[OPE-L:6168] Hanley on KSA

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Fri Nov 09 2001 - 14:41:10 EST

Charles Hanley won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative work on a US massacre 
of Korean refugees in the early stages of the Korean War. He wrote a three part 
series on KSA; i can only find the following two parts on the web. 

 Kingdom to Collapse of Its Own Weight?; Another
      Prince Is Born To House of Saud Almost Every Day;
      House of Saud Collapsing of Its Own Weight?


      RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- 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
      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-size problem.
      Already the neighbors are talking.
      ``Because of their undefined position in the
      power system, Saudi princes could generate
      uncontrollable crises,'' a Tehran newspaper
      observed from across the Persian Gulf. An
      Israeli analyst foresees a ``doomsday'' when
      King Fahd's gray band of brothers passes
      power to the younger generation -- hundreds
      of competing cousins.
      Inside this realm of sun, sand and secret
      police, contrary words about the House of
      Saud are rarely spoken aloud. But sometimes
      they're smuggled out, like the notes for
      ``Princess,'' the memoirs of a Saudi royal.
      ``Sadly, many of the royal cousins were
      swept away by the sudden rush of riches,''
      Princess Sultana, a pseudonym, said in the
      1992 book. ``My mother used to say . . . we
      would never survive the wealth of the oil
      For now the Sauds survive quite well.
      Up and down north Riyadh's boulevards,
      their new marble palaces gleam in the stark
      desert light, behind gates manned by
      red-bereted royal guards. Their gardens
      flourish on water desalinated and pumped 300
      miles from the Persian Gulf. Rolls-Royces and
      Cadillacs cruise the quiet streets. At the nearby
      airport, private jets stand by for
      intercontinental shopping sprees.
      In Jiddah and other commercial centers,
      House of Saud princes and close relatives sit,
      by one count, as chairmen of 520 Saudi
      Here in the capital, princes hold strategic
      Cabinet posts -- Defense, Interior, Intelligence
      -- and others sit as junior ministers. Every
      provincial governor is a prince or in-law, and
      family members control key military staffs.
      Stalin had his commissars. The House of
      Saud has its princes.
      ``The Saudi royal family . . . virtually runs the
      country as a private fiefdom,'' says the
      American human-rights group Freedom
      Runs it so tightly, in fact, 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. A half-dozen of the media-shy
      princes declined interview requests from a
      visiting journalist.
      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.
      Numbers Game: 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.
      Said Aburish, an Arab-American who wrote
      a critical study of the monarchy, settles on
      7,000 princes and princesses, and calculates
      males are being born at a rate of a few
      hundred a year.
      The key to an exploding royal household:
      polygamy. Islam permits a man up to four
      wives, but rapid-fire divorce multiplies that
      among the royals.
      King Abdel Aziz Al Saud, who founded
      modern Saudi Arabia in 1932, took at least 16
      wives, who bore him 42 sons. Those sons,
      including King Fahd, have married hundreds of
      Some of their sons, the middle-aged third
      generation, have gained international fame:
      Prince Sultan bin Salman flew on the space
      shuttle Discovery; Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is
      a global tycoon and Michael Jackson's friend;
      Prince Khaled bin Sultan led America's Arab
      allies in the Gulf War.
      But thousands of royals -- including other
      lines of the Saud clan that also bear the
      ``emir,'' or prince, title -- spend their days in
      the leisurely obscurity of the oil elite.
      ``They watch movies, go to the country
      house, go to Europe to shop,'' said a young
      woman who socializes with princesses.
      Behind palace walls, some idle
      20-somethings also indulge in less healthy
      pursuits, she said -- heavy drinking and drug
      use, vices that can cost commoners long jail
      terms, if not their lives, in this land of puritanical
      ``They're into cocaine, but they favor
      hashish,'' this insider said. ``They bring it into
      the country themselves, because princes and
      princesses don't get searched.''
      A Woman's Reputation: Sex also is furtive.
      Some princesses inconspicuously take secret
      lesbian lovers, she said, rather than risk being
      branded as ``loose,'' unworthy of a princely
      marriage, by dating a man.
      ``Marriages for love are rare,'' she said.
      ``Even talking by phone with a man ruins a
      girl's reputation.''
      One result: Young Saudi royals have deluged
      a new telephone ``chat'' line, based abroad,
      where they talk about sex and personal
      problems endlessly and anonymously.
      They can afford it. Free telephone service is
      part of the House of Saud birthright, along with
      free electricity, water and other public services,
      and free seats on the national airline.
      The birthright also includes government cash
      up front, from an infant's first day. The
      minimum stipend is now about $10,000 a
      month for a baby prince or princess, said a
      source with access to the accounts.
      For a Saudi-sized family, the checks add up.
      And many adult princes receive huge
      government salaries on top of that -- often for
      jobs in protocol and other ``make-work''
      areas, diplomats report. In this
      male-supremacist society, princesses stay at
      Government oil revenues reach the princes
      more indirectly, too.
      A generation ago, King Faisal registered
      state lands in the names of Saud family
      members. The billions they earned when they
      sold them back for universities, airports and
      other projects established the core of many
      family fortunes.
      The fortunes still fatten on government deals
      today. Princes or their proxies often are found
      in the middle of lucrative contracts, taking
      ``commissions,'' sometimes on deals involving
      their own ministries.
      A former U.S. diplomat here explained: ``A
      British Tornado jet fighter is $25 million on the
      open market. We estimated the Saudis are
      paying $65 million to $75 million. There are
      ways that extra money gets distributed
      throughout the family.''
      The new Saudi finance minister, Ibrahim Al
      Assaf, is trying to ``rationalize'' budget
      spending, outsiders note.
      ``But it's not an easy job for a commoner
      like him to be bringing these things up,'' said
      Kevin R. Taecker, an executive at
      Saudi-American Bank.
      A Western embassy recently cabled home
      that up to a third of the government's revenues
      never make it to the budget, remaining ``the
      secret business of the Al Saud.''
      But when royal nurseries are filling up so fast,
      even fabled oil wealth may not keep up. That
      apparently is why the Sauds have discarded a
      family dictum from King Faisal's day: Don't
      tamper with commoners' businesses.
      More and more, young princes are being
      imposed on Saudi companies as ``silent
      partners,'' pocketing earnings and sometimes
      bringing little to the business in return.
      ``The old compact is starting to break down
      with the growing numbers of princes, and that's
      causing friction,'' a U.S. official reported.
      Some old associates see time running out for
      the princes.
      The extravagance, the princely baby boom,
      the corruption -- all supply ammunition for an
      Islamic dissident movement that wants to
      ``purify'' this puritanical land even further.
      Exiled dissident Mohammed Al Masari likens
      the royal family to a ``mafia.''
      But some say family infighting may endanger
      the ever-expanding House of Saud even more
      than popular dissent.
      ``It's a high-maintenance family,'' said an
      experienced diplomat here. ``And it's showing
      less cohesion at a critical time.''
      Since King Abdel Aziz died in 1953, the
      throne has passed down through his sons in a
      murky process of seniority and family
      consensus. But King Fahd is 75 and ailing, his
      brothers are not much younger, and the day
      will come when power must be transferred --
      to someone -- in a teeming generation of
      ambitious grandsons. A new law empowers
      the monarch alone to name his heir.
      ``They're all scared of that doomsday,'' said
      Israeli scholar Alexander Bligh, a longtime
      student of the Sauds. ``They'd like to freeze
      the status quo as long as possible.''
      In Princess, American author Jean P. Sasson
      and collaborator ``Sultana'' indicted the royal
      family for its wasteful spending and the
      limitations it imposes on its women. But
      Sasson, who forged friendships among the
      royals while living here in the 1980s, wishes the
      House of Saud many more years.
      ``I always say it's probably the best they
      could have,'' she said in a U.S. telephone
      interview. ``If you go to a more religious
      group, will you be getting into another Iran
      Sultana herself, in Princess, did not sound
      ``Surely the weakness of our monarchy in
      Saudi Arabia is bound up in our addiction to
      extravagance,'' she confessed. ``I fear it will be
      our undoing.''

Saudis rely on United States 

By Charles J. Hanley 
AP Special Correspondent 

Posted April 17, 1997 

EDITOR'S NOTE -- The economic relationship between the world's lone superpower 
and its biggest oil exporter reaches back decades. But it has
entered a new stage in the 1990s. This is the second in a three-part series on 
U.S.-Saudi relations.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Quietly, steadily, in a slow parade west of 
supertankers and a digital flow east of dollars, the U.S.-Saudi partnership has 
tighter since the Gulf War.

America's oil imports have risen by a third. Saudi oil revenues have more than 
doubled. And in a fast-changing world, the mutual dependence of the
superpower and the petro-power has become a dominant geopolitical fact of post-
Cold War life.

To a British economist, it represents a ''return of American hegemony in the 
international oil system.'' To an American oilman, it's a trap. To a Saudi
dissident, it's a betrayal. And to Iraq it's bad news -- very bad news.

''Saudi Arabia would like the embargo on Iraqi oil maintained as long as 
possible,'' says international oil expert Fadhil Chalabi. In America, it has a
powerful partner for achieving that.

Energy is only one strand in a web of U.S.-Saudi economic ties that has grown 
in the six years since an American-led army rolled back Iraqi aggression in
the Persian Gulf.

Statistics tell the story: U.S. products, 16 percent of Saudi imports before 
the war, now make up 24 percent. Imports from
America -- computers and turbines, cigarettes and F-15 fighters -- totaled $7.3 
billion last year.

The story plays out, too, in the streets and government corridors of this 
sprawling capital: in the gleaming new Toys R Us
store in north Riyadh; in the Cadillacs and Suburbans cruising the desert 
roadways; in the two dozen American economists at
work in the Finance Ministry; in the U.S. business advisers hired to counsel 
King Fahd, led by James A. Baker III, secretary
of state during the Gulf War.

Oil has long linked the two countries, ''but now we have a much more complex 
and dynamic relationship,'' Treasury Secretary
Robert Rubin told the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council, a group formed since 
the war.

But for all the complexity, oil remains key.

As U.S. oil output declined, imports climbed. America's Saudi imports last year 
-- 1.25 million barrels a day -- were twice the
level of 1986. Saudi oil revenues, meanwhile, grew from $22 billion before the 
war to $50 billion last year, halting an economic slide that began in the

Some say an ''entente'' has been forged since the war, that the United States 
has agreed to protect the Gulf monarchies and remain a dependable customer in
exchange for reliable supplies at stable prices.

''You'll never find anything in writing, but all events suggest that things are 
under control,'' said energy scholar Peter Odell of the London School of

This ''hegemony'' is a force for oil price stability, he said. The Saudis' 
spare capacity would enable them to ratchet production up or down to influence

U.S. officials dismiss talk of secret agreements. But they acknowledge the two 
governments regularly consult on the oil market -- and especially, lately, on
the anti-Iraq embargo. It was high on the agenda of recent U.S.-Saudi talks in 

The U.N. embargo, imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, shut down Iraqi 
oil exports of 3.2 million barrels a day. Limited sales have been allowed
since December, but the embargo remains a disaster for the Iraqi economy -- and 
a godsend for the Saudis.

In the absence of Iraqi oil, Saudi exports surged to 8 million barrels a day 
from 5.4 million.

London's Center for Global Energy Studies, headed by Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani, 
the former Saudi oil minister, determined that Saudi Arabia has earned
more than $100 billion in oil revenues from the embargo -- more than covering 
the $55 billion the war cost the Saudi treasury.

With the bonus billions, the Saudis largely maintained government spending on 
their fast-growing population, deferring expected increases last year in
gasoline, electricity and other subsidized prices.

That kind of economic security helps keep the lid on in a land with no 
political freedom and an increasingly vocal dissident movement. And that means,
Chalabi said, the Saudis cannot allow Iraqi oil back on the market, where it 
could drive down prices or force a cutback in Saudi exports.

''Saudi Arabia cannot live with lower oil revenues,'' said Chalabi, a former 
secretary-general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries who now
runs Yamani's think tank. ''It could have a far-reaching effect on the 
political situation inside the country.''

A key Saudi official said this danger is overstated, that growing Asian oil 
demand will mean an expanding market for all producers.

''So the question of Saudi Arabia reducing production is not going to be a 
factor in the future,'' Abdulaziz N. Al-Orayer, deputy finance minister, said 
in an

But a well-informed foreign source in Riyadh, who is in touch with Saudi 
thinking, said the Saudis are, indeed, working against the return of Iraqi oil.
''They don't want it coming suddenly onto the market,'' he said.

Although the sanctions have been maintained because of Iraq's efforts to build 
weapons of mass destruction, Western officials suggest they may stay as
long as Saddam Hussein rules Iraq.

To some Americans and Saudis, meanwhile, the real problem is the oil 
partnership itself.

The surge in U.S. oil imports -- from 30 percent of consumption in the mid-
1980s to 54 percent last year -- leaves the American economy too reliant on
outside sources, U.S. energy conservationists say.

Some describe the billions the Pentagon spends to protect Persian Gulf oil as a 
giant ''welfare'' program for U.S. energy multinationals.

''I think you're trapped now,'' said well-known Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens. 
''It would take years to work your way out of this problem.''

The U.S. General Accounting Office advises Americans to enjoy the ''trap.'' 
Lower-priced oil saves the U.S. economy billions of dollars a year, it reported
in December.

But what looks like a boon to American drivers -- relatively cheap oil -- looks 
like a ripoff to some Saudis.

''Oil policy should have to do with the interests of our country, not of 
America,'' Saad Al-Faqih, an exiled Saudi dissident, said in London.

For those trying to break the monarchy's authoritarian hold on this country, 
the ever-tightening U.S.-Saudi partnership -- military, economic, political -- 
an ever-bigger target.


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