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|Brits live in fear as Saudis turn on the West|
|07/29/02 at 11:36:41|
While you may not believe this report in totality, yet these are the obvious signs of a storm looming large on the kingdom.
It is important to talk about our own problems besides all our grievances with the 'all bad west'
Expat Brits live in fear as Saudis turn on the West
Saudi Arabia's community of foreigners is trapped between bombings by Islamic terrorists, police torture and palace feuding
Paul Harris, Nick Pelham and Martin Bright
Sunday July 28, 2002
For Westerners seeking the good life in a desert kingdom, Saudi Arabia offered easy money, sunshine every day and a whisky-driven illicit party scene where casual sex was taken for granted.
'Are you married or do you work in Saudi Arabia?' was a common joke, echoing the colonial antics of 'Happy Valley' in Kenya. But that is all over now.
The Western community is living in fear. It has become the target of a series of bomb attacks, carried out by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists who want to drive all non-Muslims out of the Arabian peninsula. But the terrified Westerners have received little help from the Saudi authorities. The secret police instead blame the Westerners for the attacks, locking up the innocent and forcing them to confess. Three have died. Seven are in jail. Others have been arrested, interrogated, tortured and released.
The Saudi dream of quick cash and security has ended in a nightmare of a car bomb or an executioner's sword.
The thousands of Westerners in Saudi Arabia have become the unwitting victims of global politics writ large. With its huge oil reserves and strategic location for any attack on Iraq, the kingdom is the linchpin for America's war on terror. But some of the country's Islamic shrines also make it the prime recruiting ground for Osama bin Laden and his followers.
The kingdom is now a key battlefield in the conflict between America and its allies and the forces of extremist Islam. It is a conflict that is now threatening to tear Saudi Arabia apart. Revolution is in the air. Demonstrators are taking to the streets. Bombs are planted in cars. And Westerners can only watch and hope they survive.
Danger lies everywhere. Stephen, a Canadian engineer with a Saudi telecommunications company, no longer takes his family out for picnics in the desert. Twice in recent months he has been attacked by passers-by angry at the sight of a Western face outside the safe residential compounds. They screamed insults and threw rocks. 'I just feel very insecure,' he told The Observer.
There are few who are now willing to speak out. And none brave enough to use his or her real name. Phone lines are tapped by the police and Westerners' movements monitored. The terrorists' attacks are well co-ordinated. Last month an Australian working for British Aerospace Systems was ambushed by a sniper as he drove his Jeep out of his compound in the northern garrison town of Tabuk. Although five shots were fired into the vehicle, the Australian was unhurt.
Bombs have been placed under cars, inside bins, hurled over walls and detonated outside shops. Many are covered up by the authorities, including one last year which demolished a shop wall but was blamed by police on a 'firework' thrown by children. British banker Simon Veness, 35, died in June when a bomb exploded in his car. Just nine days later an American working at the King Faisal specialist hospital in Riyadh discovered a carbon-copy device on his car.
In the face of the attacks, the Westerners' carefree lifestyle has halted. Gone are the lavish 'dos' where smuggled whisky was freely available and there was always an open invitation to the hundreds of European nurses working in the country. Trips into the desert to party under the night sky are no longer feasible. The expat bars have shut down or rarely attract customers. Only official functions now attract people out of their walled compounds where the presence of top Saudi officials is believed to offer security.
Other expats are abandoning their cars in favour of taxis. Western embassies have issued detailed instructions to those still driving, insisting that each time the car is left it should be checked for bombs. 'A thorough inspection of your vehicle, both interior and exterior is strongly advised. Inspection should include use of a flashlight to search underneath the car and checking under the hood and in the trunk. Know your car well,' read a US embassy circular issued privately to US citizens earlier this month.
Many Westerners are moving. They are abandoning the older compounds in the centre of cities, which frequently have no private parking, for newer purpose-built sites on the outskirts. Stephen is moving into such a place in the next few weeks.
Jean, another Canadian, has already moved. But he still does not dare go out at night. 'I do not go out into public unless absolutely necessary. I have moved into a compound with a store and restaurant to allow me to go out for dinner and do some shopping, but I do not have to enter a public area.'
But expats are equally afraid of the police. In their desire to deny the existence of domestic Islamic terrorists, the Saudi authorities have arrested Westerners, blaming the explosions on a 'bootlegging war' between rival groups of expats involved in the illicit production of alcohol. Confessions were tortured out of them and then broadcast on state television. Five Britons, one Belgian and a Canadian face the death sentence or lengthy jail terms for the bombings. A taste of Saudi justice can be illustrated by the story of Ron Jones. The Scottish-born accountant was dragged from his hospital bed and flung in jail after he had been injured in a bomb blast outside a bookshop favoured by Westerners. The police needed a scapegoat and they blamed him for planting the bomb.
Jones, 48, was held and tortured for 67 days. He now suffers from post-traumatic stress and is unable to work. Jones has now filed papers in London's High Court to sue the Saudi government for his treatment.
Yet such outrages have attracted little condemnation from Western governments, including Britain. Relatives of the jailed have been told to keep quiet in favour of 'behind the scenes' diplomacy. It appears that the wider interests of Saudi oil and Saudi support in the war on terror are of greater importance than the rights of expats. As far as diplomacy is concerned, the vital task of supporting the Saudi government in the face of growing domestic unrest is the only thing that matters.
If Saudi Arabia is hit by revolution, then history will say that it started in a girls' school. On 11 March at Girls' Intermediate School No 31 in Mecca at just after 8am an accidental fire took hold. It quickly spread and the teenagers fled outside. But within minutes the religious police, or mutawwa'in, had also arrived. Incredibly, as some girls fled out of one gate the police forced them back in through another. Fourteen girls died in the blaze. Dozens more suffered horrific burns. Their mistake had been to flee the fire without first putting on their black robes and headscarves. Some were still in nightdresses. That was enough for the police effectively to condemn them to death. Some even beat rescue workers trying to save the children. 'Instead of extending a helping hand, they were using their hands to beat us,' one rescue worker said.
The deaths prompted an unprecedented wave of anti-government protest across the country that was hailed by some dissident elements as 'Saudi Arabia's Prague Spring'. Until now details of those protests have been kept secret. But The Observer has interviewed some of the marchers and seen photographs of the demonstrations. Thousands of people, the majority of them women, gathered in streets across the kingdom. Some women even cast off their veils.
The women were joined by a variety of groups, including reformists, pro-Palestinian demonstrators and those belonging to the minority Shia community. Protests swept across the Shia strongholds of the Eastern Province, including the towns of Safwa, Al Qarif, Sayhat and Al Awjam. From the coastal port of Jeddah in the west to the Gulf City of Dhahran in the east, people took to the streets.
The crackdown was brutal. Four days after the demonstrations, police made mass arrests. They picked up the ringleaders and beat female protesters. 'They attacked us with sticks and fired rubber bullets,' said a civil servant. 'They even beat women and the six-year-old child of my neighbour. They concentrated their attack on women.' In Jeddah police locked female students in their compounds and sealed off an area around the US Consulate in Dharan to prevent demonstrators gathering there.
Saudi Arabia is now being pulled violently in two directions. As King Fahd lies dying in a Swiss hospital, the government of the de facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah, is being split apart as it seeks to hold a middle ground. In the wake of the fire, Abdullah removed the running of girls' schools from the hands of religious scholars and gave it to the Ministry of Education. It was a bold move and it prompted outrage from Islamists, including those of his main rivals, the conservatives Prince Naif and Prince Sultan. Abdullah's status with the powerful Islamic clerics is already at a record low following the demise of his peace proposals between Israel and Palestinians. He is seen as a sell-out. 'His credibility is completely destroyed,' said Saad al-Fagih, a leading London-based Saudi opposition figure.
Observers believe the Islamists are preparing to strike. There is already ample evidence that the extremists, headed by al-Qaeda, are gathering in strength. Just a few weeks ago the police made 13 arrests in a swoop on an al-Qaeda cell that had fired a surface-to-air missile at an American plane near Riyadh. Incredibly, they are the first Saudi arrests of terrorist suspects since the 11 September attacks. The cell included 11 Saudis and a further six Saudis were picked up later.
But if Prince Abdullah is moving against the extremists it may be too late. The terrorists are organised loosely in cells and are hard to infiltrate.
Many weapons, including more rockets, have been smuggled across the long and porous border with Yemen. Sympathy for al-Qaeda also extends far beyond the streets and into government.
There are concerns that some officials in the Interior Ministry run by Prince Naif are sympathetic to their aims. It is feared that the anti-Western bombing campaign has been sanctioned by Islamic factions in government plot ting to take power and break ties with the West. That, some observers say, is why the bombings have been blamed on Westerners. The real bombers have protection from some very high places.
For the expat Westerners, huddled in their compounds, the future looks bleak. Now many want out. 'Everyone I know keeps an extremely low profile just to keep out of the way of the authorities,' said Jean.
The next months will be crucial. As America and Britain lurch towards a war with Iraq, the importance of Saudi Arabia is going to increase. At the same time Saudi Arabia's internal conflicts will reach boiling point.
The death of Fahd could provide the trigger for a power struggle in the palaces of Riyadh which could ripple out and rock the whole world. Fahd was last week admitted to the Swiss hospital. Official Saudi sources quote the medical team as saying his condition is 'unstable'.
As the king's death grows closer by the day, the rift between hardline Princes Sultan and Naif and the moderate Prince Abdullah widens. The prize they are fighting for is the oil-rich Saudi state.
But the stakes are higher and the result will send shock waves around the world - whoever wins.
The battle royal for control of a kingdom
Fahd Ibn Abdul Aziz as-Saud (b.1923) succeeded to the throne on the death of his brother on 13 June, 1982, and has been a loyal ally of the West. He has been ill for several years and no longer has any role in the day-to-day running of the kingdom. Thought to be dying in a Geneva hospital.
Crown Prince Abdullah Ibn Abdul Aziz as-Saud (b. 1921) is the brother of King Fahd and, in effect, rules the country, although his authority has been seriously undermined by the failure of his Middle East peace plan. Many Saudis are hostile to his perceived pro-Western stance and his enemies within the royal family have used this to vie for power.
Sultan ibn Abdul Aziz as-Saud (b. 1928) is second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence and Civil Aviation. The main rival to Abdullah, until recently he was believed to have struck a deal with the Crown Prince to share power. His son, Bandar, holds the key post of ambassador to the United States. Sultan recently attacked the influence of America's Jewish community.
Naif Ibn Abdul Aziz as-Saud (b.1934) is the hardline brother of Prince Sultan who received his education from religious scholars in whose teachings he is steeped. For a quarter of a century he has headed the powerful Ministry of the Interior.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002
|Re: Brits live in fear as Saudis turn on the West|
|07/29/02 at 16:37:01|
This article is so full of inaccuracies and guesses, that it is hard to read.
|Re: Brits live in fear as Saudis turn on the West|
|07/29/02 at 16:45:21|
I agree with Talib. For example, the story about the muttawin forcing the girls to go back into the fire was later said to be a hoax.
But if we want to talk about human rights in Saudi Arabia, the westerners have it much more easy than the muslim immigrants, we all know the horror stories from the Pakistanis, Bengalis, etc.
|Re: Brits live in fear as Saudis turn on the West|
|07/30/02 at 11:32:22|
"In the face of the attacks, the Westerners' carefree lifestyle has halted. Gone are the lavish 'dos' where smuggled whisky was freely available and there was always an open invitation to the hundreds of European nurses working in the country. Trips into the desert to party under the night sky are no longer feasible. The expat bars :'( have shut down or rarely attract customers. Only official functions now attract people out of their walled compounds where the presence of top Saudi officials is believed to offer security."
What happened to "respecting the mores and customs" of the host country? Not to single them out, but I have worked with several nurses from King Faisal and was introduced to the then CMO at one event. There were a few times when nurses had to be reminded about where they were and what kind of lifestyle was considered acceptable.
MashaAllah, I agree with Talibatul and The Humble Muslim, very difficult to read but interesting. One must always keep up on what is being written.
:-) Muneerah 
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