x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

The Gulf has more concerns about extremism than the US

Action against terrorist financing has to be based on solid, shared information, otherwise the effort risks turning into a witch hunt that does more harm than good.

Earlier this week, WikiLeaks cables detailed US accusations that Saudi Arabia was not cooperating in the fight against the financing of terrorism. It was a reflection of the United States' national interests in the region, but it belied a basic fact: Gulf states are, if anything, more concerned about and more vulnerable to extremists than the Americans.

As the GCC summit closed in Abu Dhabi yesterday, this point had been made again and again. Sheikh Sabah al Ahmed Al Jaber, the Emir of Kuwait, spoke for all when he condemned terrorist plots intended to "murder innocents, spread destruction and halt development".

The US cables come from the Illicit Finance Task Force (IFTF), which has increasingly focused on the Gulf. But while the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, wrote of the "ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist funds … as a strategic priority", she also conceded that the IFTF was dealing with "limited information".

That lack of transparency is the key stumbling block. Blanket accusations will not help the cause, and nor will the opaque, often politically motivated challenges against GCC bank accounts. Action against terrorist financing, which funds both weaponry and propaganda, has to be based on solid, shared information. Otherwise the effort risks devolving into a witch hunt that does more harm than good.

The IFTF needs to rely on transparent judicial processes and evidence of wrongdoing. On the Saudi side, and indeed across the Gulf, there have been failings in law enforcement, in some cases because of weak institutions and, in others, a lack of political will.

But that does not diminish the determination of governments across the region to stamp out terrorism. This is a long-term process. As The National has commented in these pages, development is the ultimate solution to halt violent extremism.

The stability of the Gulf states and welfare of their citizens is what is at stake. Anyone who questions the basic commitment to stem extremism does not understand the region. There is room for honest criticism, but as with so much data in these WikiLeaks dumps, the context is missing. Both sides need to re-evaluate their efforts to fight terrorism financing.