Sunday, October 23, 2005

Kingdom in Crisis


John Bradley has written "Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis."

On 20 October 2005, at World Peace Herald, Martin Walker, UPI Editor, wrote about 'the real Saudi Arabia', as described by Bradley.

The following was written by Martin Walker:

It is not a widely known fact that more of the money deposited in Saudi bank accounts belongs to women than to men.

Nor have many in the West heard of Kerantina, the sprawling slum in south Jeddah, the main Saudi port, where hard drugs, prostitutes, alcohol and witchcraft are widely available, where the police dare not go, and where real power rests with a transplanted Nigerian tribal leader.

Nor is the West at all familiar with the scale of local opposition to the rule of al-Saud family in the Hijaz region around Jeddah, the Asir zone near the Yemeni border, and the al-Jouf area on the north by the Iraqi border.

Westerners know, or perhaps suspect, rather more about the unrest among the Shiite of the eastern province, where Saudi oil facilities are concentrated, but the troubled tribal and regional base on which the al-Saud family rests is threatened by many more fissures than the traditional sectarian divide between Sunni and Shiite.

There is no more excuse for ignorance, because British journalist John Bradley has now written the most revealing and important book on the real Saudi Arabia to have been published in years. Hired to be the managing editor of Arab News, the country's English-language newspaper controlled by the Information Ministry, Bradley was the only Westerner to be an accredited journalist in the country. He speaks Arabic, lived in Saudi neighborhoods rather than Western compounds, and the result is "Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis." (Palgrave Macmillan, $22.95.)

He gets invited to dissident meetings of rich Jeddah merchants, where invited lecturers relate the rich and politically tolerant history of the Hijaz, the vast region that runs from the Jordanian border in the north down the coast of the Red Sea to the Asir region bordering Yemen. Hijaz history is deployed as a political statement, openly contrasting the former tolerance and diversity with the totalitarian mindset of the Wahhabi religious zealots with whom the al-Saud family rules.

"There is still considerable resistance to the al-Saud hegemony," Bradley told United Press International. "The resistance to them stems not only from corruption and because they are seen as outsiders in much of the country, but also because of the unpopularity of the Wahhabite clergy and religious police who are the al-Saud family's partners in rule."

The al-Saud alliance with the Wahhabites dates back to a pact signed in 1744 between Mohammed bin Saud, a tribal leader from al-Najd central region, and the puritanical cleric Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab. That pact endures to this day, and to maintain Wahhabite support, the al-Saud have handed over control of the clergy, almost all mosques, the judiciary, education and the media to Wahhabite supervision.

"This is the apparatus of a totalitarian state," Bradley suggests, but a totalitarian state that has satellite TV with 24-hour hard-core porn, Internet access and gambling, and -- until the censors stopped it -- the exiled Islamist dissident Saad al-Faqih beaming vitriol over Reform TV against the al-Saud princes as "thieves who should be beheaded." The Saudi security system can be ruthlessly efficient at times, Bradley says. He cites the example of the Riyadh-based lawyer Abdul Aziz al-Tayyar, who was giving a live TV interview from his home to Al Jazeera about social and economic conditions inside the country.

"All tribesmen are now willing to fight this government -- we will protect the rights of our people," al-Tayyar said. "This is not the kingdom of Saudi Arabia any more; it is a jungle full of monsters. The Saudi people are repressed."

Within minutes, the Saudi security police, evidently monitoring the broadcast and knowing instantly where to find al-Tayyar, kicked down his door and hauled the lawyer off to prison.

Bradley gives the insights of a Saudi insider who knows and loves the country, and one who is also a Western journalist; he is someone who knows how the game is played on both sides, as very few Westerners do.

"At the Jeddah-based paper I worked for, sub-editors were often amused to see columns of Middle East 'experts' in the Western press, Thomas Friedman, Daniel Pipes and the like, quoting our newspaper's anonymous editorials because they seemingly reflected "a change in the Arab mindset." In fact, they were written by me, a British chap who lives (now) in the south of France and (when we were not available) by another British chap who lives in the north of England," he writes.

Bradley used his years in Jeddah to great effect, traveling widely. When he writes on regional disaffection and repression, he has been to Shiite eastern provinces and gives an eyewitness report on the empty but costly new Sunni mosque, while the devout Shiite trudge to the ramshackle structure to which they are consigned. He drove down to Asir and went until the roads and tracks stopped to met the legendary flower men, and north to al-Jouf, where the Saudis deployed 8,000 troops in April 2002, to keep order and where the deputy governor of the province was gunned down in the street the next year.

The ruling al-Saud family has for years maintained a skilful balance, ensuring its domestic rule through the Wahhabi alliance, while winning U.S. military support because of its oil wealth and because of the al-Saud argument that the alternative to them is Islamist rule or even al-Qaida. That balance, which depended on ample funds to buy Wahhabite and tribal support and to fend off unrest with a lavish welfare state, became endangered in recent years when rock bottom oil prices in recent years plunged the national budget into serial deficits. But with oil above $60 a barrel, the al-Saud regime now has the money to continue their juggling act.

"The government has used the extra money to give 15 percent pay rises to all civil servants and public employees, and even larger pay rises to the security forces," Bradley told UPI. "But this could be only a short-term relief because of the demographic explosion that has some 70 percent of the population under the age of 21, many of them increasingly aware of Western pressure for democratization."

This puts real pressure on the security forces, Bradley says, adding the Saudi armed forces are not the mainstay of the regime. It relies instead on the National Guard, a separate and well-funded and well-armed body composed of young men from the most loyal tribes, from the traditional Bedu and from the Wahhabi religious establishment, and meant to have a vested interest in the regime's survival. The most alarming feature of al-Qaida's 9/11 terrorist attack, which Bradley says rocked the entire Saudi system, was that at least three and perhaps four of the hijackers were from the al-Ghamdi tribe, traditionally loyal to the state.

"The cave in Afghanistan where the plan for 9/11 was hatched was known as 'the al-Ghamdi house,' Bradley claims. He adds al-Ghamdi tribal members have now been tracked fighting with Chechens against Russia, with a terrorist cell in Morocco, and with the terror cell that launched the attacks in Riyadh in May 2003 -- but when the mastermind of the Riyadh attacks was captured, his al-Ghamdi tribal name was censored in the Saudi media.

"Never underestimate the capacity of the al-Saud family to adapt to new political challenges," Bradley concludes. "They are very good at survival, but the pressures upon them are mounting dramatically at a time of social and political turmoil."


Saturday, October 15, 2005

Bush told Blair shortly before the invasion of Iraq that he intended to target Saudi Arabia and Pakistan


A note of a phone conversation between Bush and Blair is quoted in the US edition of the book 'Lawless World, America and the Making and Breaking of Global Rules', by the British international lawyer Philippe Sands.,12271,1592807,00.html

Richard Norton-Taylor, in the 15 October The Guardian , reports that George Bush told Tony Blair, shortly before the invasion of Iraq that he intended to target other countries, including Saudi Arabia, which, he implied, planned to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

According to Norton-Taylor in The Guardian:

Mr Bush said he "wanted to go beyond Iraq in dealing with WMD proliferation, mentioning in particular Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan," according to a note of a telephone conversation between the two men on January 30 2003.

The note is quoted in the US edition, published next week, of Lawless World, America and the Making and Breaking of Global Rules, by the British international lawyer Philippe Sands.

The memo was drawn up by one of the prime minister's foreign policy advisers in Downing Street and passed to the Foreign Office, according to Mr Sands.

It is not surprising that Mr Bush referred to Iran and North Korea, or even Pakistan - at the time suspected of spreading nuclear know-how, but now one of America's closest allies in the "war on terror". What is significant is the mention of Saudi Arabia.

In Washington, the neo-cons in particular were hostile to the Saudi royal family...

In September 2003, the Guardian reported that Saudi Arabia had embarked on a strategic review that included acquiring nuclear weapons.

Until then, the assumption in Washington was that Saudi Arabia was content to remain under the US nuclear umbrella despite the worsening relationship between Riyadh and Washington.

It is not clear how Mr Blair responded to Mr Bush's remarks during the telephone conversation, which took place on the eve of a trip to Washington for talks with the US president...

Mr Blair at the time was careful to avoid any suggestion that the Bush administration intended to target other countries after the invasion of Iraq. However, for the first time he suggested there were links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida...


AFP reports, 14 October 2005:

The White House declined to challenge a report that President George W. Bush linked Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and worries about weapons of mass destruction in a conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair two months before the Iraq war.

The details of the January 30, 2003 telephone exchange were written down by Blair's private secretary at the time and are laid out in a US edition of "Lawless World," by Philippe Sands, according to The New York Times.

In one account the daily said it had reviewed, Bush told Blair he "wanted to go beyond Iraq in dealing with WMD proliferation, mentioning in particular Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan."

WMD is the abbreviation for "weapons of mass destruction," which is generally considered to comprise chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Asked whether he was challenging the accuracy of the book, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters: "I don't do book reviews, and I haven't seen the book."

Prodded again on whether he was contesting the account, the spokesman replied: "No, I haven't seen the book. I can only see what I read in The New York Times."

Asked whether Bush was satisfied that his concerns about both countries had been allayed, McClellan replied: "We appreciate what they're doing in the global war on terrorism. There's more that we can all do, and we're working closely with both those countries."

Details of the January 30, 2003 conversation between Bush and Blair, the daily said, were not included in an earlier edition of Sands' book published in Britain in February.

The notes taken by Blair secretary Matthew Rycroft, marked secret and personal, were addressed to Simon McDonald, then the principal private secretary to the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, the daily said.


Monday, October 10, 2005

Saudi Arabia and the Human Development Index§ion=middleeast&col=

Saudi Arabia ranks 77th among 177 countries in the world in terms of Human Development Index (HDI).

Saudi Arabia ranks 44th by GDP per capita which stands at $13,226.

Saudi Arabia's HDI, measured in terms of life span, healthy life, level of literacy, and standard of living stood at 0.772.

Qatar's HDI is 0.849 which makes it rank top among the Arab countries.

Yemen was the worst performer with an HDI of 0.489.

Saudi Arabia got 72nd ranking on the basis of life expectancy at birth (71.8 years).

Saudi Arabia occupied the 136th spot on the yardstick of primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrolment ratio, with 57 per cent of its population pursuing studies at various levels.

Dr El Mustafa Benlamlih, of the UN, said that even though the kingdom was investing heavily in providing education facilities to the Saudis, there was a problem with regard to the development of right attitude among students.

"It is much more than sticking to the curriculum. It has to do with how they learn and what attitude do they show to the learning process," he observed.

In terms of human poverty index (HPI), which focuses on the proportion of people living below a threshold level in basic dimensions of human development, such as life span, access to education, and a decent standard of living, the kingdom was placed 32nd among 103 countries with the HPI value standing at 14.9 per cent.

According to the report, the kingdom has to catch up with other Gulf states in terms of building the capabilities of women.

Of the 140 countries that were ranked in this category, Saudi Arabia was placed 65th in terms of gender-related development index, with a value of 0.749.

The gender empowerment measure (GEM) reveals whether women take an active part in economic and public life. It focuses on gender inequality in key areas of economic and political participation and decision-making.

Based on these parametres, the kingdom got a ranking of 78 out of 140 countries.

The best performer in this category among the GCC states was Kuwait and the worst Yemen.

Meanwhile, Dr Abdullah Maraa bin Mahfouz wrote in the Arabic daily Al Eqtesadeyah that Saudi women at present find it very difficult to get their rights in the Shariah courts. He stressed that the problem is not with the Shariah. But rather with the operational and bureaucratic regulations of the courts that stand in the way of women getting justice.

"The operational and bureaucratic regulations in the courts that delay or prevent women from getting justice should be done away with. Arrangements which include modern technology should be put in place so that women know the status of their cases from their homes or any place they happen to be," he writes.

"The demand for setting up civil law courts and appointing female judges or permitting women to be present in the court without a mahram (legal guardian) are ideas unacceptable to both religious scholars and society. Instead, creating a special division for civil matters with special judges could be done without delay," he adds.

According to Bin Mahfouz, women who are treated unjustly feel that men exploit the loopholes in the legal system and also physically and mentally harass women in order to take more than their rights while depriving women of theirs.

"Divorced women have rights given to them by Shariah and the law of the land but those rights are practically non-existent because of the meandering official procedures related to Saudi women in addition to the absence of elasticity of the regulations," he explains.


Sunday, October 02, 2005

Prince Talal bin Abdul-Aziz, brother of the late King Fahd.

The Associated Press, 20 April 2002, wrote about a Saudi Prince Who Wants More Openness.

Reportedly, Prince Talal is a democrat who does not believe in the royal family's monopoly on power.

Reportedly, Prince Talal wants:

1. a constitutional monarchy,
2. an elected parliament,
3. a sharp reduction in the clergy's powers,
4. more freedom for women

Saudi Arabia forces women to cover up from head to toe, bans them from driving and segregates them from men. Talal is the only influential male openly urging the removal of the restrictions, saying they were imposed by men who regard women as sexual objects.

``It's all about sex,'' he said in the interview in 2002 with The Associated Press.

Prince Talal bin Abdul-Aziz is a brother of the late King Fahd.

He is a confidant of the new King, Abdullah.

According to the Associated Press writer:

Talal's opinion counts among moderates within the ruling family, and for its conservative members he's posing questions they cannot ignore because they are coming from a brother.
Talal, who is in his 70s, has been pushing for a more open political system for decades. In 1962, he had to flee to Egypt because of his liberal ideas, which he insists do not contradict Islam or jeopardize the kingdom's Islamic credentials.

There were reports at the time that he was planning an Egyptian-backed revolt against then King Faisal. He became known as the ``Red Prince'' for his close ties to then Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was pro-Soviet.

Talal, a son of Saudi Arabia's founder, King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, was allowed to return in 1964 after reconciling with King Faisal.

He now heads a charity, the Arab Gulf Program for United Nations Development Organizations.

He is the father of billionaire businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, whose gift of $10 million to a fund set up to help the families of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks was rejected by then New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Fifteen of the 19 alleged hijackers were Saudi.

Giuliani was furious after Alwaleed said the United States should ``re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause.''

While viewed as liberal by Saudis, Talal sides with the Arab mainstream on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rejecting Washington's classification of Palestinian suicide-bombers as terrorists. ``They're strugglers and fighters for their country,'' he said.

But he also said that any attempt by Saudi Arabia to improve its image -- which many Saudis say has suffered since Sept. 11 from what they contend is an Israeli-backed U.S. media campaign -- should include meetings with Jewish groups in the United States since ``they are players on the ground.''

On the home front, Talal said Saudis should shed their fear of speaking their minds and carry out a ``peaceful, nonviolent struggle'' for reform.

``We want to implement democracy gradually and on the basis of consensus between the ruler and the masses,'' he said.

He said a first step would be giving more power to the Shura Council, an advisory body appointed by the king. He said it should be more like a parliament, with oversight over the budget and Cabinet ministers' performance, and its members should have immunity so they could express themselves freely. Eventually, the council should be elected, he said.

``Since the establishment of the kingdom (in 1932), there hasn't been movement toward an open society,'' Talal said. ``We demand such openness, one that's in step with the 21st century.''
Talal also said the powerful religious establishment should stay in place, but ``should not act like a state within a state.'' It's a view many Saudis voice privately but dare not express openly for fear of retribution from the government or the clergy.

The Al Saud family's claim to the throne is legitimized by the religious establishment, which in return has been given a free hand in regulating social matters.

The most visible manifestation of the clergy's power is the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, an independent agency that acts like a government ministry. Members of the commission have the power to arrest people for a variety of offenses, such as women accompanied by men who are not their guardians or coffee shop managers who allow customers to remain in their shops during prayer time.

``The establishment should be a support for the state. If the government wants its religious opinion it can turn to it,'' Talal said.

On the issue of women, Talal said there is no religious reason why women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive or work side-by-side with men.

``It's all about sex,'' he said.

``Every time they (fundamentalists) see a woman, they see her (as a sex object). The strange thing is you're applying this to your mother, your sister, your wife.''

``These restrictions will lead to an explosion,'' he said. ``They cannot continue.''

On another touchy topic, Talal said he's worried there could be a power struggle among the next generation of the Al Saud dynasty because there is no clear succession for King Abdul-Aziz's grandsons. The sons of Al Saud, who include Fahd and Abdullah, rose to power by age and competence, but most are now in their 60s and 70s.

``There are no differences now, but we worry about differences after the sons of Abdul-Aziz (pass away),'' he said.