Speeches by Osama bin Laden have an avid Western audience when he thunders against the United States and its allies, threatening imminent destruction. Other bin Laden speeches dealing with religious issues or the state of Islamic civilization, however, tend to attract much less attention. This reality at times blurs the often acutely accurate analysis bin Laden presents on Islamic political affairs, especially those in Saudi Arabia.
Bin Laden’s lengthy 16 December 2004 speech entitled “A Statement to the Saudi Rulers” raises two themes that carry new importance in the context of recent events in Saudi Arabia; that Saudi reforms will lack substance and an acknowledgement of setbacks to the mujahideen in the kingdom with the promise that more serious fighting is yet to come. 
Recent Events in Saudi Arabia…
Since January, 2005, three important events have occurred in Saudi Arabia that are pertinent to bin Laden’s December 2004 speech.
– Municipal Elections: Elections for half the seats on 178 municipal councils across Saudi Arabia occurred this spring. About 20-percent of eligible voters turned out, and women were forbidden from participating. The winners were overwhelmingly those who had been endorsed beforehand by pro-regime clerics.
– Imprisonment of Pro-Monarch Dissidents: After a year’s detention and a nine-month mostly closed-door trial, three Saudi academics were sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to nine years. Ali al-Domeini, Abdullah al-Hamid, and Matruk al-Faleh were convicted for criticizing the regime and the judiciary; for disrespecting Saudi educational institutions; and for talking to “foreign press.” The convicted men did not call for removing the al-Saud family, according to Matruk al-Faleh’s wife, but rather supported “the centrality of the royal family, the country, and Islam.” The verdict was announced on 16 May 2005, during Crown Prince Abdullah’s meeting with President Bush in Texas.
– Approaching Victory Over the Mujahideen: In early May, 2005, Adil al-Jubeir, Crown Prince Abdullah’s foreign policy adviser, announced that Saudi Arabia was not “out of the woods” in its fight against al-Qaeda, but had “turned the corner.” He said Saudi security forces had eliminated the top al-Qaeda leaders in the kingdom and that the organization’s ‘remnants’ were unable to communicate with each other and were using ‘sloppy’ tactics.
…in the Context of Bin Laden’s December 2004 Speech
In retrospect, bin Laden’s December 2004 seems to have been made, in part, in anticipation of the domestic Saudi events noted above. Without mentioning what the West has called the ‘Arab Spring’, bin Laden made clear that the al-Sauds’ promises of reform and greater political participation would turn out to be lies. In the speech, bin Laden stated,
“We have also seen that the [Saudi] rulers change their approaches to things without making any changes in policies or legislation. They go back and forth between lies and delay tactics, or between enticing or trapping, or imprisonment and sending to exiles, but nothing will change their loyalty to the crusaders. The one and only goal of the rulers when they agree to dialogue with any reform activists group is to destroy it and knock it out of existence, even if it takes a long time.”
Bin Laden also said the reform program the al-Sauds were conducting would be guided by the “for sale” Islamic scholars and writers, men whose positions and salaries were provided by the regime and who believed that “loyalty and obedience is to be to the King and not to Allah. Whatever the King makes legal becomes legal, and whatever the King forbids becomes forbidden.” Bin Laden warned the Saudi people not to believe these ‘hypocrites,’ especially the pro-regime Imams who know that the King is “a liar and a traitor, [but] unfortunately they lie to you.” Recalling his own career as a peaceful reformer in the Kingdom, bin Laden urged Saudis not to trust the regime’s words because they would lead only to prison or exile. “Ask me,” he wrote, “I, myself, have experienced that.”
Bin Laden’s speech also anticipated Adil al-Jubeir’s claim that the Saudi regime was defeating al-Qaeda in the Kingdom. Bin Laden made no claims of pending victory and frankly acknowledged that Saudi security had killed several important al-Qaeda leaders. Then, however, he proceeded to outline al-Qaeda’s blueprint for defeating the al-Saud regime. He began by explaining that the series of attacks that began with the May 2003 bombings of U.S. residential compounds in Riyadh were not attacks on the Saudi regime. “But what is going on now [in Saudi Arabia],” bin Laden wrote, “is just an extension of the war against the crusaders’ coalition, headed by America, which wages a war against us everywhere and we do the same thing. That includes the land of the two holy Mosques, and we intend to expel them from there insha Allah.”
Bin Laden urged the Saudi people, and the Muslim world as a whole, to refrain from believing that the current violence is an attempt to overthrow the al-Sauds, but to expect a much larger domestic effort to destroy the regime in the foreseeable future. “Let it be known,” bin Laden announced, “that the Mujahideen in the land of the two holy Mosques have not yet started to fight against the government.” That fight is nearing, however, “because events are happening and matters are changing at an incredible speed toward an explosion.” He went on to say,
“[The] Mujahideen may start their armed operations against the rulers of Riyadh any time they conclude that they have prepared themselves for the mission and the mission has a reasonable chance of success. … If they start, the will undoubtedly begin with the head of the Kufr, the rulers of Riyadh, that is.”
Bin Laden closed his speech to the Saudi Rulers, as he always does when discussing the removal of the al-Sauds, with a plea to “prominent scholars of truth, respected Islamic leaders, merchants, and anyone in a position of influence” to intercede with the ruling family and convince them to step aside peacefully and allow the people to choose a ruler who would govern by the Qur’an and the Sunnah. This iteration of the plea, however, had an unusual note of urgency, as bin Laden told the would-be intercessors that time was running out for them:
“I have advised you in the past but to no avail. The longer you take, the worse the problem will get. Matters will get more complicated and that will open the doors for the Mujahideen to act without you. … [Y]ou must know by now that matters have exceeded what can be tolerated. You must also know that when people move to reclaim their rights, no one can stop the movement, not even the best security apparatus anywhere. … And remember that fighting was about to take place at the time of the dispute between the current rulers of Riyadh and their brother, King Saud. But mediation succeeded in averting violence and convincing King Saud to step down. You could do the same thing this time. You could try to convince these tyrants to step down without the need for bloodshed.”
Bin Laden’s 16 December 2004 speech discussed a broad variety of issues and this article only has touched on two of them. That limited examination, however, suggests that bin Laden has accurately pegged what seem to have turned out to be the al-Saud regime’s non-reforms. The speech also follows bin Laden’s dual-track tradition of being quite clear in describing how he intends to defeat a particular enemy, while simultaneously urging every attempt be made to prevent armed conflict, be that conflict with Saudi Arabia or the West.
1. A translation of bin Laden’s “Statement to the Saudi Rulers” of 16 December 2004, is available on jihadunspun.com.