Abdulaziz Saud

Al-Waleed bin Talal

Al-Waleed hit the headlines again (Reuters 28th) with his initial investment of $10m in a flagship Palestinian firm called Padico, the largest firm in the self-rule area, spanning telecommunications to real-estate, industrial parks and tourism and also manages the Palestinian stock exchange. On the same day Reuters also reported that France's defence minister, Alain Richard met Sultan for what was called a 'familiarisation visit'. France is the kingdom's third largest arms supplier. Reuters also said that Iran's outgoing President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani would perform Umra later this year.

On the 22nd of July Reuters started off a topic that it returned to on the 27th, water or lack of it in the kingdom. It started on the 22nd with the headlines, 'King says Saudi revising laws to curb water use'. The article went on to say that Fahad had urged citizens to save water and said his government was revising laws regulating water consumption in the desert kingdom, according to Saudi newspapers. The Arab News quoted the king as saying, 'It (curbing water use) is a religious as well as a national and development duty. It should be strictly followed especially in light of (the) future water situation at (a) global level'. He said the government was revising the systems and laws regulating water demand, 'to save this vital resource and utilise it in an economic manner'.

The following Sunday (27/7/97) in a feature article, Hilary Gush said that advertisements were being screened on Saudi TV as part of a campaign launched in July to get the 18 million people living in the desert state to cut profligate water use. King Fahad is reportedly behind the drive and in late July he told citizens that saving water was 'a religious as well as national and development duty'. Economists and water experts said the authorities had a tough task ahead. Water use per person in the kingdom is said to be higher than in other countries at the same stage along the development road. Some officials have put per capita daily consumption at 400 litres (88 gallons), versus an international average of about 200 litres.

But domestic users are not to blame for excess water use, as they consume only 10% of total annual demand of around 18 billion cubic metres. The main culprits are farmers. More than 80% of the kingdom's water is non-renewable ground water. Around 14% is surface and shallow ground water and 4% is desalinated in the 24 plants which Saudi Arabia says are the world's biggest. Less than 1% is reclaimed or treated water. Since the 1980s, Saudi Arabia has not been growing many crops not suitable to its arid conditions. In the early 1990s, Saudi Arabia was growing 4 million tonnes of wheat a year. This has fallen to about 1.3 million now, because of cuts in state grain prices. This, however, has led ironically to higher output of some even more water-intensive crops. 'Production of alfalfa. Which consumes more water than wheat and barley has increased,' Hussein Mousa of the US Agricultural Trade Office in Riyadh told Reuters. 'The government is planning to reduce forage production because Saudi Arabia is exporting a lot of alfalfa to neighbouring countries, which is like exporting water,' he said.

'Many people who never receive water bills think that, because it is free, we have plenty of it. If they are forced to pay a realistic price they will quickly learn water's worth,' said an economist.

The whole misuse of the natural water resources of the region started at the whim of one of the royals who wanted to 'green-up' the desert. Tonnes upon tonnes of the scarce supplies were raped from the ground to irrigate the desert 'pastures'. The resultant harvest was then proudly exported just as alfalfa is now. It is more than reasonable to assume that the royal family uses more of these precious reserves than the whole population of 18 million does. Swimming pools in every palace, great expanses of lawn to edify the bored princelings are common place. The king's island in the sea off Jeddah, has to support a small forest. It will not suffer the restrictions that will be placed upon the citizens. If the royals were to lead the people in this 'religious as well as national and development duty', a new era would have been introduced but that is as likely as rain for a year!

The defendants in the British nurses trial received a fair amount of coverage in the UK. The story was begun, once again by Reuters who reported that Saleh al-Hejailan, the lawyer of the two British nurses on trial for murder had told Reuters from his hotel suite in London that the court would reconvene on Sunday for an important session which could lead to the dismissal of the case. 'The judges will either display new evidence we haven't yet seen or submit the case to a higher judicial authority. Perhaps the court will nullify the confessions', he said. The nurses have already said that once the case has been concluded they will bring suit against the American law firm of the Gilford family. The Gilfords are represented by the 'International Law Firm' (ILF) in Riyadh which is associated with an Ohio-based firm.

The Times (26/7/97) reported that the Foreign Office said it was concerned about conditions at a Saudi Arabian prison where the two nurses are being held in a communal cell. A spokesman said that after reports described Dammam central prison as primaeval, new efforts were being made to get the Saudis to move the two.

The Independent, on the 28th, said that the ordeal of the two nurses was prolonged still further when their trial was adjourned for another two weeks on a technicality. The paper quoted the Foreign Office as saying that neither the defendants nor their families were allowed to attend the 20 minute hearing. Sources close to the case had indicated that the hearing was likely to produce a conclusive result. There was also speculation that new evidence would be put forward which would further diminish the case against the women. The case was delayed to allow further examination of the legal position of the victim's brother who has demanded the death penalty if the women are found guilty. Reuters added that the Shari'a court had ruled earlier that Frank Gilford, the victim's brother, could speak for the family. The court had initially questioned whether the power of attorney granted by the victim's mother to her son was valid. She suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Al-Hujailan, the defendants' lawyer said in a statement, that he had two weeks to bring evidence of the mother's mental condition. Upon the demonstration of the mental condition of the mother the court will probably demand a guardian to be appointed by the Australian court. Frank Gilford, the victim's brother, will not be considered in this situation to become the guardian, the statement added. Kathy Evans, writing in the Guardian added, 'Legal sources say that the Saudi religious authorities were becoming increasingly reluctant to cancel the confession statements. The nurses have contended that the hand-written had been secured as a result of duress by the local police and threats of sexual abuse. For a beheading to be avoided, the Saudi authorities would have had to accept that their own police had misbehaved with two British women during interrogation'.

The American media was full of the US State Department report on religious freedom around the world. Secretary of State Albright wrote an introduction to the report in which she said, 'Religious liberty is a fundamental source of our strength in the world. We simply could not lead without it. We would be na´ve to think that we could advance our interests without it'. The 22nd and the 23rd was a field day for people (Americans) who were interested in how Christians were treated in foreign countries. Although the American press didn't report that in Israel, Jehovah's Witnesses had been harassed and attacked (The Times-23/7/97) it did report (The Washington Post-23/7/97) that, 'Adding freedom of religion to the list of criteria by which it weighs relations with other countries, the State Department strongly criticised Saudi Arabia and several other nations for restrictions on worship, church membership and religious education'. The report said that Saudi Arabia, a key ally of the US, was the only nation out of 78 entries where 'religious freedom does not exist'.

The question that raises its ugly head is how Secretary Albright can say on the one hand that, 'Religious liberty is a fundamental source of our strength in the world. We simply could not lead without it. We would be na´ve to think that we could advance our interests without it'. And on the other that Saudi Arabia is a key ally even though US officials have regularly protested against the nation's religious policy.

To finish this short summary a small item from the 22nd must be reported. Reuters (22nd) ran copy about a Ministry of Information statement. The article said, "Saudi Arabia is urging citizens to ensure women do not leave their homes without being veiled and 'properly covered', according to the Saudi Gazette. A Ministry of Information statement carried by the paper said, 'religious scholars and educated people should organise lectures and meetings to point out the negative effects of allowing women to go to the market or roam about without being properly covered'."

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