Murphy's Law: Saudis Shaken and Stirred


March 27, 2006: Fighting Islamic terrorism in Saudi Arabia presents some unique problems. These are brought about by certain unique aspects of Saudi culture. First, the Saudi family rules the kingdom only because they have assumed responsibility for protecting the most holy shrines of Islam in Mecca and Medina. To that end, the kingdom enforces Islamic law, and supports the conservative Wahhabi form of Islam. At the same time, the royal family has control over billions of dollars, each month, in oil revenues. Some of the money is taken by the royals, and spent in decidedly unIslamic ways. But most of it is passed out to those who support the kingdom. The recipients of this money do not always spend it wisely, and expect their king to rescue them from their own foolishness. The consequences of this can have serious repercussions. For example, the Saudi stock market crash of Feb 27th may have serious effects on the loyalty of the country's security forces. Apparently a lot of officers in the Armed Forces, National Guard, and police had invested heavily in the overheated market and say their money disappear. Many of them had gone into debt to get the cash to invest. There's now a movement to demand that the government "compensate" those who lost heavily. Meanwhile, the Islamic radicals have been blaming the February stock market crash on its "un-Islamic" nature.

There continues to be fall-out from the attack on the Abqaiq petroleum complex in February. A number of high ranking security personnel (including some generals) have been transferred to less prominent posts, or fired entirely. What happened here, happens constantly throughout the armed forces and government. It's the corruption that's endemic to the region. For example, the Saudi Air Force is making an effort to insure that the troops are actually doing that they're supposed to be doing when officially on duty. Apparently a lot of enlisted men, and even many officers, hold part-time and even full-time jobs during duty hours.

While the average Saudi sees the corruption as wrong, too many Saudis are ready to give in and participate if presented with an opportunity. Even some of the clergy (all of whom are government employees) are liable to wander over to the dark side. As a result, the Ministry of Religious Affairs is keeping close tabs on the country's 70,000 imams (clerics), trying to keep the corruption and, more importantly, radicalism under control.

All that corruption is officially denied. But there are symptoms everywhere. For example, the Ministry of Health reports that since 1984 there have been some 9,000 cases of AIDS in the country. But recently a prominent physician stated that the number was 72,000. Although he was promptly censured by the Ministry, it was for making statements that might spread panic. Curiously, the Ministry did not refute his figures. Outside observers, while not stating a number, believe HIV/AIDS is not only far more common in Saudi Arabia than the Ministry's figures, but in fact probably more common than the physician's estimate as well.

All is not what it appears to be in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia


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