The Saudi Arabian government has announced the opening of a luxurious rehab centre for former al-Qaida militants, hoping to change their extremist beliefs.

For Representative Purposes

According to a report by AFP, the centre, located in the capital city of Riyadh, can accommodate 228 prisoners and includes such facilities as a spa, a swimming pool, saunas, a gym and a television hall. In addition, prisoners who display good behaviour can also earn time with their families and will be allowed conjugal visits from their wives.

The centre has been set up by the Prince Mohammed bin Nayef Centre for Counselling and Care, which was established seven years ago to help extremists captured during attacks on local chapters of al-Qaida. According to a spokesperson for the interior ministry, nearly 3,000 prisoners are expected to use these facilities, in an ambitious bid to fight war with peace.

AFP reports a second centre has already opened in the western port city of Jeddah, and three more are expected to be built soon in the northern, eastern and southern regions of the kingdom. All these will be named after the present interior minister - Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.

The Riyadh centre, the most luxurious of the lot, covers an area the size of 10 football grounds and has 12 buildings, each with a capacity of 19 prisoners.

"In order to fight terrorism, we must give them an intellectual and psychological balance... through dialogue and persuasion," the director of the rehabilitation centres, Said al-Bishi, explained, adding that over 2,000 prisoners have already completed these programmes and the institute boasts a 90 percent success rate.

Criticism

Predictably, there are some quarters who have spoken out against these rehabilitation centres. However, surprisingly the comments are not so much about the cost and practicality as the nature of rehabilitation; specifically, the fact the spiritual teaching offered at the centres is similar to the extremist views of al-Qaida.

"We cannot know if the programme will succeed in eradicating terrorism and extremism," social scientist Khaled al-Dakheel said. "To treat 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. There must be pluralism and an acknowledgement of the rights of others to be different."