The BBC Arabic Service has produced a short documentary giving the full story of the seizure of the Grand Mosque (Masjid al-Haram) in Mecca in 1979, that was a crucial turning point in the modern history of Islam. Contrary to my previous statements, based on false reporting from Saudi Arabia, the seizure was not carried out by Shia gunmen allied to Iran, but by the very same fundamentalist Muslims from the eastern district of Arabia, the Nejd, from where the Saudi royal family itself originated.
Many people think Saudi Arabia is a very ancient kingdom, but that is not the case. Arabia was conquered in 1932 by the army of the Saudi clan under King Ibn Saud, who defeated and replaced the former rulers of Mecca, the Hashemites, who traced their descent from Mohammed the Prophet. The Saudis were in coalition with a group of fundamentalist Muslims who followed the teachings of a preacher named Ibn Wahhab, and were called Wahhabis. Their extreme ascetic form of Islam is known as Salafism, and they were against all forms of modernization and westernization of Islamic culture and Muslim society. The justification for their campaign was that the Hashemites had become corrupt due to contact with the West and were introducing modern western features into Islamic society. The only remaining Hashemite monarch in the world today is King Abdullah II of Jordan.
By 1979 the Saudis had themselves become quite westernized and had introduced modernization (such as TV) into their Kingdom. In the Nejd, the grandsons of former supporters of the Saudis, who themselves were brought up on Salafi Islam, were becoming very disquieted by these trends. A particular former drug dealer, Juhayman al-Otaybi, a member of an influential family in the Nejd, decided to take action. He declared his brother-in-law, Mohammed Abdullah al Qahtani, a very religious Salafist, to be the Mahdi. The Mahdi is the concept of a Messiah or redeemer taken by both Islam and Christianity from Judaism. Juhayman then started to plot to overthrow the Saudi regime and decided that his first step would be to take over the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
He organized his plan very efficiently. He reconnoitered the structure of the Mosque and prepared for the take-over. The day of the take-over, November 20, 1979, which was the first day of the year 1400 according to the Islamic calendar, his followers carried numerous coffins into the Mosque covered with religious slogans. The coffins were filled with automatic weapons and no-one challenged them. As soon as the Imam finished the final prayer, Juhayman’s followers took over the microphone and announced the take-over. They ordered their followers, some 200 in all, to take their positions, which included on the tops of the 4 minarets and at all the gates. Juhayman then announced the coming of the Mahdi. He had taken all the attendees hostage, maybe 50,000 people, but then released most of them
For up to 2 hours nothing happened, then finally the Saudi police sent a few policemen to see what was going on, they were met with a hail of bullets and most of them were killed. Then the Saudis sent some Army soldiers and the same thing happened. Then they sent their special forces unit, and the same thing happened. With gradually higher levels of attack and with great losses on both sides, the rebels were forced into the huge basement of the Mosque, But, the Saudis, without any apparent organization, were unable to dislodge them from there. At this point the Saudis contacted French President Giscard d’Estaing for help. He sent his top security team to advise the Saudis (as non-Muslims they were not allowed into the Mosque).
They set up a central headquarters and decided that since the rebels were well-armed and there was no way to defeat them fighting in the labyrinthine basement they would use poison gas. They drilled holes all around the perimeter of the Mosque, then they threw in grenades and pumped in high levels of CS gas. The rebels were then defeated, and after 17 days they had no more food or water and were overcome by the gas. Some surrendered and others were captured by Saudi forces with gas masks. Approximately 65 surviving rebels, including Juhayman, were quickly tried and executed. Some 200 Saudi forces and rebels were dead as well as ca. 50 civilians and some 500 were wounded.
The significance of this attack is that it set the pattern for what was to follow. The development of Al Qaeda by Osama bin Laden, who also from a pro-Saudi family. He also, as a fundamentalist Muslim, resented the introduction of modernization and westernization into Arabia (although he and his followers were not against using Western arms and communications). But, he saw the Americans as the major target. This was followed by ISIS led by the self-proclaimed Caliph al-Baghdadi, who saw the establishment of the Islamic State as his major aim. Both bin Laden and Baghdadi (supposedly) are gone now and the IS is almost defeated. But, this pattern is established. The Saudis are now thoroughly westernized, and the next fundamentalist Sunni reformer is probably waiting in the wings, to declare the next Mahdi or Caliph to overthrow the corrupt Saudis.
Correction: In my analysis of the US economy I made a mistake in the current value of the Dow Jones Industrial Averages. It has now reached 22,000, a huge increase of 4,000 since Pres. Trump was elected 7 months ago.