Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — On Sunday, just two days after a group of 30 men suspected of being affiliated with the Islamic State massacred upwards of 300 Sufi Muslims during prayers at the al Rawdah Sufi mosque in the Bir al-Abed region of the Sinai Peninsula. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, or MBS officially launched the predominately Sunni Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC).
The IMCTC was first suggested and formed in 2015 after international outcry demanded that Saudi Arabia and other predominate Muslim countries who, they felt, weren’t doing enough in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism, specifically the spread of the apocalyptic terror group, the Islamic State put an Arab face on the fight and thwart the spread of this radical group and its equally radical ideology.
That plan was to have Saudi Arabia gather a ‘coalition of the willing’ from the Muslim world to fight terrorism across the Middle East with its headquarters in Riyadh. International support flew in from the likes of the United States and the United Kingdom who dubbed it the beginnings of the “Muslim NATO.”
And Prince Salman, who is one of the youngest ministers of defense in the world did just that. The IMCTC’s official opening statement on Sunday described the coalition as a, “pan-Islamic coalition of 41 predominantly Sunni Muslim countries will coordinate and multiply their individual efforts in the global fight against terrorism and violent extremism. The meeting [in Riyadh] marks the official launch of the IMCTC and strengthens the cooperation and integration of member countries in the coalition.”
Prince Salman also gave a commemorative speech in which he referenced the attack in Egypt as a, “very painful occurrence and must make us contemplate in an international and powerful way the role of this terrorism and extremism.” Salman went on, “In past years, terrorism has been functioning in all of our countries with no coordination. This ends today, with this alliance. We [IMCTC] will pursue terrorists until they are wiped from the face of the earth.”
The formation of this Muslim coalition is not without controversy as the many skeptics within the region, mainly from the predominate Shia countries of Syria, Iraq, and especially Iran who were left out of the coalition. The Iranian government is beginning to feel that this Sunni-led coalition is nothing other than a sectarian-based grouping and a direct threat to Iran and Shi’ite Muslims.
Salman solidifying the appointment of the former Pakistan Chief of the Army, General Raheel Sharif as the overall military commander of the IMCTC coalition, of course, also greatly irritated Iran.
Prince Salman didn’t try nor help quell Iran’s or the Shi’ite Muslim community fears of a Sunni coalition against them on Sunday at all. This has some experts, like Sebastian Sons, an associate fellow at the German Council of Foreign Relations, declaring that not only is, “[T]his alliance is a clear signal to the Arab-Islamic world that Saudi Arabia still wants to set the main agenda in regional policy and, of course, another instrument of containing Iran.”
Sons went on by saying that, “Saudi Arabia wants to present itself as a leading country in the fight against extremism and terrorism in order to get away from its image as a sponsor of radicalism,” Sons said. “In this regard, the fight against terrorism is a main pillar of the political agenda of Muhammad bin Salman in portraying himself as a modern, mainly secular leader of a ‘new Saudi Arabia.'”
The IMCTC coalition also left out Iraq and Syria who have been slogging it out with the Islamic State for years with U.S. military support, this decision by Saudi Arabia and the members of the IMCTC continues to fuel the controversy due to these countries being led by predominately Shia Muslims.
When questions on the decision to exclude these three countries in what most assuredly will only widen the Sunni/Shia divide came in from the media the IMCTC Secretary General, Abdulelah al-Saleh simply replied, “The enemy is terrorism. It’s not sects or religions or races, its terrorism.” Yet, Syria, Iraq, and especially Iran are not seeing it that way.
Feature image courtesy of Associated Press