Managing Savagery in Saudi Arabia

In the past six months, Saudi Arabia has arrested around 700 suspected terrorists.  Yesterday, the Interior Ministry released a statement which claimed that many of those arrested were trying to implement the blueprint laid out by Abu Bakr Naji in his Management of Savagery.

Naji argues that if Jihadis want to take power, they need to abandon the idea of overthrowing governments in the Middle East.  Instead, they should focus on creating security vacuums.  They can do this by striking  a country’s crucial industries, like oil and tourism.  The government will respond by pulling in its security forces to protect the infrastructure.  This will open up the desired security vacuums (“regions of savagery” as he calls them) that Jihadis can move into and set up rudimentary governments.  These vacuums can be as small as city blocks or as large as a province.  Once they have gained control, the Jihadis can then network with other “administrations of savagery” and proceed to more complicated forms of government.

According to the Saudis, many of the people they arrested wished to carry out this plan, based on Naji’s book:

(The intention of these groups is to) plan, recruit, and equip themselves in order to revive criminal activities in all regions of the Kingdom in an attempt to change the internal security situation into a stage that resembles the situation in other unsettled regions since perverse groups like these are not able to intellectually find a place for themselves in societies that are stable. This (plan) is clearly evident from the confiscation of numerous documents in their possession, including a study they call The Management of Savagery, which articulates their sick dreams and hateful visions.

Since The Management of Savagery is still an obscure book in the Middle East, there were several articles published in Arabic newspapers today that explain its contents.  There are two good articles, one in al-Sharq al-Awsat and one in al-Watan. Strikingly, there are two bad articles in the same papers. First the good ones:

Mashari al-Dhaydi in al-Sharq al-Awsat:

  • Dhaydi classes Management among the most important texts shaping the Jihadi Movement, along with Qutb’s Milestones, Faraj’s Neglected Duty, Juhayman al-`Utaybi’s writings, Zawahiri’s Knights, Sayyid Imam/Dr. Fadl’s three books, Suri’s “Syrian Experience,” and three books by Maqdisi.
  • Management is odd because it does not have a traditional flavor or a title that rhymes in Arabic (which is usually the case for classically-oriented Islamic books). It is also strange in that it uses terms that are common in the media but not in traditional religious texts.
  • He observes that an American (me) translated the book several years ago. [Like some other reporters, he wrongly attributes the sponsorship of the translation to West Point’s CTC. The Olin Institute at Harvard actually funded it; both Olin and the CTC host a copy online.]
  • Dhaydi quotes a Saudi security expert who says that the most dangerous parts of the book deal with how to vex (nikaya) the government and obtain power (shawka).
  • The same expert thinks the book was written by a committee. Dhaydi notes that some people online say it is Sayf al-`Adl. Others say it is an unknown person.

Shakir Abu Talib in Watan:

  • Shakir interviews Faris b. Hazzam, a journalist who specializes in terrorist groups. Faris relates that some people think the author of Management is Abu Qatada (recently released from a UK prison).
  • He notes that someone at West Point translated the document and that the U.S. has already been studying it for two years.

Now for the two bad articles. The first is by `Ali al-Qahtani for Watan. He reports that Naji was one of those captured by Saudi security forces yesterday, which is very wrong. Next he quotes Salih b. Sa`d al-Luhaydan, an adviser for the World Association for Mental Health, who says that he has never heard of the book before. The author, Luhaydan says, has nothing new to say; he is irrational and puts emotion before reason; and he is obviously suffering from an early childhood psychological trauma. An anonymous article in al-Sharq al-Awsat is equally derisive, ridiculing the author as irrational.

If you’ve read Naji, you know that he is anything but irrational or emotional. Those who dismiss him as deranged might make themselves feel better, but they severely underestimate the cunning of him and his ilk–always a bad idea.

I’m relieved that the same papers that published such pap also published serious analyses. I’m also grateful that the latter highlighted my translation and that they acknowledged that the U.S. is well advanced in studying Naji’s work.  The U.S. government deserves a lot of the lumps it gets for cultural ignorance, but many would be surprised how far ahead of its Arab counterparts it is in understanding Jihadism.

As for the question of Naji’s identity, I am pretty sure that he is dead–a major Jihadi insider, Husayn b. Mahmud, said so online. So that would eliminate Abu Qatada and Sayf al-`Adl.

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10 Responses

  1. Yes. That may be a good idea for Saudi youth, but I agree with Clint’s foreign fighter report that too much emphasis is put on the Internet elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.

  2. I remember the first time I briefed my client about Naji’s book, his response was a sigh, and a “this is all about Saudi Arabia.”

    I have my money on the influence of bin Rashid’s “petroleum” fatwa (for obvious reasons), but it’s clear that MoS is as significant as the other works you mention, if for anything, its centrality in the group’s Peninsula strategy.

  3. I too tend to agree and have been impressed with his work. I draw a distinction, though, between the power of the internet in places like the suburbs or London and Paris and in the MENA region. In short, I do not think it has played a big role in either radicalization or the spread of TTPs in the MENA, while in Europe it has certainly played a role in the former and could begin to play a bigger role in the latter. On va voir.

  4. Saudis are in denial – ‘Amir’ Nayef (Minister of the Interior), the ‘Prince of Darkness’ as I (and others) prefer to think of him – has both denied that al-Qaeda has a presence in Saudi and asserted that Western agencies are distorting and provoking activism in Saudi… I’ve heard tapes promoting jihad in Iraq and Chechnya while living there which were distributed by agencies in Riyadh connected with the State; my understanding is that the Saudis want to achieve two aims by supporting ‘jihadis’ in Iraq and Chechnya –
    1) keep their ‘street cred’
    2) defuse anger by having a place to send their young hotheads

    at the same time, I’ve visited their camps for retraining radicals (they seem rather proud of them, and bring young muslims from the West to meet their ‘re-educated radicals’); and while I think it’s valuable, I question whether the poetry and social/religious discussions taking place there will be of value unless the economic (jobs and ability to marry) and social/political aims (participation, genuine frustrations with Western and other foreign policies regarding Saudi and the Arab/Muslim world) are addressed.

    So far it doesn’t seem like, outside of a few projects such as ‘King’ Abdullah’s Economic city outside of Jeddah, much thought is going into changing that situation on the ground. Hence (given the tribal consensus/ ‘shura’ principle inherent in Saudi politics), the “digging their heads deeper into the sand”…

  5. Hi Mac, I think he was Tunisian. I saw him referred to as a Tunisian on a forum. Some strange Arabic phrases in his book only appeared in Tunisian newspapers when I googled them. And he refers several times to local Tunisian politics.

  6. Another article about this book appeared in Al Watan


    I see some redundant passages to ridicule naji.. doesn’t help. I have not seen the other articles, but there seems to be some effort into analyzing this, the writer hints that from the book literature he can presume he is Eygption, he also noted while there is a probability that this book might be written by more than one person, the writing style seems too consistent to be a group effort. He mentions that Abu Qutada was a referral for a lot of the material in the book, he also mentions that the book cites some events that are trivial and out of scope.

  7. Greetings…. taHaiya Tayyiba wa b3ad…

    Could someone kindly provide the URL for the original Arabic-language version of this book by al-Naaji?

    Can’t find such a URL via search with google (English) or ayna.com (Arabic).

    Many thanks in advance. Khair, in shaa’ Allah.


    E-mail: mutarjm@aol.com

  8. Shfranke,

    Sorry for the delay. If you have trouble finding Jihadi literature, go to archive.org. For the book in question, do a search on التوحش.

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