Abdulaziz Saud


The main item of news during the first ten days of May, was undoubtedly the saga of Hani Al-Sayegh, the Saudi who sought refuge in Canada but whom the Federal Court ruled should be deported. There was also a very fine article penned by Charles Hanley about the ‘baby boom’ in the House of Al-Saud. The piece of news that caught my eye, however, as being the most redundant of the century was, "Saudi Leader Rules Out Euthanasia"(Washington Post from Al-Riyadh Daily 9/5/97). An eminent Saudi Arabian theologian ruled that it was not permitted, by Islamic law, "to take the life of a person before death takes its natural course". (Considering the trouble in the royal House of Al-Saud it would be impertinent to ask who questioned the theologian but I hope it wasn’t any of the pretenders to the Saudi throne. Watch your back Fahad!)
The following are summaries of articles and reports from the major news wires and papers. The bracketed comments are my own, ed..

On May the first (New York Times, Foreign Affairs), there was a very suspect article written by a journalist who is very obviously Islamophobic and very possibly anti-Semetic in the wider sense of the word. It trys to be funny but just falls flat on its face. Mr. Friedman, the ‘journalist’ calls this work, "A Saudi-Iranian Schmooze" and is about the meeting of Hashemi Rafsanjani and Abdullah Al-Saud in Islamabad. The ‘schm’ talks volumes about the authors background and political hue. It is a ‘conversation’ which is presented as two monologues, as Mr. Friedman imagines it sounded. As the whole piece is from Mr. Friedman’s imagination there is very little newsworthiness in it at all, except to a clinical psychologist who would have a field day with it. I must say, without being racist, that this man’s brain is like his name, fried-schmied.

The Hani Al-Sayegh affair made front page in most of the northern American broadsheets in the first week of May (Reuters et al 1.4.& 5/5/97). It was interesting to see what they made of the ruling by Federal Court Judge, Donna McGillis.
Before the ruling, which was passed down on the fifth of May, the FBI were reported as being close to success in their investigation of the Al-Khobar bombing. It was reported by the Associated Press that investigators believed Al-Sayegh drove the car that signalled the go-ahead to the driver of a fuel truck packed with explosives in the Dhahran bombing. The House Speaker, Newt Gingrich said that if the FBI found that Iran was responsible then the United States should act decisively.
Canadian authorities had maintained that Al-Sayegh served as a lookout for the suicide truck bomber and he went to the Federal Court to fight his deportation. Al-Sayegh’s lawyer, Doug Baum waived his client’s opportunity to defend himself publicly in court but didn’t say why. He did, however, deny that his client had been advised by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Baum added that the issue at the court hearing, "was not Al-Sayegh’s chance to defend himself on his guilt or innocence. It wasn’t a criminal trial, it was admissibility to Canada that was in question".
At the end of the hearing, Judge McGinnis ruled that a Canadian government certificate declaring the Saudi dissident a terrorist, was reasonable. With Al-Sayegh now certified as a threat to Canadian security, the case was out of the security service’s hands.

The next step will be his attendance at a hearing of Canada’s Immigration Review Board when the Immigration Minister, Lucienne Robillard will decide where to deport him. The Minister has the power to deport Al-Sayegh to the country where he was born, currently holds citizenship or last resided, or to the country from which he went to Canada.

(How did the security services of Canada come to their decision that Al-Sayegh was a terrorist?) The Canadian Intelligence released a report to the press in which they said the Saudi authorities has informed them that Al-Sayegh had made phone calls to his wife in Saudi Arabia. During the course of several call, which had been intercepted by the Saudi government, Al-Sayegh had told his wife what amounted to a complete description of how the bombing had been organised and carried out. He was also reported to have referred to Iran’s role in the whole affair.
The Americans, however, are not quite so gullible in affairs of this kind, as was reported by the Washington Post. The headlines were, "Bomb suspect is dilemma for the U.S.". Apparently the U.S. authorities are divided over whether they have enough evidence to seek custody of Al-Sayegh. An important consideration for them is their seeking custody would leave the United States in direct competition with the Saudi authorities. It must be remembered that the FBI has been forced to rely on Saudi co-operation in the inquiry and, as yet, have not been allowed access to interview other suspects in Saudi custody.

A senior law enforcement officer said that they were in a delicate situation and that the stakes were potentially very high. The Washington Post said that the U.S. dilemma was rooted in the fact that evidence against Al-Sayegh was provided by the Canadian and Saudi Arabian governments and not by the FBI. Saudi officials have received confessions from a number of suspects, but U.S. authorities are worried that some of the statements might have been coerced through torture and, therefore, would be inadmissible in U.S. courts. The paper reported that sources said the Saudi standard for a criminal investigation and those of the United States are starkly different. A Saudi criminal case rests almost solely on the results of interrogation while U.S. prosecutions are typically built in forensic findings, eyewitness accounts and other evidence. The Post reported that several FBI agents, given their limited options, may have to gamble that Al-Sayegh’s fear of torture and a chopping block in Saudi Arabia might lead him to co-operate with the U.S. and not fight an extradition request.

(The stark reality of all this is that Al-Sayegh has been branded a terrorist and a threat to the Canadian government without any hearing or chance to defend himself. This doesn’t seem to be in keeping with the country’s proud record of judicial progression. It is to be hoped most earnestly that Canada isn’t making the mistake that the world’s media made while reporting the Oklahoma bombing or the recently crashed 747.)

In a scathing article about Al-Saud, Mr Hanley of the Associated Press wrote on the third of May, "Scarcely a day dawns in this desert kingdom that doesn’t deliver pilgrims to Mecca, oil to the world and yet another baby boy to the royal House of Saud. Another prince among thousands, heir to a six figure allowance, free phone calls, free kilowatts, free first-class seats worldwide. Another claimant to a penthouse office in government, to rich commissions on contracts, to lucrative business partnerships. Another reason, in short, why Saudi Arabia’s proliferating princelings may soon become Saudi Arabia’s king-sized problem." It seems that Mr Hanley really knows Al-Saud’s methods and way of government. "Inside this realm of the sun, sand and secret police," he says, "contrary words are rarely spoken aloud. But sometimes they’re smuggled out, like the notes for ‘Princess,’ the memoirs of a Saudi royal."
In the Capital, Al-Riyadh, he says, "...princes hold strategic Cabinet posts - Defense, Interior, Intelligence - and others sit as junior ministers. Every provincial governor is a prince or in-law, and the family members control key military staffs. Stalin had his commissars, The House of Saud has its princes." An American human rights group, ‘Freedom House’ says that the Saudi royal family virtually runs the country as a private fiefdom. "Runs it so tightly," says Mr. Hanley, "that even basic information about the Sauds themselves can be hard to come by. No ‘Debrett’s Peerage’ lays out pedigrees for an inquisitive public, as in Britain. No society pages celebrate rich-and-famous lifestyles. ... But enough is known to sketch in some details about the planet’s biggest, richest royal family - although just how big is not necessarily one of those details. A government source told a reporter there are 2,700 princes and princesses. Other estimates are higher. A U.S. government publication speaks of more than 4,000 princes alone in the early 1990s."
Mr Hanley speaks of many benefits granted to a royal child. He will receive from his first day, as a minimum stipend, about $10,000 a month and later on in the royal’s life, a huge government salary on top of that. This is apart from the gratuities mentioned above. "A former U.S. diplomat here explained; ‘A British Tornado jet fighter is 25 million dollars on the open market. We estimated the Saudis are paying 65 to 75 million dollars. There are ways that extra money gets distributed throughout the family’."

He also quotes a young woman who socialises with princesses as saying, "They watch movies, go to the country house, go to Europe to shop. Behind palace walls, some idle twenty-somethings also indulge in less healthy pursuits, heavy drinking and drug use, vices that can cost commoners long jail terms, if not their lives.."

Mr. Hanley reports a U.S. official as saying that the old compact was starting to break down with the growing number of princes and that it was causing friction. He also said that some old associates saw time running out for the princes. He writes that an experienced diplomat said that the House of Saud was a high-maintenance family and that it was showing less cohesion, at a critical time. "But some say family infighting", Mr. Manley says, "may endanger the ever-expanding House of Saud even more than popular dissent."
At the end of the article he quotes a Saudi princess as saying, "Surely the weakness of our monarchy in Saudi Arabia is bound up in our addiction to extravagance. I fear it will be our undoing."

On the 6th of May the Saudi Press Agency reported that the Interior Minister, Prince Na’if said that an investigating commission had concluded that the Hajj fire which killed so many pilgrims was not deliberate. On the same day ‘Al-Riyadh Daily’ said that Saudi Arabia was free from organised crime. (I imagine that the report discounts the daily fraudulent behaviour of the royal family. Commissions and skimming off money from contracts by the Al-Sauds is obviously, in their eyes, either not criminal or is not organised. I would plug for the latter for their moral sense is weak but their organisational powers are weaker)

The final article that caught my eye was a piece about two children that have been taken to Saudi Arabia by their father (UPI NewsFeature 10/5/97). His estranged wife says they have been kidnapped and is demanding that the U.S. government intervenes in what they see as a highly charged diplomatic affair. The U.S. State Department is trying to handle the case in a private, diplomatic manner that will not upset the "media-shy royal family". On one occasion a couple of weeks ago it was reported by the media, that Mrs. Roush was on a hunger strike to draw attention to her ‘plight’. The whole affair, however, had been absent from the press because of the State Department’s decision not to upset the royals, that it cannot take sides and must protect the business interests of the United States. A State Department spokesman said, "The U.S. government cannot force the Saudi government or the father to see things our way".

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