From behind the Veil
Documentaries about the Mafia, venomous snakes and erupting vulcanos are
risky but eminently possible for professional and diligent film makers.
But to get into the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against the regimes will
and actually film forbidden scenes carries with it a far greater danger.
It is virtually impossible to do the job through ordinary channels. A very
thick curtain conceals what is actually there. It is all this that made
the Channel 4 Dispatches programme a mile-stone in documentary filming.
Morbid secrecy has so far enabled the House of Saud to give the world
a facade of stability and welfare, the whole image reinforced in the West
by spendthrift and profligate Saudi princes who have persistently made the
headlines of the international press. Dispatches with its Saudi Tapes showed
us Arabia as it has never been seen before.
Gwynne Roberts, as an outsider, would not have been able to lift the
veil on the hidden face of Arabia without the assistance of the Arabian
opposition movement. The Saudi Tapes, supplied to him by the opposition,
reiterated important aspects which MIRA has repeatedly emphasized in its
interviews and in the columns of this newsletter.
First of these is the utter misery of many sections of the Saudi people.
The video tapes, filmed inside Saudi Arabia at a great risk to the cameraman,
showed hurriedly made shots of parts of shanty towns where people live in
utter destitution either in squalid dwellings or just camping out on the
streets in tin shacks. This situation can only be contrasted with the sheer
luxury and wastage of the several thousand princes of the House of Saud.
Even in oil-producing areas poverty is at its peak. The oil bonanza has
visibly not benefited the man in the street who could be seen searching
among wastes for some useful things to sell and earn a living. Even worse:
the oil industry pumped out water from the agricultural lands for its own
use, leaving them dry and ruining the growing of palm trees and agriculture
in general. Meanwhile, quoting from the Saudi Civil Servant journal The
Administrator, the reporter said that 10 years ago the average income was
£12,000 whereas now it has gone down to the dismal figure of £4,000
In such conditions, it is only natural that people revolt to assert human
dignity and organize in the name of the Islamic values which, precisely,
the House of Saud uses as a smokescreen to conceal its oppression and corruption.
The reporter emphasized that The Wahabi [Islamic] opposition to the royal
family is far greater than ever realized in the West. A second video tape
handed over to him showed Dr. Salman al-Oda, a famous and highly respected
scholar with important following, publicly criticizing in September 1994
the House of Saud for massive mismanagement of State resources.
Obviously, the Sheikh and other Muslim scholars have since been kept
behind bars in defiance of public opinion. Instead of deterring the opposition,
this only served to add fuel to a steadily growing discontent: people resorted
to armed opposition and have challenged both the regime and its American
protectors through two anti-American bomb attacks in Riyadh (November 1995)
and in al-Khobar (June 1996). In an attempt to conceal the reality of these
actions, the Saudi regime has sought to put the blame on the Arabian Shia
and Iran. But this is only a manoeuvre whereby the Saudi government wants
to pretend everything is stable in Arabia, says Osama Bin Ladin to Dispatches
from his Afghanistan sanctuary.
Why is America targeted? The Americans are the main problem, said an
Arabian opposition element speaking anonymously to Gwynne Roberts. He added
that the Americans went to the peninsula to get the Iraqis out of Kuwait,
but then stayed in Arabia when the people do not want them. More precisely,
the Americans have been present in the Kingdom since the 1940s, that is
since the discovery of oil, and do behave as if the country and its wealth
belonged to them. They are widely believed to be the real masters of Arabia,
using the House of Saud as they please in both internal and external affairs.
It is today an open secret to every Arab that the whole Gulf war was a scheme
engineered by Washington so that American troops take a firm footing in
Arabia because of the presence of oil. This explains the great animosity
towards America not only in Arabia but in all the Arab and Muslim world.
Oppression inside Arabia has forced both the political opposition and
the thinkers of the armed opposition to work from abroad. Osama Bin Ladin,
an increasingly charismatic leader and a cheerful man of the new generation
of young Arabian intellectuals, seems to be the one behind the Arabian armed
opposition. Although he has not so far claimed responsibility for the Riyadh
and al-Khobar bombings, an Arab intellectual anonymously explained to Dispatches
Bin Ladins role in the Arabian jihad movement: You have to understand the
ideology of his movement. Some 15,000 Saudis went to Afghanistan to wage
a holy war against the Russians. If each of them has five brothers, you
would have 75,000 who havent even been to Afghanistan, but who think like
their brothers. And all are behind Bin Ladin and support him.
In his interview, which Gwynne Roberts believes was clearly intended
to Bin Ladins own followers in the Middle East, Bin Ladin said that the
people of the peninsula are duty-bound to expel the Americans when they
came from abroad in [great] number and power that exceeds that of the people
of the area. He went on: The oppressive occupier with its military machine
and armed forces is once again treading on Muslim lands. What is even worse
is that the occupier has returned to violate the Muslims greatest and holiest
lands. And the bombings in Riyadh and al-Khobar were clear indications for
the crusading forces to correct this grave mistake, and for them to depart
before it is too latePeople will treat the Americans as they were treated
Shrugging off any threat to his life by the Americans, and saying that
only God knows when he would die, Bin Ladin seemed very confident all the
more as the armed opposition clearly has sympathies within the Saudi armed
forces. Another video tape handed over to Gwynne Roberts showed military
hardware secretly filmed inside a Saudi military base, whereas the US oil
company Aramcos housing compounds and an American military base were filmed
from close range. All this shows that the Americans in Arabia are vulnerable
and that the Saudi regime is not secure either, although so far the Arabian
mujahidin have refrained on purpose from hitting at the House of Saud itself.
Asked about the survival of the royal family, Graham Fuller, once a leading
CIA Middle East analyst commented: Seemingly strong, stable, tough regimes
can suddenly start fading very, very quickly.. I could imagine the regime
lasting five or ten yearsif there are no other such incidents, that is,
like those of Riyadh and al-Khobar. Rightly, Gwynne Roberts asked whether
one could be confident that there would be no such other incidents anymore.
His own answer was that it all depended on how far the armed Islamic movement
was ready to go in its struggle. Since the Saudi people have become aware
that the House of Saud is but a Trojan horse for what amounts to a de facto
American colonisation of Arabia, the armed struggle is not likely to abate.
In this respect, asked what would be the consequences if the Americans
do not withdraw from Arabia, the Arab intellectual interviewed answered
that it would be an international war that will affect everyone. He added
that The Americans have no understanding of the Middle East and that they
have always been on the wrong side to the bitter end: In Iran, they went
with the Shah until he fell. Now, history is repeating itself with Arabia.
The programme shattered the façade of stability and prosperity
of the Saudi regime. Who, therefore, can legitimately back and cooperate
with the House of Saud except those who want to harm the Arabian people
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