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Saudi Arabia's ideological battle with terrorism

Saudi Interior Minister Muhammad bin Nayef faces a local, regional and international battle to defeat al-Qaeda and related groups.
Saudi Arabia's Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef (R) speaks to his Iraqi counterpart Adnan al-Asadi during the conference of Arab Interior Ministers in Riyadh March 13, 2013. Interior ministers of the 22-nation Arab League met in the Saudi capital on Wednesday. REUTERS/Stringer (SAUDI ARABIA - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR3EX57

It's perhaps unusual for an interior minister to be in charge of foreign policy, travel to world capitals and negotiate transfers of arms to rebels in regional conflicts. But conventions often do not apply in the Arab world and certainly not in Saudi Arabia, where princes perform multiple and diverse tasks. Reports are circulating in the media that Minister of Interior Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, known for his counterterror efforts, will replace his nephew Prince Bandar bin Sultan as the man in charge of the Syrian file. Saudi sources remain unsurprisingly silent on the speculations. The prince’s task allegedly revolves around defeating President Bashar al-Assad by arming moderate Syrian rebels and fighting al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Syria. Such a specific agenda is reportedly meant to reinvigorate Saudi efforts to remain relevant in Syria, where bin Sultan's strategies have failed miserably over the last three years. Can bin Nayef achieve this rather difficult objective that would allow him to go beyond his narrow expertise as the security man who defeated al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and eventually emerge as the future monarch of Saudi Arabia?

One outcome of the war on terror was the making of "big men" who were granted extensive powers and unlimited budgets to fight the menace of terrorism, uproot its fiercest practitioners, de-radicalize its sympathizers and emerge triumphant over not only terrorists but societies that are ruled with an iron fist. Bin Nayef’s career over the last decade seems to correspond to that of the counterterror "big man." Like the terror they fight, such "big men" seek to be global. To succeed, they need to reach out to an international constituency and a web of world leaders and intelligence services. Bin Nayef visited Washington several times over the last year or so — the last such visit was on Feb. 11 — seeking dialogue with US President Barack Obama and senior officials in the State Department and the CIA. A counterterror "big man" needs to convince Washington that he knows the terrorists and their hideouts and can turn their religiously saturated discourse on its head and catch them before they unleash their terror on peaceful civilians.

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