Saudi Arabia, tyranny and oil

This video is called Honk for Saudi Women.

By Jean Shaoul:

Saudi Arabia—a social tinderbox

2 July 2012

Saudi Arabia moved speedily last Monday to name 77-year-old Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud, the country’s defence minister and half-brother of King Abdullah, as crown prince, to succeed the 89-year-old monarch.

Salman’s appointment follows the death of the previous heir apparent, Prince Nayef bin Albdul-Aziz al-Saud, who was the country’s de facto ruler, as King Abdullah himself is in extremely poor health. Nayef, an arch conservative and brutal oppressor of the Kingdom’s Shi’ite population, was responsible for the country’s notorious internal security, and won praise from Washington for his crackdown on Al Qaeda between 2003 and 2006.

Salman, the owner of a media empire, remains the country’s defence minister. At the end of last year, he signed the largest-ever arms deal with the US, worth US$90 billion, up from the previously announced US$60 billion. The deal includes aircraft and ships to modernise its Eastern Fleet, headquartered at Jubail, in the oil-rich Shi’a-populated Eastern Province.

Salman’s younger brother, the 72-year-old Prince Ahmad, will take over Nayef’s role as interior minister, a move widely seen as confirming him next in line after Salman.

But while this change in leadership portends no change in the House of Saud’s policies either at home or abroad, there are broader concerns. Salman is the third crown prince in the last year. He too is in poor health, having suffered at least one stroke that left him bedridden for weeks and has undergone surgery on his back.

Hitherto, the succession has passed between the sons of the country’s founder, Abdul-Aziz, but their immediate successors and their families, believed to number 20,000, are themselves well into their 70s or middle-aged. Isolated from the broad mass of the population—there was an attempted assassination in 2009 of the counter-terrorism chief—the princes are embroiled in factional rivalries and divisions.

Indeed, not a few commentators have pointed out that the turnover of crown princes is even more rapid than that of the aging leadership of the former Soviet Union from 1982 to 1985.

Abdullah created the Allegiance Council in 2006, made up of 34 princes, each representing a son of the founding King Abdulaziz, to decide the succession question. But it is nothing but a rubber stamp for his decisions.

This has raised widespread fears about the stability of the Kingdom, one of Washington’s key allies in the oil- and gas-rich region, on whom it depends in its ongoing efforts to establish its unchallenged global hegemony. Riyadh, along with the other Gulf monarchies, provides the crucial Sunni axis against Shi’ite Iran and its allies: Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Iraq’s powerful Shi’ite parties, which the US views as a regional threat.

The House of Saud, the largest family business in the world, presides over the world’s leading oil producer and exporter, with the largest known reserves in the world.

This medieval and venal monarchy maintains its grip on power by a system of brutal repression, including public executions, torture and detention without trial, and outlaws all public protests, strikes and expressions of dissent. This is combined with its championing of an extreme version of Sunni Islam, Wahhabism. Just last week, a man was executed for allegedly practising witchcraft and committing adultery.

Few apart from the ruling clique have derived much benefit from its oil wealth. According to official statistics, 11.6 percent of Saudi men are unemployed, but the real figure is several times higher. Young people under 30, who make up two thirds of the 26 million-strong population, are badly affected; 40 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds are unemployed. Even well-educated graduates cannot find work, marry or set up a home. Large numbers of women are excluded from the labour market, while women themselves live severely socially circumscribed lives.

While rising oil prices created 2.2 million new jobs in the private sector, only 9 percent went to Saudi citizens. Nearly 6 million workers, or 80 percent of the workforce, are non-nationals, mainly migrant labourers from South or Southeast Asia, who work for a pittance, without rights or protection.

The 10 to 15 percent of the population who are Shi’ite are persecuted. This has created deep social tensions, especially as the Shi’a live mainly in the Eastern Province, where 90 percent of Saudi’s 260 billion barrels of proven oil reserves are found.

In other words, no less than in any of the other countries in the Middle East, the House of Saud sits upon a social tinderbox.

Riyadh’s backers in Washington are well aware of the situation, as the State Department’s Annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom in 2010 makes clear. Confirming the situation in the Eastern Province, it reports arbitrary detentions, mosque closures, and the arrest of Shi’ite worshippers, while diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks revealed that US diplomats in the country are acutely concerned by the grievances that they view as entirely legitimate. But such concerns are never raised with Saudi officials.

Following the mass social movements in Tunisia and Egypt, and just days after protests broke out in neighbouring Bahrain in March last year, protests began in the Eastern Province.

These were met with brutal suppression, with Nayef vowing to crush the protests with an “Iron Fist” and launching a vicious campaign against protests and the Shi’ite population.

Saudi Arabia Allows Women to be Part of Olympic Team: here.

On the one hand, this change shows that pressure, even on extremely harsh dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, works.

On the other hand, only one Saudi woman athlete is said to go the London Olympics.

So, this is basically tokenism. Like the Afghan woman athlete, sent to the Olympics as a propaganda prop; but who prefered to become a refugee.

11 thoughts on “Saudi Arabia, tyranny and oil

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