POSE a threat to the stability of Saudi Arabia, as Shia protesters are said to to have done in Awamiya, according to reports this week from the country’s oil-rich Eastern Province, and you’re brandishing a scalpel over the very heart of long-term US policy in the Middle East.
The US consumes about 19 million barrels of oil every 24 hours, about half of them imported. At 25 per cent, Canada is the lead supplier. Second comes Saudi Arabia with 12 per cent. But supply of crude oil to the US is only half the story. Saudi Arabia controls OPEC’s oil price and adjusts it carefully with US priorities in the front of their minds.
The traffic is not one-way. In the half-century after 1945, the United States sold the Saudis about $100 billion in military goods and services. A year ago the Obama administration announced the biggest weapons deal in US history – a $60 billion programme with Saudi Arabia to sell it military equipment across the next 20 to 30 years.
Under its terms, the United States will provide Saudi Arabia with 84 advanced F-15 fighter planes with electronics and weapons packages tailored to Saudi needs. An additional 70 F-15′s already in Saudi hands will be upgraded to match the capabilities of the new planes.
Saudi Arabia will purchase a huge fleet of nearly 200 Apache, Blackhawk and other US military helicopters, along with a vast array of radar systems, anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, and guided bombs. The US trains and supplies all Saudi Arabia’s security forces. US corporations have huge investments in the Kingdom.
Say the words ‘Saudi Arabia’ to President Obama or to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the high-minded prattle about the ‘Arab Spring’ stops abruptly. When the Saudis rushed security forces across the Causeway and into Bahrain, counselling the Khalifa dynasty to smash down hard on the Shia demonstrators in the home port of the US Fifth Fleet, the noises of reproof from Washington were mouse-like in their modesty.
Could the uprising reported from Awamiya, with protesters throwing petrol bombs amid shouts of ‘Allahu Akbar’, spiral out of control?
We’re talking here about two different challenges. The first are the long-oppressed Shia, making up just under a quarter of the population. The second is from the younger generation – youth under 30 account for two-thirds of the Saudi population – in the Sunni majority, living in one of the most thorough-going tyrannies in the world.
In February of this year, perturbed by the trend of events in Egypt and elsewhere, the 87-year-old King Abdullah announced his plan to dispense $36 billion in welfare handouts – about $2,000 for every Saudi. He correctly identified one of the Kingdom’s big problems, which is that over 40 per cent of people between 18 and 40 don’t have a job.
A few days ago Abdullah offered Saudi women a privilege – to participate in certain entirely meaningless municipal elections (if approved by their husbands.) What municipal elections can be meaningful amid resolute repression under an absolutist monarchy?
The American Empire has effectively lost Lebanon, Iran and Iraq. What of Saudi Arabia? Suppose fissures continue to open up in the Kingdom itself? I doubt, at such a juncture, that we would hear too much talk from Washington about “democracy” or orderly transitions. The Empire would send in the 101st Airborne....
MANGLA: Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said on Thursday that the army had made all arrangements to counter any terrorist attack from across the Afghan border.
Talking to journalists after watching Al Samsaam-IV, a joint military exercise with Saudi land forces near Jhelum, he expressed the hope that no such attack would take place.
Gen Kayani said Saudi Arabia had played an important role to maintain peace and stability in the region, especially in Afghanistan, and it still had a role in the neighbouring country and in regional security.
He said he had confidence in Pakistan Army that it was capable of defending the country.
In reply to a question, he said the army had achieved success against terrorists in Swat, Malakand and Waziristan, but there was no military solution to every problem.
He said the civil administration should take charge in areas which had been cleared by the army because it could not stay in any area permanently.
The army chief said the joint military exercises with Saudi Arabia were aimed at enabling the two forces to benefit from each other`s experience in counter-terrorism operations.
Terming Saudi Arabia a most important country for Pakistan, Gen Kayani said alongside government-to-government relations, the people of both the countries also enjoyed good brotherly relations.
Saudi Land Forces Commander Lt-Gen Khalid bin Bandar bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud said joint ventures like this would enhance the combat preparedness of the troops of both countries....
New sectarian anti-government riots in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich eastern province have unsettled international markets while exposing the deepening rift between the two biggest Persian Gulf oil producers.
On Tuesday, Riyadh blamed an unnamed “foreign power” for fomenting violent unrest in the kingdom’s Persian Gulf coastal province of Khobar, in what observers said was a thinly veiled reference to Iran, the major Shi’ite Muslim power in the Middle East.
The government also vowed to use “an iron fist” to thwart anyone compromising the country’s security, after 14 people including 11 policemen were hurt by gunfire and petrol bombs in a clash at the Shi’ite village of Al-Awamia, according to the official Saudi press agency.
“We’ve seen rising sectarian tension in the region since the Arab Spring started,” Samuel Ciszuk, senior Middle East energy analyst at IHS Global Insight, said Wednesday. “This obviously unsettles oil markets.” Nonetheless, he was unconvinced that the two-day clash between Shi’ite protesters and police Monday and Tuesday was a sign of widening Saudi instability. Moreover, Saudi oil facilities were heavily guarded, making serious damage to infrastructure unlikely, he said.
“It’s important to underline that the protests have been limited. It seems there are a few militants, but it’s not a popular uprising,” Ciszuk told Platts.
Markets would remain “jittery” if the kingdom witnessed further anti-regime protests, which are illegal under Saudi law, but it was more likely that the recent dissent would be contained and that oil prices would settle down, Ciszuk said.
Saudi Arabia’s rulers espouse the rigid Wahabi interpretation of Sunni Islam and do not allow followers of other Muslim sects to worship openly in the kingdom or hold key government positions.
That has long been a sore point for the roughly two million Saudi Shi’ites inhabiting Khobar towns and villages who constitute the bulk of the kingdom’s 10% Shi’ite minority.
The eastern province is also notable for holding most of Saudi Arabia’s big oil fields within its territory. The fields are ringed with security and operated by the state oil company Saudi Aramco.
Tehran was a “natural scapegoat” for Saudi rulers intent on diverting attention from grievances such as youth unemployment and lack of political freedom that might resonate in the country at large: “The big Saudi fear is that protests could spread to the general population. Sectarian tensions play into the hands of the ruling family,” Ciszuk said.
Since the start of the Arab Spring, Saudi rulers who earlier backed reforms in the ultra-conservative kingdom have been moving closer to the clerical establishment in an effort to vest their regime with “renewed legitimacy,” Ciszuk said. That might lead to further deterioration of Shi’a/Sunni relations within the kingdom and the wider Middle East, but would not necessarily disrupt oil supplies.
The relationship between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran was already “at rock bottom” before the recent events in Khobar, with some observers referring to a “cold war” between the two regional powers, Ciszuk noted.
Limited demonstrations of anti-government sentiment, however, could persist.
Late Tuesday during a sermon at a mosque in Al-Awamia, Sheikh Nimr Nimr, a prominent Saudi Shi’ite cleric, urged protesters to use “words” rather than “bullets” to fight for equality, AFP reported. Nimr blamed Saudi authorities for “provoking” protesters by firing on them with live bullets.
Further saber rattling between Riyadh and Tehran also seems likely, increasing tensions within OPEC ahead of the group’s December meeting in Vienna.
On Wednesday, Iran’s OPEC governor Mohammad Ali Khatibi said OPEC members that boosted oil production to compensate for curtailed Libyan crude supplies must reduce output as Libya returns to world markets. Although Khatibi did not specify to which members he was alluding, the state that increased its crude production the most in recent months was Saudi Arabia.
In another Saudi development Tuesday, public prosecutors in a trial in Riyadh of 16 Saudis and one Yemeni accused of terrorism alleged that al-Qaida had planned an attack in 2006 on the kingdom’s Abqaiq oil plant, the world’s biggest oil processing facility.
The prosecutors also said during the Saudi appeal court hearing that al-CIAda operatives had tried to assassinate a Saudi Shi’ite leader with links to Hezbollah and Iraq to provoke internal sedition.
The allegations referred to events several years ago during a period when al-Qaida had publicly targeted Saudi oil installations and workers for attack....
The campaign was not notably successful for al-Qaida and was unlikely to be repeated, Ciszuk said....
Last Friday, the the Swedish king gave his Saudi counterpart the Wolf Bronze award, given by the World Scout Committee to acknowledge “outstanding service by an individual to the World Scout Movement”.
King Carl XVI Gustaf serves as the organisation’s honourary chair.
According to the Asian Tribune news website, the Saudi King also welcomed Carl XVI Gustaf in his private residence in al-Janadriyah.
“It’s betrays a complete lack of judgment to, at a time when people in the region are demanding democracy, give a medal to the region’s foremost dictators,” the Left Party’s Hans Linde told the Expressen newspaper.
Social Democratic foreign policy spokesperson Urban Ahlin also found fault with the king’s actions.
“It’s extremely bad timing to travel there and honour the Saudi king. It’s a bad signal to the people fighting for democracy and freedom,” Ahlin told TV4.
The Swedish branch of human rights organisation Amnesty also joined the chorus of criticism over the king’s visit.
“We feel that the king, or any minister on official business, should adhere to our official position when it comes to human rights,” spokesperson Elisabeth Löfgren told the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.
“In Saudi Arabia, there are incredibly serious human rights violations. The list can get very long and to honour King Abdullah, who is the utmost responsible, just gives it legitimacy.”
Prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt refused to comment on the matter on Monday.
“I don’t think it’s within my role to have opinions about medals connected to the Scouting Movement,” he told the TT news agency, adding that Saudi Arabia and Sweden do have diplomatic ties.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Anders Jörle also downplayed the visit, telling Expressen he “didn’t see anything wrong” with the Swedish head of state offering a medal to the Saudi leader.
Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt also defended the king’s actions.
“If you want to change the world, you have to go out in the world,” he told TV4....