Friday, September 17, 2004

programmes about Saudi Arabia

There were some programmes on TV about Saudi Arabia (a month or 2 ago, one of these 'BBC4 on BBC2' things, there was about 3 hours worth and I've only just got round to watching it, but it's very good).

One point it made was that the Saudi monarchy relied at various key points in its history on the ulema (clerical establishment) to legitimize its actions.

Mick Hartley has a post on Saudi, too.

'[T]he Saudi Mansur al-Nuqeidan (born 1970), [...] was educated at a religious seminary in Saudi Arabia and served as the imam of a Riyadh mosque. As a member of an Islamist group, he was involved in violent activities...today [he] is one of the most courageous critics of extremist Islam.'

Update (18 Sep) : I think people like Michael Meacher (for example, on Channel 4's programme about 9/11 conspiracy theories) miss the point when they say that Bush was determined to secure control over middle east oil supplies. They have always controlled them, in a way, through alliances and so on.

Following the 1973 war between Israel an Arab states, Saudi Arabia imposed an embargo. The US considered the use of military force to secure the oilfields. What actually happened, as revealed by the said BBC programme (written by Jihan El Tahri and made in conjunction with Arte France and others) is no less interesting. The US said the embargo was threatening supplies to the fleet in East Asia and hence putting in danger the struggle, which the Saudis supported, against communism in Vietnam. King Faisal said to Aramco officials 'May God help you', in other words, find a way round the embargo, but do not get found out.

The Radio Times, in its review of the C4 programme on 9/11 CTs, said the one claim that did stick, was the one about Saudis being allowed to leave the US immediately after 11 Sept (à la Michael Moore), but as the 9/11 Commission established, they were not allowed to leave until after the airspace had been re-opened. In this, those adverts in the US, the ones with the Saudi government 'part' played in a British accent, are right.

A couple more snapshots. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, there was a 3 day news black-out in Saudi Arabia. Now everybody watches the Arab satellite channels. Even Crown Prince Abdullah watches al-Jazeera.

When Bush made a very pro-Israeli speech in 2001, the Saudis reacted furiously. According to the Crown Prince's foreign policy adviser, the US responded with some proposals - for a 2-state solution etc. The Saudis said fine, state them publicly. 3 days later came 9/11 and the issue was 'put on the back burner'.

One thing not mentioned by the programme. The Hashemites, under Sharif Hussein, were allied with the British (Lawrence of Arabia and all that). In the 1920's, they lost out to the Saudis in the Arabian peninsula, partly because they were seen as having betrayed Islam by  fighting against the Ottoman Empire.  As a sort of compensation, Hussein's sons received the thrones of Iraq and (Trans-)Jordan. However, the newly-established Saudi kingdom became an ally of Britain's. For example, before the days of oil, the kingdom was heavily dependent on revenues from pilgrimages to Mecca. When these were reduced during World War II, it received subsidies from Britain and the US.

This was one of the British 'spheres of interest' that sooner or later was taken over by the US, like Greece in  the late 1940's (read the 'Truman doctrine' speech). These continuities of British and US policy are not something that people like to dwell on too much. The programme even suggested that Saudi Arabia looked to the US as an ally because it was surrounded by hostile states like British-backed Iraq!

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