Saudi Arabia in the 1980s
But what happened since then ? Isn't there a group called
And what about
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The arab peninsular is divided into five types of
AN NAJD The central plateau.
Riyadh represents typical urban scenary with enormous
government buildings and flats and road systems with flyovers and
tunnels. Parts of it are modelled on Paris (concrete canyons) and
others on Isfahan. The diplomatic quarter is something special.
The Riyadh province includes Yamama, the home of Mohammed the
AL JABAL The mountains
AT TILAL The small hills, which comprise distinct
regions, depending on whether these hills are mde up of sand or
boulders. The Red Sea coast is bordered by just such a region,
and this stretches for many kilometers. More inland areas may
well be surrounded by boulder hills, made up of volcanic rocks,
such as granite, or gabbro.
AL NAFUD These are vast areas of shifting sand
dunes, where to lose ones way is to lose ones life.
AL WADI Vast drainage areas which can become
flooded from time to time. There are also smaller wadis which are
like scratches in the surface. Here the farmers can eke out a
precarious living, unless helped by money and modern technology.
Whatever the scenary, the underlying structures can
easily be seen. The arab language is rich in words to describe
different types of sand, although they may not match up precisely
with modern geological classifications.
The high mountains in the south west (Asir) reach towards
the Yemen and they are covered with trees, called Arar. This is a
type of juniper tree. There are also rivers and streams in these
mountains, since rainfall is quite regular.
Inland, these mountains give onto enormous deserts. There
is almost no rain in the interior, and conditions seem extremely
hostile to life. But even this desert is good for a few things.
Date palms and camels formed the mainstay of the traditional
economy. The water rights were important, and controlled by the
local chiefs, but these themselves had often been very poor men
in the past. There were frequent migrations to the periphery, and
from the periphery to the rest of Asia, and also Africa.
The wadis comprised parts of these deserts. Here were
watercourses, and if the water was not on the ground, then it was
not so far under the ground. The greatest of all is perhaps the
Wadi Dawasir, which rises not so far from places like Leila, or
Khamsin, which lie at the end of the great necklace, the Tawayk
Escarpment which runs hundreds of miles to the south east of
Riyadh, the capital city.
Some of these wadis are the sites of property run by
enthusiastic farmers who see new means of becoming rich by
exporting food to the USSR. Admittedly the food is produced at
horrendous cost, but at least it is being produced. Unlike a
communist country, efforts to destroy agriculture are proceeding
at a more subtle pace. Perhaps the ground water will not last,
but at least efforts are being made to throw money at
Some quite beautiful efforts are being made to grow
trees, and generally improve things. Landscape artists are being
called in to work on enormous projects around palaces, schools
and military hospitals. Even the American National Parks service
has been involved through JECOR, the joint economic commission.
This is perhaps seen as some to treat Saudi Arabia like a fifty
first state, but then many of the technocrats had an american
In earlier times, a british education was more cheaply
obtained in India, where many merchants sent their sons to
school. Urban skills such as effective trading were best learnt
near to the big centers, which may well have been Istanbul, and
Bombay in the past. Jeddah was on the sea route, and it
benefitted enormously through the opening of the Suez Canal. To
commemorate trade, the Jam Joom center has been built to give
local visitors a taste of Singapore style shopping.
The Turks had enjoyed a split empire, until the canal was
built by the french. The british quickly took over the
installation because of its strategic importance to India, and
later they did their best to sabotage the turkish railway which
was to connect Makkah and Madina with Istanbul.
Nowadays everyone arrives in the peninsular by air. It is
cheaper and more reliable than land transport. Gone are the days
of being carried from Damascus by litter, as the wealthier
pilgrims travelled in earlier times. The prices most have been
back-breaking, even if the journey was not.
Once there, the people can enjoy the benefits of a 'hard
currency'. The arab riyal can be used by everyone one to buy
things of value. For food and clothing, the prices are not too
expensive. The things may be imported from India, or Hong Kong
without too much trouble. There is no hassle about the money
which is being used. Indeed the hassles come from a quite
different quarter to the banks, and currency changers. These
other authorities are the Mutawwa, or religious zealots. They can
form their own police, and beat women who do not cover their face
in public. These mutawwa are a thorn in the side of many members
of the technocracy, to such an extent that they are practically
banned from some of the big company towns such as Al Jubail, or
But at least a shopper is unlikely to get mugged by a
member of the proletarian underclasses. Labour is quite heavily
controlled, and Saudi will try to export its unemployment
problems, merely by ending worker's contracts.
The country takes its place in a modern world economy,
using the highest quality of computerised control in its many
manufacturing operations. These are just like american or
european factories, and indeed many factories have been assembled
lock stock and barrel as 'turn-key' projects. The government just
pays the money, and turns a key to make the whole thing work.
At least that is the theory. In fact the people who sold
the factories are not necessarily so keen to see their products
marketed, and try to restrict the Saudis only to their own
domestic trade. This itself can be quite good, since the hajj
pilgrimage of all moslems can put Saudi Arabia high up in the
tables of service exporting countries. Islam can be viewed as a
marketable commodity, especially if it can lead to human
Such are the wonderful effects of a rationally planned
economy that the casual visitor is overwhemed by the abundence of
goods in the shops, the wide roads, big hospitals and modern
universities, and courtesy and honesty of the shop keepers.
Although prices may seem marginally higher than Hong Kong, there
is almost no chance of getting ripped off if buying consumer
Large capital projects are another affaire. The Gulf war
lead to budgetary problems during the 1980's, and many big
contracters, especially the koreans, were payed very late, if at
all. This is quite a severe problem for many N.I.C.'s who have
debts to collect, since they come lower down on the list of
priorities than places like Germany, or the U.K.
There are three large universities in Saudi Arabia. These
are the UPM of Dahran (University of Petroleum and Minerals),
King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, and King Saud University in
Riyadh. The UPM has recently been renamed the King Fahd
University. This is quite in keeping with english tradition,
where many educational institutions are named after monarchs. At
none of these places are the students free to form associations.
In fact it is only on the campus of UPM that women are allowed to
drive. There are reports that the roads on this campus are quite
hazardous, although the accidents are most likely caused by
excessive speed which favours neither sex more than the other.
The student population is academically as good as can be
found anywhere in the world. The catchment areas for these
universities has been made wide by a very liberal policy of
scholarships for foreign students. This largesse was at its most
generous during the mid eighties. As an ideology islam had to
compete with communism and marxism. This may seem surprising in
the nineties, but it is certainly true to say that hands were
raised in horror when arab countries were being built up with a
Moscow trained elite. Even poor countries like Czechoslovakia, or
Roumania were able to give scholarships to third world students.
And these scholarships would of course be a source of resentment
for the local population. The Saudis did not really need to worry
about this. In fact it is hard for a Saudi to get a job in his
own economy. Just about all the jobs that a beginner may do are
already being done by foreigners. There is a very small Saudi
proletariat. Every Saudi wants to have his own video shop, run by
an english speaking filipino, and a part share in a transport
Despite the enormous national wealth, there are a few
young saudis that cannot be absentee landlords to a video
shop.Some of them even have to take taxis because they cannot
afford cars. Some of them don't care so much. They can have an
interesting life without being big consumers.
The Gulf Arabs have seen a welfare state that is
unrivalled world wide. Class struggle for them can only seem an
insignificant detail in the real struggle to survive. Oil prices
have dominated their economies, and at the hight of the gulf war,
delegates from Iran and Iraq would sit alongside others, at the
same table, to discuss prices and quotas.
After oil, there is great enthusiasm for religion. The
hajj is equivalent to one of the greatest football matches of all
time, and rowdy behaviour during the pilgrimage is the norm
rather than the exception. The saudis have to weigh the balance
between hajjis and hippies. Iran had the hippies, and Saudi the
hajjis. The Saudis have computerised immigration controls
designed by experts from UNESCO. The computers are backed up by a
rich level of beaurocracy, although the embassies sometimes get
attacked. The embassies of all countries which deal with Saudi
Arabia are interested in capitalism. Dynamic trading is almost a
state religion there.
This is true to such an extent that the saudis describe
their own economy as 'free'. Perhaps they slightly hide the fact
that for many on fixed contracts, their spell in Saudi Arabia may
seem like a jail term. Labour camps are set up in remote sites
where married men live in shacks, or big container boxes, while
their wives live in asiatic slums. In fact, for the proletariat,
there are many faults with the economy. Trades unions are banned
by the labour law, which is supposed to be based on the Sharia.
Politics based on class rather than religion is anathma for a
moslem. Even politics itself is a tricky business. The usual way
of politics is fratricide within the family out there.
It may seem that the rich have no proletarian class, but
it has to be remembered that the technocrats are themselves very
insecure in their own jobs. None of them want revolution. None of
them want the americans to go while the relationship is
profitable. A joint economic policy based on Washington and
Riyadh is quite alright as long as the shops are full. The
technocrats benefit from a two way exchange between Saudi and the
U.S.A. Some of these see the advantage of a liberal democracy,
even to the extent of basing themselves in the U.S.A.
The Saudis have acquired the pinnacle of U.S. technology
despite the protests of the zionist lobby. A ride in the shuttle
by a prince who was protected by allah, and protection against
the isrealis by AWACS planes. One can only assume that the
zionists also benefitted from the sale of the AWACS. At least
they could know what the 'best arab intelligence' really was.
Marxism is an alien and forbidden culture to the moslem,
so it is naturally quite interesting, at least for the educated
ones. There were quite a few in saudi arabia who saw Iran's point
in the gulf war. The heavy US intervention in the gulf was seen
as favouring Iraq which seemed just as stupid as Iran to many.
The Saudi rulers were certainly happy that Saddam was fighting
against the iranians, rather than against their own forces. Of
course the meccans might be happy to see something nasty to
happen to Riyadh, but not to lose their proportion of the oil
Technology has been made to serve man in this citadel of
reactionary forces. Islam has triumphed against communism in
Afghanistan, and the world will be able to see the true face of
islam as the victors fight for the spoils of war. You can find
many verses in the koran referring to just this type of the
division of property. The only problem for the Saudis is that
Najibullah confesses to be a moslem. They may realise that they
are being duped into buying stuff that is even more dangerous
than heroin from the americans.
Modern weapons of war are alien to the peacful character
of many people including moslems. 'Peace upon you' is the
greeting of a man out there and this does not go with being the
conduit of arms in a proxy war.
The climatic changes threatening the world are unlikely
to be very noticeable in a place with such a harsh climate as
Saudi Arabia. Environmental degradation will only be seen if the
wells run dry, or the desalination plants stop working.
Maintenence of this rather artificial set up takes money, and the
people will certainly be angry at any threat to their new found
life-style. The gulf arabs would sooner have pollution than
pearls, because the working conditions on the pearl dhows were
terrible. This means that the people would certainly have any
right to be angry about bad management of the oil reserves, or
any other resources.
Tensions between the people are likely to arise most
during the big religious occassions, and perhaps, football
matches. Ashura day, when the shiites whip themselves is always a
day for a strong police profile in Saudi Arabia. Most shiites
live on the Gulf, and they are generally quiet. For the rest,
they seem happy enough with their religion. Even the youth are
unlikely to burn down the mosques, although the authorities would
prefer that to letting the mosques become centres of free
discussion. Many moslems, Saudi and otherwise, are willing to
accept very wide variations in the observation of faith. A man
may pray in secret, or not at all, and still be a good moslem.
The practice of 'Taqayya' or dissimulation is a quite accepteable
behaviour, at least for a shiite. Sorcery, magic and astrology
are common forms of folk behaviour, and all of these habits are
imported with the foreigners. The wahhabites and the Saud family
have done their best to extirpate these practices, but heavy
handed efforts to coerce people into the mosques seem archaic
techniques when people are experiencing the shrinking world.
The japanese soap opera 'Oshin' was shown without
incident in Saudi Arabia, although when it came to Iran the media
managers responsible were thrown into jail to await a whipping.
The reason for this perhaps is that 'Oshin' came out with a very
anti-militaristic message. The truth is that many technocrats,
workers and women all want peace.
The moslem world is divided into two spheres: the 'Dar Al
Salaam', and the 'Dar Al Harb'. The translations are 'house of
peace', and 'house of war'. This is well known to certain media
people including pop-musicians. In theory the 'Dar al Harb' is
the non-moslem world, but war seems to respect neither sex nor
religion. The Saudis know this, because they are a major
reception area for refugees. Close by are Afghanistan, Eritrea,
Sudan, Syria, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, and Turkey. They even welcomed
Shamyl, one of the last islamic rebels of tsarist Russia. As the
center of the islamic world there are great moral pressures on
the Saudis to share there good fortune with the moslem victims of
persecution. Even the Philippines are close by in the sense of
the arabic expansion to the far east. The Saudis had little to do
with this, but there economy includes plenty of immigrants from
the Yemeni-Omani coast of the Arabian sea.
Capitalism was always important round the periphery of
Arabia, but not so much in the center. One of the things which
could be bought was labour in the form of slaves. Just like the
old testament of the jews, so the koran allows for slaves. Saudi
Arabia was one of the last countries of the world to give up
slavery, although there are some who would deny that they have
done so. Even the Saudi's own interior ministry has had
difficulty in controlling the employers and preventing them from
imposing slave like conditions on their workers.
Some workers do very dangerous jobs. Sweeping the roads,
or driving trucks is dangerous, because of the high risk of
accidents. Mortality risk is high on these magnificant highways.
Long distances and fatigue can hypnotise the driver. Altogether a
good argument for letting the women share the responsibility, but
alas even Iran has few women truck drivers.
The men prefer to hire sex-starved foreign drivers for
their women folk or at least this is what things may seem. In
fact the whole edefice of Sharia Law is made very shaky by such
absurdities, and the Saudis have to fear reform just as much as
revolution. In fact reform is more dangerous to them than
revolution, since the Mecca rising of 1400 A.H. was quite easily
suppressed. It was rather like the gesture of Mishima's suicide
during recent Japanese history. The economy went from strength to
The moslem fanatics who had taken the mosque had no real
popular support. The shop keepers whose business was hurt were
more interested in their profits than the words of the prophet.
For many the words alone were enough to justify their blessings.
None of the people really wanted their country to be taken back
to the middle ages.
For a country with a hard line moral code, there is a
fantastic amount of video eroticism. There is an enormous gap
between public morality and private behaviour, and this is
exceptionally true of many of the princes. Some of them like to
sell cocaine in the more exclusive circles of western capitals,
while others are keener to keep a low profile and enjoy
themselves. Unfortunately even the princes are not so free. It is
standard practice to recall them all during intense periods of
While the oil wealth remains, the Saudis can bribe the
people. The bribes are also directed at the technocrat, some of
whom may be able to live in special compounds where the religious
laws are not so severely enforced. There are plenty of very
orthodox moslems who are willing to allow complete religious
tolerance in the belief that this will ultimately bring in more
converts. These people are common enough in Saudi society, and
they bitterly oppose the fanatics.
The Saudi oil wealth ultimately remains on being able to
charge high prices to their customers, many of whom may be poor,
and without energy reserves. They are willing to take payment in
cash or services, or a mixture of both. All of the big
infra-structure projects are built by armies of foreign workers,
many of whom live in barrack like accomodation. The place acts as
a magnet to the intellegentsia of many places. India, Pakistan,
Egypt and Turkey all contribute to the economy. Unfortunately
many of them do not remain so long. Job turnover is high, and the
reason is that many of those who value the freedom of thought
have to seek opportunities elsewhere than in a 'one party
In this the Saudis are opposed by Muammar Ghadafi, who
has practically denounced the Saudi rulers as heretics. The
presence of foreign armed forces on Saudi soil seems a particular
humiliation to arabs whose countries were beaten into submission
by italian armies. It took years of epic struggle to subdue the
Libyans, and it was a proving ground for european style fascism
during the 1920's. The colonisation of Saudi Arabia by the USA
has not taken place by armed force, but Muammar wants to see a
more specifically islamic line being taken by the arab countries.
And to Muammar, religion means more than just compulsory prayers.
The koran may be the subject each man's own personal meditation,
just as it was for the prophet. This attitude is quite a
contradiction to that of the Saudis. His own international
appearences are quite in keeping with this challenge to the Saudi
religious establishment. The wahhabites do not yet dare to face
the public with female members of the militia. Four wives is a
compromise. There is no limit to the number of wives a moslem may
have, but Muammar realises that plurality of wives should make a
man love all women more, including the old and the weak. His way
of showing that love is to try to impose western ideas of women's
rights on a traditional society by command. He probably knows
that this is much more difficult than keeping America at bay.
Because Muammar is not afraid to write a book explaining
his theories, he is a formidable opponent to the Saudis. He is
known to have great personal friendships with some of the iranian
shiite leaders and this makes him suspect. He has also kept the
loyalty of many foreigners who worked in Libya, especially
Saudi Arabia attempts a sort of information quarantine.
Books and videos are supposed to be controlled, but are widely
circulated in practice. It is a moot point as to just what is
brought in by the americans. Whisky may only be the start of the
rot. Banned books and media have their scarcity and snob value.
The religious fanatics cannot fool all the moslems, and there are
incidents in Saudi Arabia where the over-zealous muttawa may be
beaten up by those he is trying to drive to prayer.
One may question whether 'drug wars' are ever likely to
come to Saudi Arabia. There is a certain amount of fog over this
issue. The Yemenis use a lot of Qat, a shrub which produces an
ephedrine like stimulant, but most of the drug addicts have
enough money to pay for their habits without resorting to crime.
There are reports in the local press of tetoxification clinics,
and also of armed hashish convoys which ply the roads from Jordan
and the Lebanon. There are sometimes gun battles between the
police and the smugglers, since there is a death penalty for drug
traffiking. Despite this the drugs get through. The big profits
are enough to see to that. The big gulf between private and
public behaviour helps the princes to disguise their various
addictions. Public displays of gambling are quite OK, because the
moslems practically invented the civilised ambience of a gambling
saloon. All sorts of card games are immensly popular amongst the
people and the princes. There were even some video arcades in the
eighties, but the fashion quickly passed with the wide
availability of personal computers.
Public houses are generally run by the yemenis in Saudi
Arabia. It is possible to spend the evening watching television,
drinking cofee and smoking a hookah. The pipes are very big, and
they are carried to the table by a waiter. Statistically there
are not so many of these places in Riyadh, but there are many
more in the villages. The yemenis often make up the bulk of the
clients and the social life is not so bad.
From the point of view of an orthodox Marxist-Leninist,
the Yemeni proletariat would appear to feature as the vanguard of
the working classes in that part of the world. Indeed the PDRY
sees itself as just that, then they anticipated Baku and the
soviet caucasian republics. After the brief civil war of 1985
they decided to rush into unification with their northern
neighbour. The arabs are not stupid now, because they have been
working on reunification as their dependence on Saudi Arabia
lessens. With some of their own oil, the people can benefit.
The Asir, or right, is in Saudi Arabia, while the Yameen,
or left is with Yemen. The most densly inhabited part of Saudi
Arabia is the Asir. This is also the most beautiful part. The
climate is quite like parts of Europe, and it is completely
different from the scorching desert.
THE FOREIGN POLICY OF SAUDI ARABIA
The firing of sheikh Yamini, the oil minister highlighted
the problems which Saudi Arabia has in making its foreign policy.
It must be seen as the staunch guardian of american capitalism in
the middle east and the second greatest power of the whole area,
after India. The Saudi's were in at the setting up of the United
Nations in 1945, and their budding oil industry came on stream at
an opportune time to cash in on the Mossadegh nationalisation in
the 1950's. Kuwait of course also benefited.
The Iranians had elected a popular government, which
nationalised the british owned oil industry in Iran. The US and
England acted to further their own interests, and with CIA help
the shah was restored. The whole crisis developed over a year,
and this gave added impetus to the first major stage of the oil
industry. The desert between Kuwait and Riyadh was shared out.
There was no fighting this time. Tribal raids were to become a
thing of the past, because english colonial rule had shown much
better ways of robbery. Enormous projects were initiated in the
mineral extraction industry. The lines of the ruling commercial
elite were established just after the second world war, and the
big pipeline contracts saw millions made overnight.
The regional financial centers included Houston and
Beirut. The americans got very good treatment in Saudi Arabia,
and consolidated their grip on the gulf after the overthrow of
Mossadegh. They showed that they could act as king-makers, taking
their role over from the british.
With friends like that, who needs enemies. The cultural
hold of the USA on the gulf countries is frightening the people.
They all read these horror stories of 'crack' and 'heroin'
addiction, and they don't want those horrors in their own pure
The dilemma is that Saudi Arabia must hold the top
position in the league of 'islamic countries' while also acting
in the interests of the west. This means that it must try to copy
its institutions from Washington, while it needs to throw out
what is bad as quickly as possible. Unfortunately they tend to
keep out the good while letting in the bad. For example many
books are banned or censored, while many poisonous chemicals are
actually starting to be made there. They have also acted as a
sort of free sales zone for arms manufacturers, despite the fact
that war is not in their best interests.
Many of the worlds islamic organisations are based in
Jeddah. The Islamic Development Bank, and the Organisation of
Islamic Conference owe their whole existance to Saudi Arabia. The
Saudis are able to prove their leading position by trying to keep
to koranic punishments such as amputation, and stoning, although
now the stoning may simply be a more gradual process of being
buried alive by bulldozer.
This unhealthy 'competition of punishments' goes on while
the islamic beaurocracy has failed to tackle the real problems
such as the Iran-Iraq war, or Lebanon, or Isreal and Palestine,
or Sudan's Debt. One may almost ask whether the economically
feeble try to kow tow to Saudi Arabia by deciding to emulate
their Sharia Laws. Iran is able to set the pace by enormous
numbers of shootings, hangings, and public spectacles of
whippings, but many moslems of the twentieth century question
these practices. The conditions of year zero were different to
those of now. If people are to be executed for their crimes, then
this must be shown on public television. This means the same sort
of law must apply to the leaders, but it never does. The leaders
will always attempt to defend themselves from the law of god by
force of arms in this life. They cannot in the next.
When the prophet claimed to be the last prophet, he meant
it. No one else has a right to claim advantage by being closer to
god any more. This is the message of both Jesus and Mohammet. A
society without big style leaders is really part of the deal.
A literal copying of the oasis of Yathrib in the year
zero would be environmentally sound. It would also mean creating
many more such oases to accomodate the increased population, or
else a series of rulers like Stalin, Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein.
The trouble is that 'islamic' practices cease to be
islamic when enforced by the coercion of a government state
machine. The people of Saudi Arabia know this already. Despite
the glaring exposure of this type of hypocracy, the Saudis
continue to back these punishment regimes. Pakistan and Sudan
both want Sharia law, and they both want the Saudis and Americans
to give them more money, and arms. This means that Saudi Arabia
is trawled by both people who want to sell arms and also those
who are running away as a result of this dangerous trade. People
from all over Africa and Asia are there. The chinese sell
rockets, while the Afghanis come to ask for more.
The Sudanese and also the Eritreans have asked for
military help. In fact the OIC has been used as a military forum,
although without much success. For the moslem maybe the rockets
are symbolic stones, and the russian or falangist enemies are
symbolic harlots who should be stoned to death.
THE ISLAMIC STATES
GDP POP. GDP/CAP
SAUDI ARABIA 95050 11.50 8850 101775
TURKEY 48820 50.20 1080 54216
ALGERIA 58180 21.90 2250 49275
PAKISTAN 28240 96.20 380 36556
IRAN 27000 44.60 800 35680
EGYPT 30550 48.50 610 29585
LIBYA 25420 3.80 7170 27246
U.A.E. 28120 1.40 19270 26978
KUWAIT 21710 1.70 14480 24616
IRAQ 18000 15.90 1100 17490
SYRIA 16370 10.50 1570 16485
BANGLA-DESH 16110 100.60 150 15090
MAROCCO 11850 21.90 560 12264
TUNISIA 7240 7.10 1190 8449
OMAN 8820 1.20 6730 8076
SUDAN 6930 21.90 300 6570
JORDAN 3450 3.50 1560 5460
YEMEN 3700 8.00 550 4400
NIGER 1580 6.40 250 1600
MALI 1100 7.50 150 1125
YEMEN PDR 900 2.10 530 1113
MAURITANIA 600 1.70 420 714
PLO 0 0.00 0 0
CHAD 1200 5.00 0 0
AFGHANISTAN 0 0.00 0 0
This table is based on World Bank figures published in
1987, but it has to be admitted that the world bank is unable to
make very reliable estimates about several countries here. War
ravaged Afghanistan for example or the PLO itself are not easily
represented. Despite limitations, it can be seen that the Saudi
delegate is the most important member of the IDB, in that most
money is represented here. Other important arganisations are the
Organisation of Petroleum eExporting Countries (OPEC) and the
Gulf Co-operation council (GCC). These organisations give a
microcosm of world problems within the islamic community. The GCC
is a rich man's club, while other islamic countries are amongst
the poorest and most backwards in the world. There are also cases
like Palestine and perhaps Northern Cyprus, which are
predominantly moslem, but have no official statehood. In fact the
islamic world also includes large sections of China, and the
USSR. Jeddah and Mecca remain impressive show-cases of the
benefits of capitalism to these regions.
In terms of trade, Saudi Arabia leads the islamic world.
The Saudi economy is the most important in the region, and it
also offers opportunities for the intelligentsia of all the arab
speaking countries. Palestinians are important here. Many of the
teachers and administrators are palestinians, in both Saudi
Arabia, and Kuwait.
Second in the list of islamic powers appears Turkey. This
is no real threat to Saudi Arabia, because the turks are not
considered good moslems by anyone. Turkey is certainly no
show-case of capitalism. It is one of the few countries of the
world with an idealistic communist party. The expenses and
iniquities of capitalist modes of exploitation are all too
evident in Turkey. The turks have quite a European mentality, and
the arab-islamic axis is of no real interest to them. They are
definitely not a member of 'The Rich Man's Club', although the
turks are members of NATO and the OECD. The turks were happy to
act as a broker to both sides during the Iran-Iraq war, and they
were in the best position to do so.
International pipelines are important for all the powers
in the area. 'The Pipeline of Peace' has been posed as a solution
to the region's military problems by some of the big american
engineering companies. The idea is to pump water from the sources
of Iraq's rivers to Syria, Palestine, and the hejaz. Even isreal
would be involved in the deal. The whole venture could probably
be financed by money from the Gulf, especially if military
spending was diverted.
The discussion of water rights would take longer than the
actual project if the present situation is anything to go on. The
Iran-Iraq war was nominally caused by a disagreement on the line
of a river frontier. Turkish dams are dangerous provocations to
the Iraqis who remain the military super-power of the region.
The Saudi people are consulted on none of these
decisions. Foreign policy is the preserve of a small number of
elite families. These people are mercantelists. Many of them
learnt from the british or american capitalists, and get on with
these people excellently. The Saudi Elite has the 'one-world
mentality' more so than many of their counterparts in England or
the USA. Tokyo is just as familiar as Washington or New York for
many of them. Few would go to Moscow, because the communists are
The religious people felt left out of this. They want to
train moslem missionaries to work anywhere in the world, and
especially in the USA. The 'black muslims' represent an important
constituency of the Saudis. The americans themselves are not
really opposed to this. Their own religious inspired leadership
was quite willing to see islam as a wonderful ally against
Godless-Marxism-Leninism. Any religion which allowed or even
advocated the supression of communism seemed OK to many
americans, who it may be added are consulted on foreign policy
decisions by their government. In a sense, islam could be seen as
good for labour discipline. Rather than going on strike, the
workers should trust in allah. The leaders of islam are quite
ready to go along with the USA as the number one capitalist
power, and claim their ranking as the number one islamic power.
They appear unaware of the problems which beset italy.
Their own position is difficult. While no one would contest the
Saudis claim to mecca and medina (except a few meccans) there are
many who would object to theiroccupation of jerusalem. Even the
jordanians would object to any one country owning the three holy
cities. Jerysalem, Mecca, and Medina. The hajj should be shared
out equally from Tel Aviv to Jeddah, if capitalism is to be any
good. The unrivalled pilgramage tour remains a dream, and it is
impossible for the capitalist system to yield this dream of many
members of the proletariat. Islam itself says every man should be
able to go to Mecca. This means that the world's wealth needs to
be more equally distributed in order to ensure equal chances. The
hajjis were never meant to be an elite which could live like
lords, and keep the common people as slaves or servants.
As a number one economic power they need to turn away
from capitalism. This they can never do. The gulf arabs will do
anything to avoid going back to the days of pearl fishing, or
subsistance agriculture, and they have cashed in on off-shore
banking to try and be like New-York and Hong-Kong. Unfortunately
the most grand of these ventures, the Money Souk of Kuwait went
bust in the early eighties, and had to be bailed out by the
government. Many yuppies had to try their hand at industry, and
get a job in Saudi. There they find the banks already filled with
yemenis, and hadramawtis.
So these people would die rather than join the ranks of
the proletariat. Unlike the son in law of Karl-Marx, they do not
have to commit suicide when the family legacy runs out. They can
get jobs as executives in a big industrial complex. If not they
can set up a shop, and sell to the proletariat. New industries
such as computing and bio-technology can provide lucrative jobs.
The manual work can all be done by immigrant labour. No where
else in the world has so many of a nation been able to own
servants. These rich gulf countries are surrounded by a pool of
cheap labour. The Saudis tend to go for servants, rather than
developing robots or new forms of technology. If they want to set
up their silicon valley, then they have to give the workers more
Freedom of religion is denied in Saudi Arabia. This works
against the interests of science, in the sense that they cannot
freely bid for the skills of the jews of the USSR, before they go
to the enemy of isreal. The religious faction is just chasing
away the type of people who they need most. On immigration the
Saudis are not following US advice, which indicates that Saudi
could currently go to a population of twenty million.
Saudi Arabia gets the americans who are not jews.
Admittedly there are a few jews in medecine, but their presence
is not advertised much. The truth is that the zionists could see
how civilised are their enemies, if they were to see Riyadh, and
Jeddah. Many excellent works are carried out by JECOR, the joint
economic commission. They have desalination experts, and forestry
experts, and a national parks service. Just like capitalist
states anywhere, these departments are very small and underfunded
compared with central government services such as computing and
statistics. Here enormous beaurocratic empires are being built in
a country which is mostly just desert. If Chad and Mali and Sudan
could get the same they would be in fine shape. Saudi Arabia has
a fine structure with a lot of duplication between Riyadh, and
Jeddah, the big rivals.
To understand Saudi foreign policy, you need to
understand Adnan Kashoggi. His disgrace to the extent of
appearing in an american court with an electronic chain
restricting him to his luxury apartment is all in the classical
ottoman tradition, where a big functionary could be recalled at
any time and executed like a common criminal. The Saudis have
very well adapted themselves to a century of Hitler, and Stalin,
and even Enver, who massacred the armenians, by staying well on
the sidelines. Their last enemies were the egyptians, and the
turks. Isreal itself is not an enemy at all, except that of
course the Saudis, as arabs, feel a bit more right to parcel up
isreal than anyone else.
Since Ibn Saud evicted the turkish governer from his mud
castle in Riyadh, the state has not looked back. British bribes
kept him from fighting them, and an englishman was kept at his
court, to report on whether he was getting bribes from the turks,
in all probability. All in all it was a very good war for Saudi
Arabia. The turks also learned quickly, and managed the same
trick in the next war. This time, it was the americans rather
than the british that had the power in the eastern mediterranean.
The Asmara Air Base was built in the closing years of the war,
once the issue was already decided. It took some time to run down
the war machine, so the americans built peripheral bases.
They found it useful to hunt down the communists in
Greece, and also in Armenia. Turkey and Greece were blocks of
NATO, while Iran, and Iraq and Pakistan could all be members of
CENTO. These military alliences could serve as a bulwark against
communism. The god parties could be used in all wars against
communism, and this could collect vast funds from enraptured
audiences listening to religious evangelist demagogues.
American missionaries were able to cash in on vast
opportunities, especially in Ethiopia, and the Lebanon. Many of
these were bourgeois liberals and this can be plainly seen in the
attitudes of their students. The teachers were good, but the
ideas seven hundred years ahead of their time. In a sense a place
like America is willing to let people emigrate. This means that
the world was swamped by americans in the fifties and sixties.
These people were often travelling to visit relatives, and they
bought the news about different cultural traditions.
Since the setting up of the United Nations, there have
been at least three wars in the arabian peninsula. The
participants included England, Egypt, Oman, and the Yemen. The
british were quite enthusiastic about the use of jet bombers to
subdue 'bandits', or 'communist terrorists. These punitive
actions could prove the virtues of western civilisation much
better than 'free trade unions' for example, and they generally
had the support of those rulers who were still pensioners of the
At the end of the second world war england was again the
dominant power in the middle east. India was still the prized
possession, and Egypt and Aden were the strategic connection. The
americans had built up their strength in Turkey, and Ethiopia.
Just as in 1918, so in 1945 the peace treaty was to divide up the
world between the victors. The jews as pitiful losers were also
to get something from the new organisation set up to ensure world
peace. At least they should have a place where they could be free
of tyrants like Adolf Hitler, or so it seemed to liberal opinion
of the time.
Although the arabian peninsula (Al Jazera) had managed to
avoid direct involvement, other arab countries were less
fortunate. Libya had suffered most, while Syria had been involved
in the rivalries between the Gaullists, and the Vichy government.
All of the merchants of the area had been unable to practice free
trade, and commodity markets were severely disrupted. Moslems
were unable to undertake the hajj.
It is quite understandable why the Saudis supported the
new peace organisation. They had lost revenues from Makkah, and
also their own infant oil industry was unable to find development
funds during the conflict. Instead the imperialist war supplies
had been drawn from Iran and Iraq. King Saud had seen how Iran
was partitioned by the USSR and England, and he was enthusiastic
to support a new world order based on a de-colonialisation
program. The United Nations, established in the USA seemed just
the answer. After all the americans had a 'good record' on this
issue. They were keen to see the european imperial powers pull
out of their colonies as quickly as possible. The USA was itself
a power which had at one time thrown off the shackles of
Middle east oil would no longer be used to power
imperialist wars. As an independent state in the U.N. Saudi
Arabia could enjoy the status of being a broker in the new
settlements. It might even be possible to do something for the
arabs in Palestine. The English could be eased out of the old
League of Nations mandate, just as the french had been expelled
from Syria. Most arabs wnted the english out of Palestine.
Unfortunately for the Saudis, the same was not true in
the rest of the Gulf. The smaller emirates and Kuwait saw more
danger from the Saudis than the british. They were well aware
that the Saudis had been trying to replace the turks on the
peninsula. The Asir was an example.
Kuwait was a colony of British Petroleum at that time. It
had taken the efforts of a very anti-british englishman to
persuade the Saudis to go against the british monopolies of the
middle east. Harry St. John Philby, the father of the spy, had
got king Saud interested in negociating with the american oil
companies. A switch from pensioner of the british to trading
partner with the americans was in the best interests of the
Ever since 1945 the Saudis have done their best to please
the americans. The creation of the state of Isreal was the major
hitch in this relationship. It meant that a major trading partner
was being treated as a menial. The family could not really do
much to right this insult, because the people of Saudi Arabia
were never consulted. The arab invasions of Isreal in 1948 were
ghastly failures. The armies involved were not 'peoples armies'
of the type which saved revolutionary France from invasion. They
were the remnants of colonial armies where the military elites
owed their position as much to the imperialists as any-one else.
The only 'peoples armies' were the odd palestinian squads, but
the palestinians themselves are not really warlike people.
The chance of a negociated settlement was lost in 1948.
The short time since the joining of the U.N. had not given Saudi
Arabia the chance to undo thirteen hundred years of mistrust for
the jews. The condemnation and combat against the jews described
in the Koran was at odds with the attitudes prevailing in the
west after the exposure of the nazi death camps. Saudi Arabia as
the center of islam could only be in a position to mediate if
islam was to be percieved as a more pluralistic philosophy. This
is hard for the Wahhabites who have been well known for their
violent attacks on schismatic brands of islam. As a result the
Saudis were mistrusted by other arabs, especially in Iraq.
The arabs themselves also did not hold the confidence of
western liberals. The Ba'ath movement, founded by Michael Aflaq,
had contained many who had publically stated sympathy for the
fascists. This offended the intelligentsia of the western liberal
democracies. Another unfortunate habit of the arabs is the
persecution of poets. There has long been an 'islamic information
order' which places the Koran as the single authoritarian source
for all human relations. The moslem brotherhood had been
strengthened by the various humiliations of imperialism, and this
was not good for the palestinians, many of whom have remained
The palestinian bourgeoisie was perhaps the first arab
group to mobilise demonstrations by women in the 1930's. It is
possible to see photos of these demonstrations in the arabic
print media. These unveiled women are shown picketing various
places in Palestine, to protest against the zionist form of
social engineering. The liberals were unfortunate. The time was
set for authoritarian tendencies in Europe, such as fascism, or
The arab nation has not been kind to the intelligentsia.
Colonialism gave many of the brightest a chance to emigrate, and this
'brain drain' was only re-inforced by the backward attitude of many of
the nationalist organisations. The sort of men who chose to work for
western organisations did not care for the 'one book mentality', but they
were reluctant to admit it to the people back at home.
In 1948 it was impossible for such conservatives as the moslem
brotherhood to defend the interests of a minority. At no stage were they
fighting for freedom. They were all seeking to impose some other form of
authoritarian control on the palestinians.
As a result of the 1948 debacle, many palestinians went to work
for imperialist oil companies in the gulf. Some of these men even tried
to export their liberal values and form trade unions. They were rapidly
hounded out of work by an alliance of multinational companies and sheiks.
Nationalism has become the only tolerated form of political
activity for many palestinians. This is part of their tragedy. The moslems
would see this as quite appropriate. They think communism is a jewish
invention, and so they definately do not want the palestinians to invent
anything for themselves.
After the isreali state came the rise of Gamel Abdul Nasser.
Here the Saudis took the side of the old colonial powers. They saw
Nasser's attempts to influence politics in the Yemen as a trespass on
An attempted coup by 'progressive nationalist' army officers in
Sana'a saw the start of a ten year civil war. Egyptian conscripts were
pitted against well armed tribal mujehadeen. The egyptians were fighting
for 'arab socialism', while they mujehadeen were fighting for 'freedom'.
The british were keen to see the egyptians turfed out of the Yemen,
because of their own loss of face at Nasser's hands during the Suez
crisis of 1956.
The relationship with Kuwait is something special for the
Saudis. The family of Ibn Saud had been forced to seek sanctuary
there after some troubles during the nineteenth century. It was
then just a poor place that relied on trade and pearl fishing,
but Kuwait was not as important as Basra. The oil was harder to
find, but when it did come, Kuwait was made into British
Kuwait was certainly more important to the british, than
to the turks in the early years of the century. All of the Gulf
had become a british lake. It suited the rulers to seek
super-power support, against a strong local power. The turks were
more of a danger than the british. They could invade with large
armies, and they had reasons to resent the past incursions of the
wahabbite ikhwan (Moslem brothers) who had sacked Kerbala.
The turks and their local clients still controlled the
interior of arabia, and even parts of the Yemen. These people
were generally less interested in fighting than the british. They
bought the occassional arms, but they also liked making water
pipes to smoke things. The west brought an increased level of
brutality into the dar as salaam. Rockets, and large calibre
artillery are inventions of the dar al harb.
Saddam Hussein is proving this ninety years later. The
middle east is just industrial hinterland to the west, and
Muammar Ghadafi is quite right when he says the objective is for
the americans to keep the middle east as a big indian
reservation. He has probably been told that by american liberals.
Muammar Ghadafi is determined to give the west a taste of
its own medecine, but does not know how to do this yet. He wants
to sponsor enemies of the west, but has been ripped off by
various dishonest clients, so he has to work through long lists
of solutions. Assuming he lives long enough then he will suceed,
because he is doing things to endear himself to many.
His interests in banking and automobiles give him insight
into the major economic problems of the arab world. Terms of
trade are abysmal, because the world ruling classes want all
decision making done in Washington, and Paris,and Frankfurt,
rather than in Jeddah, and Cairo.
As an honest moslem, Ghadafi seeks to unify Libya with a
country of a greater population. He has tried many countries, but
not yet a joint Saudi-Libyan coalition. This is something that
the west dreads. Bomb attacks on Libya have taken place to try
and eliminate Muammar Ghadafi. The Saudis friend, the british
were the staging post for one such attack.
It is hardly surprising that Ghadafi is very angry at the
Saudis for also hosting american planes. It is to be hoped that
the arabs do not need foreign help in protecting them from local
enemies. The Prophet, peace be upon him, would have laughed at
Better still is the avoidance of local enemies. All of
the arab state have been involved in peace treaties for years.
Many agreements have been made to end the lebanese civil war, but
none of them are effective. The same applies to Isreal. The arabs
cannot make a treaty in Makkah, because non-moslems cannot yet go
Seen this way, the Saudi foreign policy may seem to be a
straight jacket for a truly islamic policy, which purely seeks to
shrink the dar-al-harb. The Saudis could offer to take the I.R.A.
of british hands. They could set up a sort of protectorate for
the ulstermen, while the english took their own troops away. They
could also spend money on the improvement of farming techniques
in Africa, and the soviet asian republics.
Instead of this, they are simply working for the west in
many areas. They are not actually helping the isrealis to opress
the palestinians, but their efforts to help the palestinians are
limited. Their best efforts in recent times have been associated
with attempts to get the U.N. General Assembly moved to Geneva.
Here the Saudis already have an islamic center, and the swiss are
less under the influence of the zionists than the americans.
Freedom of speech for Yasser Arafat is an important plank of
their foreign policy.
It may seem that Saudi Arabia's foreign policy has not
been so effective in the middle East. Saddam Hussein's war
against Iran has occupied most of the attention during the
decade. It is this war which is responsible for the curtailment
of Saudi's generous aid policies to the islamic world. The decade
started out with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia showing the rest of the
world how to behave towards the poor. Besides building mosques,
the islamic charities could prove that moslems have the war
agains poverty as one of their main objectives. Instead this
money had to be diverted to propping up Saddam Hussein. Poor old
Iraq did not even have a sea outlet for its oil exports. The
system of Saudi and Kuwaiti pipelines were extended to allow some
Iraqi exports to reach Saudi ports. The iranians were aware of
this, and by seeking to interfere with Iraqi exports they
attacked shipping bound for Kuwaiti and Saudi ports. The
Americans were called in to defend this trade, although it is the
Kuwaitis who took the most blatent action by registering many of
their ships as american.
Saudi support for Iraq was obvious by their press
coverage. Saddam Hussein was shown as a smiling and genial man,
meeting with the same sort of important civil and military
dignities that the Saudi elite love so much. There were even tame
ulema who could assure the faithful sunnites that the crushing of
the islamic revolution was essential in the name of good orthodox
islamic principals. A Jamaican moslem called Bilal Philips wrote
a book explaining the 'mirage of Iran'. In this tract the perfidy
of shiites through the ages was exposed. It was shiites who had
sold Baghdad to the mongols, and dismembered Pakistan. The
followers of Ali were responsible for many of the ills of the
noslem world. It certainly seemed wise to get help from both
Russia and America against a resurgence of this 'twelve imams'
heresy. After all many christian powers had sought the help of
moslems against catholicism.
There are many stories that Saddam Hussein had actually
asked for Saudi advice before crossing the Shatt Al Arab. The
truth is harder to tell. It is unlikely that Saddam ever received
a straight answer. Dissimulation and ambiguity is not a
distinctly shiite trait. The technocrats generally want
development, and not war. If they are comfortable, they will not
risk their lives for humanistic goals. They do not need to be
manipulated, since they do not participate in government. These
same technocrats are also able to see how their counterparts in
England have been unable to do much about Northern Ireland, and
also how the american intellectuals have failed to prevent
american intervention in Chile, Salvador, and even Nicaragua.
The Saudis were pleased that they did not have to fight
Iran. Better the turks, or the russians, or even the isrealis,
for the role of agressor to Iran. As moslems the iranians were
even entitled to send pilgrims to Makkah. The Saudis here played
a crucial role as guardians of the gate. Modern air travel, and
the huge terminals at King Abdul Aziz International Airport, at
Jeddah, meant that millions of pilgrims could be accomodated and
welcomed by boy scouts and similar charitable organisations. The
peaceful activity of pilgrimage could show the best of Saudi
Society. The normal police could behave with the utmost courtesy,
giving tourists a guide to explain the correct form of the
ritual. Every effort was to be made to prevent people from being
trampled in the crush.
The transport system of Makkah was built on american
proportions to handle the traffic. The highway to Jeddah showed a
twenty-first century landscape, with fantastic sculptures on the
central reservation. Jeddah itself boasts some of the best art to
be seen anywhere in the world. Although the cyclist is not a
protected species in Saudi Arabia, the twenty metre high bicycle
that graces a Jeddah roundabout is an indication of things to
come. Makkah itself has plenty of tunnels and flyovers.
Despite the efforts of the boy scouts and other idealists
the holiest places of islam became centers of ideological
conflicts. The iranian pilgrims wanted to unfurl banners
condemning america and isreal. This lead to an undertermined
number of deaths in 1987. The Saudi police probably became
frightened of the mob, and shot in self-defence, but their lack
of experience must have caused many uneccessary deaths.
These incidents in Makkah lead to the sacking of the
Saudi embassy in Tehran. One diplomat fell to his death, trying
to escape an angry mob. Luckily the diplomats were not kept in
prison for long, and they were able to go back and tell the tale
to the local newspapers a few days later.
Despite all this, the best efforts were made to retain an
iranian embassy in Saudi Arabia. There was a vast building in the
shape of a mud fort maintaned in the diplomatic quarter of
Riyadh. Most of the time this building seemed to be under
construction. There was certainly no chance of releasing a mob
into the diplomatic quarter of Riyadh. Such turmoil would be too
unpredictable. The mob might decide to go for other embassies as
The local mob would consist of motor mechanics and
teachers and medical staff from Umm al-Hamam. Most of these
people would be foreigners, rather than Saudis. They mostly
besiege the embassies for visas to countries which are higher up
the scale in terms of human development. Indians and pakistanis
queue up for visas to France or the U.S.A. The many stateless
persons in Saudi Arabia seek to go to Australia, Canada, or
Sweden. They see Riyadh as a staging post on the road to 'western
If the Saudis have not been so successful in middle
eastern power politics, they have certainly been successful in
their industrialisation and agriculture. Too succesful perhaps.
Their own trading partners who got huge advantages in the
construction of chemical plants turned against their customers.
The E.E.C. slapped tariffs on Saudi products from the
petro-chemical complexes at Al Jubail, and Yanbu. Their economy
is merely seen as an estate to be exploited by the rich
countries. The technocrats know this, but most of them realise
that if they want to seriously act to change anything, they must
embark on the nomadic life of a gypsy, and base their operations
outside the peninsula.
The intellectuals and technocrats are alienated by Ibn
Bas, and the more fanatical moslems. They know that they need
ex-patriates, but they can do little to keep the loyalty of men
of the highest calibre. The harsh social conditions imposed by
the ulema lead to the worst sort of mercenaries being attracted
to Saudi Arabia. The 'take the money and run' attitude is all too
common, and this does not help managers.
Full participation in the world economic system is coming
slowly. The immense oil wealth makes the country a target for all
sorts of sharp dealers who simply wish to exploit this wealth for
short term gain. These people will fully co-operate with any
corrupt practices that they see, and also seek opportunities to
cash in on conflict. Arms salesmen include the americans, the
british, and the chinese. They are all quite pleased to see a
separate army and national guard. The koreans and lebanese can
get contracts to build barracks and hospitals for these military
forces. Many of these projects are finished late, and some are
not yet paid for.There are many examples of bankruptcies, where
the bosses run away, leaving their workers unpaid, and stranded
in a foreign country.
There are also examples of Saudis who have had to run away from
the west to escape debts, or avaricious american lawyers. Sometimes a
rich man marries an american woman, and then finds she wants half the
estate, which may amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. These
poor men are hounded out of their hotels and penthouses by infidel
litigation. They face the existential problem of unlimited wealth and
yet an unhappy life. Their religion, like most religions when it comes
to this point, does not provide an answer.
As in all topical analysis of foreign policy, we include
drugs, debt, and dumping. The Saudis have certainly been accused
of the latter crime, at least by other members of the oil cartel.
They have often set the oil quota, but with the Iran-Iraq war,
and the pipeline systems, most of these quotas could be fiddled.
Ministry statistics are all produced with the most modern
computer systems, but the end result is the same. While the
Iranians slog out in an unpopular war, the Saudis want to fill
the souks of Makkah and Jeddah with videos. The Saudis can
represent consumerism, while the iranians can go for an austere
form of puritanism. It is then possible for the mass of the
people to decide whether they want war.
In this way the Saud dynasty are making their 'bilad', or
'watan' a fantastic parallel with the freewheeling days of the
ancient popes of Rome. They are giving considerable autonomy to
local governers, and will eventually be able to have a conflict
of city states. Football matches are popular there. This
represents the consumerist tendency. Football and sports stadiums
are big business out there, along with professional management
and training. Jeddah and Makkah are both a showcase of the west,
and one can imagine the glee of the shop keepers as they wait to
welcome the peasants of Soviet Central Asia. All of these men
will want japanese videos to sell on the black market back at
The Saudis have a very international society, and they
are quite security conscious. Some of them see their own country
as a 'dumping' ground for all sorts of obsolete but expensive
technology. You can see wrecked Toyotas all over the desert. The
badu are upgrading from camels and donkeys, and this within the
lifetime of many. They also appear to be a dumping ground for
many ex-patriates. On some contracts, the majority of people are
pensioners. These laid-back westerners generally push paper, and
have adapted to the ways of oriental beaurocracy, but with
word-processors for their inter office memos.
The passport and labour control systems are all
computerised, along with the banks. Quite often the government
systems do not work well, but it is still a big success for the
vendors. The whole area is a gigantic laboratory for hi-tech
solutions to the world's problems. Solar power farms, and solar
powered traffic signs are part of the every day environment,
along with all sortys of expensive listening posts. The area for
hundreds of kilometers around Riyadh is bristling with all sorts
of electronic hardware for looking into the sky. Air traffic
control is good, so some of this hardware is useful.
Other forms of dumping include plastic waste and gas
emissions. It is possible to drive hundreds of miles, and see
thrown away cassette tapes streaming along the roads. None of the
deserts are free of this indestructable plastic waste. There is
now a whole industry on the shores of the gulf to make all of
The UN has prepared a table of countries, showing the
emissions of 'greenhouse gases'. Saudi Arabia is in the top
twenty five, along with the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. It is about the
same as the Netherlands. As a country with a small population,
and a high degree of industrialisation, it must be counted as a
In a sense, the war of the states already arrived. The
british had done so much to divide the peninsula. They themselves
had obviously wanted to get the markets for their produce. In
turn these different places are all rivals to sell their oil.
They have nothing else, and they all want to consume.
Debt is dealt with in the Koran. Usury is forbidden. A
lender should risk loss, as well as profit. This normally means
that the lender will drive as hard a bargain as possible. In
practice the lender will try to siphon off the largest possible
share of the profits of any enterprise. Sharia law does not
necessarily prevent exploitation, since brokerage fees may be
The need of a debtor determines how much he will offer
for credit. Saddam Hussein was able to borrow money, but he had
to do the work of containing the Iranian revolution. The Saudis
and the Kuwaitis put up most of the hard currency. Otherwise,
Saddam was able to get help from extremely poor, but
technologically developed, east european countries. It seems
rather strange to think of debts in terms of the rather worthless
currencies that these east european and communist countries so
loved to use. Most of these people were paid in Saudi and Kuwaiti
dollars, when the money came through. Late payment is normal, but
it usually gets there. Iraq will only default to the big
creditors, but they are unlikely to want to press their claims
for repayment by force. Saddam is now quite dangerous to them.
Saudi Arabia's overseas investments can easily be
returned in cash. This is good, because the money was badly
needed in the late eighties. This is necessary to keep up good
levels of domestic consumption. This consumption includes heavy
investments in agriculture. The farmers can be debtors. They can
pay their air fares out of the money they earn. This can be done
in several ways. Agency fees will increase the debt, along with
various other financial fixes.
Philipino, thai, and bengali labourers are usually in
debt for at least a year. Sometimes the employer himself is in
debt, and the workers are not paid for months. It is best to get
a job with a german, or american company. Here the wages will be
paid on time. Even that has its risks. There are also some bad
companies based in the rich countries.
Many of the big projects were achieved only by using the
advance payments from the next. SOGEX is an example. This
company, Societee Generale D'Exploitation, was set up in Lebanon,
and then based itself in Paris, with offices in Germany and
England. Its boss did not dare to come to Saudi Arabia, because
the Saudis imprison people for debt. They are very touchy about
the whole business.
One englishman was thrown in jail and tortured by the
Saudis, because he fell out with a business partner. A german
agent was also jailed while trying to collect a debt. It is a
place where the powerful enjoy cruelty. Rather like the english
sporting clubs where the elite can watch provincial slaves
slogging it out at a boxing match.
Of course, not all Saudis are bad to their servants. Some
ex-slaves have become rich men in their own right, by means of
generous gifts and appointments from a previous master.
Drugs is a big problem in Saudi Arabia. Besides the usual
hashish, heroin and cocaine syndrome, the Saudis have added
alcohol to their problems. Enforcement of the laws includes
jailing and whipping. Even to arrive in the country with alcohol
in the blood is to ask for trouble. Men have been arrested and
imprisoned on a positive blood test. These are the sort of people
who do not have powerful friends.
For the 'standard' illegal drugs, Saudi is a signatory to
the U.N. conference on narcotics. As such their own police can
hope to lead the way in the middle east in showing how good they
are at enforcement. The big dealers can be the center of a show
put on after the friday prayers at the big mosques. These dealers
will be decapitated, as a public spectacle to divert the masses
from other problems.
Other middle eastern countries also have a big police
beaurocracy which benefit from this UN convention. As is to be
expected, the eventual profits from illegal drugs are enormous.
The heavy punishments drive up the price, enabling huge profits
to be made by the rich and powerful.
The working classes are fully aware of this, and since
many are from countries where life is cheap, they are willing to
take the risks of dealing. Because these drugs are controlled by
the police, the trade is especially attractive to them, and also
Saudi Arabia is surrounded by countries which produce
drugs. Iran and Syria, along with Lebanon account for much of the
world's production of hashish (an arabic word for grass, or hay),
and opium (afyoum, named after a turkish town, in arabic).
Besides these two, it is possible to enjoy qat, an ephedrine like
drug which is particular to the arabian peninsula. As for
alcohol, this is produced in enormous quantities in Saudi Arabia,
as ethanol. There are also large amounts available in most of the
Because drug consumption is so risky, those who wish to
consume go to enormous lengths. Direct military flights from
Europe are possible, along with a great amount of guarding for
some of the ex-patriate estates where these social affaires go
on. This follows the ettiquette of those local sheiks who live in
heavily guarded palaces.
It is no secret that some moslems are not averse to
artificial stimulants if this improves study of the Koran. Qat
was seen as a great aid for wakefulness during Ramadan. Caffeine
also has the same beneficial effects. In fact many people use the
word mocca, for coffee, named after the yemini port town.
Hashish consumption is high amongst power-station
workers, and other technicians. Alcohol is almost universally
appreciated, irrespective of race, religion, class or sex. The
supermarket shelves are laden with scents and cosmetics, and
other things from which alcohol may be extracted. Other people
simply make their own. The arabic word is 'sidiqi', or friend.
At various times in history the mullahs and other virtue
parties have attempted to eradicate all forms of drug taking,
because it seems to them an affront to god, and a form of
satanism. They have failed abysmally. This is more or less
acknowledged, but since imprisoning and torturing people is a
national sport in many places, it is useful to have drugs around.
The drug taker can always be seen as a useful rebel, who
can take part in an execution spectacle. The fact is that in
countries where life is cheap, then agents of the law are often
seen as mosquitoes. They are blood sucking parasites, but
generally not as bad as Pol-Pot's virtue brigades who actually
went as far as killing the host. Many of Saudi Arabia's current
inhabitants come from such places. In the Sudan, Thailand, and
the Philippines the police are parasites. Most of them are paid
such low wages that they have to live from the fruits of
blackmail. Most arab countries were the same themselves once,
before the OPEC countries acquired enough money to pay good
salaries to their agents.
Parasites cause many medical problems. At the social
level many beaurocracies work the same way on a nation. The Saudi
enforcement agencies for alcohol and drugs hinder the scientific
development of the cradle of islam. They cannot get the best
scientists to stay and do research, or even teach, if these men
feel criminalised by behaviour which is part of their culture.
The odd whipping for an alcohol supplier reminds even the
privileged that life can be hard in Saudi Arabia, so these
ex-patriates will not want to retire there, unless they become
moslems. In some cases even moslems do not wish to live there.
This is an attack on the working classes in the best
capitalist traditions. Originally the attack on alcohol was only
part of the mosque routine. It was not part of the required
ritual purity to attend the mosque in a state of inebriation.
Nevertheless the koran says alcohol has its uses, so the bosses
were quick to stamp that part out. They just wanted workers.
Even today the arabs are divided on alcohol. Some allow
it, in the assumption that better things can compete with
alcohol, while others try to forbid it. The prohibition is seen
as parasitism by many. The customs people and other enforcers are
often willing to consume some of the confiscated produce. That is
Terrorism affects all countries. It is a tax levied by
the violent upon the non-violent. As such, the violent often
stick together, so that terrorism and counter-terrorism often
seem indistinguishable. The moslems have violent enemies (like
the isrealis), so that those who are not saints occassionally
resort to violence in self defence. This means that Saudi Arabia
has sometimes had to support moslems against opression by their
enemies. This may have seemed particularly painful if the enemies
also happened to be moslems.
Recently, there were two good causes. The moslems in
Eritrea were being opressed by communists in Ethiopia, and the
moslems of Afghanistan were being attacked by the Russians. The
cases in India, Burma and the Phillipines were more delicate,
perhaps because the respective regimes are oppressing almost
The mosques also preach against the oppression of the
blacks in South Africa, and the subjugation of the Palestinians
by the zionist regime in Isreal. Nevertheless, public rallies in
support of such oppressed people are not yet allowed. However
fund raising is encouraged. It is possible for causes to collect
money in Riyadh, and Jeddah. Different organisations may
establish offices there. The P.L.O. is an example. They have
quite a large building in down town Riyadh. It is built after the
old style, in mud, or cheap concrete, and is therefore rather
Other organisations include the ELF (Eritrean Liberation
Forces) and the Afghani Mujehaddin. These people may just send
visitors on pseudo-diplomatic meetings, but they all want aid
against their enemies. They know Saudi Arabia is rich.
These people are just like chess-pieces to the sheiks.
They probably share class loyalties with the princes. They may be
feudal landowners, dispossessed from their estates. They wish to
go back, and combat the new regimes with rockets and heavy
machine guns. The Saudis often will decide to support both the
old and new ruling classes of a turbulant country. They learned
quickly from the imperialists, or possibly taught them some of
their own tricks.
They are interested in using terrorists to further
national aims. They were impressed by the imperialists. All sorts
of groups were supported during the second world war. Communists
in Azerbaijan, and partisans and chetniks in Yugoslavia. Had not
the imperialists often supported two sides, until a clear winner
emerged ? And had not the imperialists made mistakes such as in
China. The Saudis were determined to learn for themselves.
Lebanon and Jordan could be a testing ground for different
versions of the Palestinian armed struggle. Money might be paid
to competing groups, because a decision could not be made. Any
persecution of muslims could be used as a justification for a
request for funds.
The Saudis are more often victims of terrorism. They need
embassies and consulates in all moslem countries, since it is
necessary to issue visas for the hajj pilgrimage. These embassies
been tragets of armed attacks: firstly in Lebananon, where almost
all embassies are attacked, along with most of the lebanese
people, and secondly in Thailand.
The motives for the thai attacks are less clear. Maybe it
involved racketeering. There are quite a lot of thai workers that
get bad contracts in Saudi Arabia. Bankrupt companies cannot pay
the wages of the workers. Promises are made which cannot be kept.
This has lead to assassinations before.
Saudi consulates represent the interests of the rich. The
poor may feel excluded. This will certainly apply to those who
find obstacles placed in their way to perform what may be seen as
a god ordained duty. The mere selection of people who are to
perform the hajj will impose great strains on Saudi diplomats.
Quotas were introduced after the fighting in Makkah during the
1977 hajj season. One thousand pilgrims per million of population
was the set limit. The idea was to prevent the iranians sending
over more than forty thousand.
Because Saudi Arabia is an arab and islamic country, then
it is involved in terrorism which has an arab or islamic
character. They have contributed arms and moral support to armed
struggles, especially if this has pleased the americans. The
afghani mujehadeen provide the best known example. In previous
eras the algerians, or the palestinians might have been seen as a
'vanguard party' in a struggle with either an islamic or arabic
Certainly any struggle based on class could not be
approved of. Only those who seek the glory of Allah are to be
supported. This means that communists are fair game. The russians
in Afghanistan, or the sudanese communist party have both felt
saudi wrath. The case of Sudan is especially pitiful, because one
of the more progressive moslems of that country was a supporter
of the communists, until he was executed for heresy. Mahmoud M.
Taha formulated, as others have done before, a message which
sought to modernise islam, and include social and economic
justice as one of the tenets of the religion. This is still a
capital offence in much of the islamic world. The emphasis is
collective prayers to allah, but individual action in freeing
slaves, or if you are a slave, then waiting to be freed by the
master. The question of whether the master deserves his position
should not be asked. At least this is true of 'established
The 'Rushdie Affair' shows how laid back the Saudis
really are. They have been content to let Iran take the
initiative on this question. The exposure of some moslems as men
of fascist sympathies is left entirely to others. One might
almost suspect the existance of a real 'peace party' amongst
moslem intellectuals nowadays. Even some of the ulema may deplore
such ill placed militancy. It should be remembered that the
lebanese mafia has kidnapped moslem ulema, as well as christians
This is because the political aspirations of moslem
fundamentalists are none too clear. Sometimes they want to
expropriate goods from the rich, and invoke class struggle as a
realistic form of jehad, while at other times they wish simply to
change leaders, while continuing the opression of both workers
How can the people be expected to regard the hejira as a
sucessful collective action, to be seen in 'trade union' terms.
Salman Rushdie himself is unable to take this step. The prophet
peace be upon him is described as a 'businessman'. At a stroke
the islamic working class is alienated. In principal there is
nothing wrong with seeing the prophet peace be upon him as a
personal inspiration towards dynamic and beneficial social
change; an end to exploitation of man by man, and all the rest.
Because islam is such a multi-cultural phenomenon, the
saudis, and others, under-estimate the 'fundamentalists'. They
are unaware that moslems have played an important part in class
struggle. They and the zionists still attempt to hoodwink many
into not seeing this truth. The history of the Zanj rebellion is
still suppressed. Most history is suppressed in moslem countries.
An unkind reader could see the whole history of islam as
terrorism. The bandit leader, fighting from Yathrib, is the
classic scenario. A big military emphasis may be put onto the
life of the prophet, but really the militarisation came later.
The ulema seemed subserviently pliant to the needs of military
leaders. Even the english were able to use these people later on,
and this shows to just what a low rank the 'intellectuals sank'.
For are not the words 'ulema' and 'intelligentsia' related in
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