Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Saudi Arabia – Steal like you run something (summary only) (full transcript)

Saudi Arabia is possibly the only country in the world whose economy has mimicked the net wealth graph of Gen X’ers in western countries – it has gone backwards, hugely so, over the last two decades. In both cases, the direct, domestic social fallout to date has been minimal.

In Saudi Arabia’s case, it may well be that scale, and its sheer incomprehensibility, provides a thick layer of insulation – just how can a nation with three-quarters of the world’s known oil reserves have its GDP per person cut by two-thirds since the 1980s?

The following exchange (from the above “Foreign Correspondent” transcript) only adds to the opaqueness:

REPORTER: Saudis admire much of what the west has to offer, in fact many are rich enough to buy what they want of it. But 60% of the population is under 25, a third of them, or 2.5 million people can't find jobs and without alternatives, wealth does not preclude extremism.

PRINCE ALWALEED BIN TALAL: Unemployment in any country in the world is a breeding ground for social trouble potentially, no doubt about that and Saudi Arabia's no different. There's an imbalance here that has to be looked at and that's another item that we're looking at very seriously.

Doesn’t Saudi Arabia have radio shock jocks, or their equivalent, to keep the young unemployed in line? (“in line” quite literally in Australia). Of course, the Prince is merely doing his best to beat around the “terrorism” bush – and the rather woolly phrasing of the reporter’s question (is it wealth or poverty that’s the "T" breeding ground?) allows the Prince a gracious, suavely-executed lifeline, that links extremism with a worldwide demographic phenomenon, oe that can then be duly and sagely deplored (although I doubt Tony Abbott or John Howard have ever expressed anything so moderate).

Which is not to say that Saudi terrorism has nothing to do with Saudi’s own Gen X – far from it. But the connection between the two things is a common head, one that simply asks: “If we’re so poor/unemployed [and/or so fucked up that suicide bombing seems like a pretty good five year career posting – no short term McJobs for us yoof, mind], then where did the money go?

Part of the answer on where the $$$ went: the huge Saudi Royal family, the US getting oil too cheaply, Saudi buying overpriced weapons from the UK – and the corruption that connects, lubricates and perpetuates all these. Oh, and in financing terrorism – but only to the tune of a few million; just spare change, really. For the most part, the money just somehow has gotten, and still keeps getting, lost.

Lost, lost in third-world urban anonymity like Osama. On the topic of Bin Laden, the two news stories above stood in striking contradiction. For the “Sunday” story, the line was that no Saudi would be willing to go on camera in support of Osama (presumably for fear of offending the Royal family party line). In the “Foreign Correspondent” transcript, however, three young Saudi women voice support for Bin Laden, albeit in a guarded way (and in pitch-perfect Oxbridge accents). This time, it seems that it is the clerics’ party line being appeased.

The real answers, and the real money trail, must go very deep indeed.

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