Rehabilitation centers fill up as Saudi Arabia strives to reverse the religious extremism of jailed Al-Qaeda militants. A new rehabilitation facility in Riyadh, the largest city and capital of Saudi Arabia, offers a glimpse at luxury for prisoners, in government hopes that relaxing accommodations coupled with counselling will dissipate extremist beliefs.
The Prince Mohammed bin Nayef Center for Counselling and Care provided the new center, continuing their seven year effort to rehabilitate extremist prisoners. The crusade was inspired by and named after the current interior minister, Prince Mohammed, who launched the government’s suppression on Al-Qaeda following deadly attacks by the group.
The organization estimates that around 3,000 prisoners will filter through one of the centers before allowed their release. Designed to include 12 buildings with 19 prisoners residing in each, the Riyadh center spreads over an area equivalent to around ten football fields and accommodates 228 inmates from Al-Qaeda.
During the day, prisoners attend seminars on religious matters aimed at detouring them from jihad beliefs. Although the counselling is expansive, family members can visit and two-day breaks spent with their wives can be achieved through good behavior.
Between extensive counselling sessions and talks on religion, prisoners enjoy comforts such as spa treatments, a gym, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a sauna, and an entertainment hall as incentives for them to transform their beliefs. Although Riyadh is the first to offer such lavish amenities, another center has recently opened in the western city, Jeddah, with three more planned to open in the north, east, and south regions.
Although the organization finds the rehabilitation tactics hopeful, there is some controversy as to the program’s efficacy. Some prisoners have returned to the jihad after supposedly being rehabilitated, including the influential deputy leader of Al-Qaeda, Saeed al-Shehri. In addition, some of the biggest criticism has come from liberals protesting that the religious content discussed in rehab is an ultra-conservative version of Islam and not too far off from Al-Qaeda.
Social scientist Khaled al-Dakheel discussed treating the problem at its root. “One should challenge jihadist thought with an enlightened philosophy, not just with other Salafist ideas that are only slightly less extreme,” he said. “There must be pluralism and an acknowledgement of the rights of others to be different.”