May 9, 2007 Special Dispatch No. 1564

Saudi Arabia Gives Extremists Financial Incentives to Renounce Their Views

May 9, 2007
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 1564

As part of its fight against terrorism, the Saudi Interior Ministry has been operating an ideological counseling program for security prisoners in the Saudi jails aimed at encouraging them to renounce their extremist beliefs. The program, which has been running for several years, is implemented by a counseling committee composed of ulema, psychiatrists and psychologists who hold counseling sessions with the prisoners and gives them lessons in Islam. When the counselors become convinced that a prisoner is reformed, they recommend his release from jail. [1]

It has recently been reported that, in addition to counseling, prisoners receive financial incentives to renounce their extremist views.

The following are details.

Counseling Committee Member: Over 80% of the Program Participants Renounced Their Extremist Beliefs Thanks to the Financial Aid

The Saudi daily Al-Watan reported, citing an anonymous security source, that the Saudi interior ministry has spent over 115 million riyals over the last three years in financial aid for eligible prisoners and their families. The source stated that the aid given to the prisoners goes towards payment of debts, assisting family members in housing and health care, financing prisoners' weddings, and purchasing cars after they complete the program and are released. He added that prisoners' families that are needy receive monthly payments of 2,000-3,000 riyals.

Dr. Muhammad Al-Najimi, member of the counseling committee and of the Islamic Fiqh Academy (IFA) told Al-Watan that over 1,000 youths have already been released from prison after completing the counseling program, titled "Confronting the Youths, Discussing Their Extremist Views with Them and Convincing Them to Renounce Them." Addressing the topic of the financial incentives, he said that "80%– 90% or even more [of the prisoners who participated in the program] have given up their extremist views thanks to the financial support provided to their families by the state. This support," he added, "has a significant positive effect on the prisoners themselves, as evident from the fact that most of them join the counseling program of their own volition, and some have asked to rejoin it after their family members visited them and informed them that the Interior Ministry was looking after all [the family's] needs."[2]

Al-Najimi told the Saudi daily Al-Madina that some of the program participants were returned to prison after their release when it became apparent that they were still holding extremist views. He specified that "nine people belonging to the misguided group were brought back to prison [about] a year or eighteen months after their release, since it was proved that they had returned to their misguided views and had not relinquished them."[3]

Dr. Abd Al-Rahman Al-Hadlaq, supervisor of the counseling committee, told Al-Watan that the amount of aid given to the families depended on their financial situation, and added that this support also "had a positive effect on the prisoners themselves, and on their attitude towards the ideological therapy [provided by] the counseling program." He said that the financial incentives were meant to "demonstrate the humanitarian side of the security forces, [and to show] the prisoners' families that the state empathizes [with their problems], cares about their needs, and truly wishes to rehabilitate their sons, who have fallen prey to a misguided group that [merely] wishes to exploit the [difficult] conditions in which they and their families live in order to recruit further members from their families."[4]

Saudi Academic: The Financial Aid Turns Extremism into a Steady Source of Income

Ali Sa'd Al-Mussa, a lecturer at King Khaled University in Abha, criticized the financial support granted to extremists and their families. He wrote in Al-Watan: "The honorable Sheikh Muhammad Al-Najimi, member of the ideological counseling committee, said that the state has so far spent over 100 million riyals on presents, weddings, cars and monthly salaries for prisoners who had espoused a distorted ideology, and for their families. It was also stated that this [financial aid] was one of the factors that convinced some of [these prisoners] to renounce their previous views...

"I am afraid that, [in this way], holding [extremist] views leads to earning a prize, or worse – a steady income. What extraordinary thing have these [extremists] done that we give them a free car only for renouncing their [extremist] views, while thousands of honest young people can only dream of [owning] a car? What extraordinary thing have these [prisoners] done that we [finance] their weddings, when thousands of honest young people can only dream – not of the scent of a woman but even of a bottle of perfume? What extraordinary thing have they done that we grant them and their families a monthly salary, while thousands of honest men cannot even dream of a job as security guards? People should be rewarded for their actions, but it seems that we have turned this concept upon its head…

"Al-Najimi said that many of the [prisoners] asked to rejoin the counseling sessions after hearing about this generous [financial aid]. Again, I fear that this counseling is merely a way [out of prison for them]. Someone who truly wishes to prove himself reformed does not need the counseling committee to do so..."[5]

[1] About the counseling committee, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 260, "Reeducation of Extremists in Saudi Arabia," January 18, 2006, Reeducation of Extremists in Saudi Arabia.

[2] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), April 15, 2007.

[3] Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), April 22, 2007.

[4] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), April 15, 2007.

[5] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), April 19, 2007.

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