Juhayman al-Utayibi in captivity after the ending of the siege
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the “Siege of Mecca”. This involved the seizing of Mecca’s Grand Mosque, the holiest shrine in Islam, on the first day of a new Muslim Century by a group of zealots led by Juhayman al-Utaybi.
The insurgents declared that the Mahdi or “Redeemer of Islam” had arrived in the form of one Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani. They also had the objective of overthrowing the House of Saud on the grounds that they had compromised the strict tenets of the Wahhabi creed originally imposed on the country after it had been formed by Muhammad Ibn Saud.
The grievance stemmed largely from the policy of Westernization and amongst several demands, Uteybi’s insurgents called for the expulsion of Westerners, the abolition of television and the ending of education for women.
The two-week siege was ended after the Saudis obtained the blessing of Wahhabi clerics to storm the Mosque with the aid of French Special Forces and flush out the rebels.
But this came at a price.
The Saudis clamped down in areas where ‘liberalisation’ had strayed such as the media and the school curriculum. The decision was also made at the behest of the powerful fundamentalist clerics for the Saudis to pump money into the coffers of Sunni missionary organisations to spread the ideas of the Wahhabi strain in Islamic universities and madrassas around the Muslim world.
Thus, this event, alongside the formation of al-Qaeda from the remnants of the U.S.-backed anti-Soviet Mujahideen in Afghanistan, can be said to have been pivotal in the development of the global Islamist movements of the present age such as ISIS, al-Nusra, Boko Haram and others.
1. “Saudi Arabia and the Doctrine of Global Islamist Terror” (2017)
2. “The Crisis of ISIS: A Debacle of a Great Game in Iraq and Syria” (2014)
© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)
Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.