The Rise of Hamza bin Laden

From War on the Rocks:

Al-Qaeda has been seeking to exploit domestic skepticism of the prince’s modernization efforts, which are aimed at changing the way the country engages with gender, culture, religion, and the economy. The jihadi organization hopes to foment a backlash that helps it to better position Hamza bin Laden, son of Osama, as heir to his father’s throne and to continue a longstanding feud between al-Qaeda and the House of Saud. These efforts, if successful, will pit the reformist ambitions of the crown prince of Riyadh against the revolutionary Salafi-jihadism promoted by the crown prince of jihad. This war of two princely visions may shape the future of the Middle East…

After 9/11, Hamza bin Laden fled with other family members to Iran. There, he was eventually put under house arrest, but al-Qaeda operatives schooled him in religion and geopolitics at the request of his father. In HBL’s first speech after his 2014 release from Iran, he emphasized that his father’s request had been fulfilled.

The prince’s lineage is even more intriguing. Hamza is the son of Osama’s third wife, Khairah Sabar, a Saudi whose ancestry dates back to the Prophet Muhammad. This places Hamza in the same category of hereditary esteem held by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIL’s so-called caliph, granting him the ancestral qualifications a caliph requires under fundamentalist interpretations of Islamic law…

al-Qaeda issued a bulletin during MBS’ tour of the West that declared “Muhammad bin Salman was working in every way on behalf of and in dependence of the Crusader West,” and that surprisingly expressed support for Saudi clerics, calling for them to stand up and “speak the truth to the tyrannical oppressor.” Additionally, the most recent edition of al-Nafir, released as MBS’ tour drew to a close, called on “true scholars” to stand up to the Saudi crown prince’s “moderate, open Islam, which all onlookers know is American Islam.”..

Measuring the effectiveness of al-Qaeda’s propaganda campaign will be especially difficult because the group calls for clandestine, rather than open, contestation. In contrast to ISIL’s more overt approach, HBL calls for patience and the formulation of clandestine cells in Saudi Arabia, with the option of emigration to safe haven in Yemen.

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