganic. He alone has the right to command or forbid, and worship and obedience are due to him alone. The Islamics believe that it is not for them to decide the aim or purpose of our existence or to set the limits of our worldly authority; nor does anyone else have the rights to make these decisions for them. These rights rest only with Allah. This principle of the Oneness with Allah makes meaningless the concept of the legal and political sovereignty of human beings. No individual, family, class or race can set themselves above Allah. Allah alone is the ruler and his commandments constitute the law of Islam. Risala is the medium in which Islamics receive the law of Allah. They have received two things from this source: the Qur'an (the book in which Allah has expounded his law), and the authoritative interpretation and exemplification of that book by the prophet Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him), through word and dead, in his capacity as the representative of Allah. The Qur'an laid down the broad principles on which human life should be based and the Prophet of Allah, in accordance with these principles, established a model system of Islamic life. The combination of these two elements is called the shari'a (law). Khilifa means "representation" Man, according to Islam, is the representative of Allah on earth. Khilifa also means that no individual or dynasty or class can be the law: the authority of Khilfa is bestowed on the whole of any community which is ready to fulfil the conditions of representation after subscribing to the principles of Towhid and risala. Such a society carries the responsibility of the Khilafa as a whole and each one of its individuals shares in it.
This is the point where democracy begins in Islam. Every individual in an Islamic society enjoys the rights and powers of the caliphate of Allah and in this respect all individuals are equal. No-one may deprive anyone else of his rights and powers. The agency for running the affairs of the state will be formed by agreement with these individuals, and the authority of the state will only be an extension of the powers of the individuals delegated to do it. Their opinion will be decisive in the formation of the government, which will be run with their advice and in accordance with their wishes. Whoever gains their confidence will undertake the duties and obligations of the caliphate on their behalf; and when he loses this confidence he will have to step down. In this respect, the political system of Islam is as perfect a dorm of democracy as there can be. What distinguishes Islamic democracy from Western democracy, therefor, is that the latter is based on the concept of popular sovereignty, while the former rests on the principle of popular khilafa. In Western democracy, the people are sovereign; in Islam sovereignty is vested in Allah and the people are his caliphs or representatives. In the former the people make their own; in the latter they have to follow and the laws given by Allah through his Prophet. In one the government undertakes to fulfil the will of the people; in the other the government and the people have to fulfil the will of Allah.
The Holy Qur'an clearly states that the aim and purpose of this state is the establishment, maintenance, and development of those virtues which the Creator wishes human life to be enriched by and the prevention and eradication of those evils in human life which he finds abhorrent. The Islamic state is intended neither solely as an instrument of political administration nor for the fulfillment of the collective will of any particular set of people; rather, Islam places a high ideal before the state for the achievement of which it must use all the means at its disposal. This ideal is that the qualities of purity, beauty, goodness, virtue, success and prosperity, which Allah wants to flourish in the life of his people, should be engendered and developed and that all kinds of exploitations, injustice and disorder which, in the sight of Allah, are ruinous for the world and detrimental to the life of his creatures, should be suppressed and prevented. Islam gives us a clear outline of its moral system by stating positively the desired virtues and the undesired evils. Keeping this outline in view, the Islamic state can plan its welfare program in every age and in any environment. The constant demand made by Islam is that the principles of morality must be observed at all costs and in all walks of life. Hence, it lays down as an unalterable policy that the state should base its policies on justice, truth and honesty. It is not prepared, under any circumstances, to tolerate fraud, falsehood and injustice for the sake of political, administrative or national expediency. Whether it be relations between the rulers and the ruled within the state, or the relations of the state with other states, precedence must always be given to truth, honesty, and justice. Islam imposes similar obligations on the state and the individual: to fulfill all contracts and obligations; to have uniform standards in dealings; to remember obligation along with rights and not to forget the rights of others when expecting them to fulfil their obligations; to use power…