Have you filled up your car recently? In the news today is the little snippet that UK forecourt prices have broken the £1.40 barrier for the first time. The unrest in Libya is widely blamed. Libya accounts for 2% of the world’s oil, so imagine what might happen to the oil price if Saudi Arabia gets caught up in the call for freedom. With a fifth of the world’s oil, their ongoing production is the lifeblood of the global economy.
So far, Saudi Arabia has been quiet, but only relatively. There is an growing dissatisfaction with the ruling elite. The royal family has tried to keep the lid on it with a $37 billion benefits package aimed at the 10% unemployment rate and a chronic housing shortage. There are murmurs about a cabinet re-shuffle to appease those asking for more substantial reforms.
Will the Saudi people take the pay-off, or is the rot deeper than that? We may well find out very soon. Protestors had planned a ‘day of rage’ on friday, but a government statement emphasising the illegality of the demonstrations has prompted some groups to call for an immediate response. It may be an isolated faction, or there may be a much broader and more determined democratic movement mobilising right now. Whether it happens today, friday, or not at all, we’ll find out soon enough. But you might want to pop out and fill up your petrol tank this afternoon.
Saudi Arabia is a real test of our rhetoric on democracy. The country is the world’s biggest funder of terrorism, a fact that the US has acknowledged in secret even while making overtures of friendship in public. The Wikileaks cables have Hilary Clinton on record as saying that “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LeT, and other terrorist groups, including Hamas”. 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in 9/11 were Saudi. It always has been a very hypocritical friendship, those oil reserves propping up an oppressive regime that is almost medieval in its brutality.
Western leaders are aware of the potential danger, and it probably explains much of the reticence in praising the democratic movement rattling the Middle East at the moment. If it reaches Saudi Arabia in any serious way, it will trigger an oil crisis. That, in turn, could trigger a recession. It’s little wonder we continue to call them friends.
Speaking shortly after 9/11, George W Bush declared the US to be a country “called to defend freedom.” That call justified the ‘liberation’ of Afghanistan and Iraq, making them safe for democracy. Just yesterday David Cameron declared that his party “stands for and stands by those reaching for freedom in the Arab world.” Will that support be extended to the people of Saudi Arabia?