June 5, 2006
"Passing over, for the present, all the evils and
mischiefs which monarchy has occasioned in the world, nothing can more
effectually prove its usefulness in a state of civil government than making it
hereditary. Would we make any office hereditary that required wisdom and
abilities to fill it? And where wisdom and abilities are not necessary, such an
office, whatever it may be, is superfluous or insignificant. Hereditary
succession is a burlesque upon monarchy. It puts it in the most ridiculous
light, by presenting it as an office which any child or idiot may fill. It
requires some talent to be a common mechanic; but, to be a king, requires only
the animal figure of man -- a sort of breathing automaton." 
These are the words of Thomas Paine written in 1791.
His logic and reasoning is as sound and pertinent now as it was then. But if
Thomas Paine were alive and expressed similar sentiments in Saudi Arabia today,
he would face imprisonment and torture. The very idea of republicanism, which
the founding fathers of The United States so cherished, is seen as subversive
in Saudi Arabia and is actively discouraged by the government.
Saudi Arabia is a special country. It is the place of
two of the Muslims’ holiest sites. It is a major oil producer. It is the only
country in the world that is named after its founder: Ibn Saud. It is one of a
few countries in the world that is run as a family business. It also had the
world’s highest military expenditure per capita. In the period 1990 to 2004,
Saudi Arabia has spent more on its military than Iran, Pakistan, or even India
with a population of over 1 billion people. Yet, they (Saudis and friends)
still feel that Saudi Arabia needs more military hardware.
On May 18, the general in charge of U.S. arms sales
told Reuters that the United States was talking to Iran’s neighbours, including
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), about ways to bolster
It is interesting to note that although the United
States has large military bases in the Persian Gulf, none of these countries
ever feel secure. The Persian Gulf countries have one of the highest military
expenditures in the world.
From 1990 to 2004, Saudi Arabia, with a population of
21.4 million spent a whopping $ 268.6 billion dollars on arms. That is more
than $12 million dollars for every man, woman, and child in Saudi Arabia. One
would have thought that with that kind of expenditure the Saudis would have
felt safe by now. But apparently they don’t, or at least this is the view of
the U.S. and the U.K., two major arm suppliers to these countries.
But Saudi Arabia is not alone in this. Take the tiny
country of United Arab Emirates. This country with a population of 2.6 million
souls spent $38.6 billion dollars for defence between 1990 and 2004. 
Even Kuwait with a population of 1.1 million people,
in the same period spent $73.1 billion on arms. When Iraqis crossed the border
on August 2, 1990, the Kuwaiti generals used their mobile phones to gather all
the top ranking military officers in a convoy and drove to Saudi Arabia. The
only soldiers who actually put up some resistance were the military students
who had not been warned about the situation. The military cadets, however, did
put up heroic resistance at their military academy. What happened to all that
money that had been spent on shiny military hardware until 1990 is anyone’s
guess. What is known is that no one was there to use them.
These three countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Kuwait)
combined, have spent over $380 billion in 14 years. And yet they still feel
insecure. Compare this with the Iranian military expenditure of $49.5 billion
for the same period. Even India with a population of over 1 billion people
spent only $156 billion on armaments in the same period. This in spite of the
frictions that exist between India and its two neighbours: China and Pakistan.
The Saudis already own more than 1,015 Tanks including
315 high quality M1A2s, over 5,000 APCs/AFVs, 780 artillery pieces, over 2,000
anti-tank missile launchers, over 340 high quality combat aircrafts including
F15S/C/Ds and Tornados, with 48 Typhoons (Eurofighter) to be delivered in 2008.
On top of that, they own over 228 helicopters, 160 training and liaison
aircrafts and 51 transport aircraft. The Saudi navy operates over 27 major
combat vessels, including missile frigates and missile corvettes. 
Most of these weapons are offensive. On May 22,
DebkaFile reported that the U.S. is considering arming Israel and Saudi Arabia
with its largest bunker busting bombs.
"The intention is to arm US allies with a deterrent
against Iran by sharing with them the means for striking the Islamic Republic’s
underground nuclear installations.
"This Massive Ordnance Penetrator -- MOP -- known
as BIG-BLU - weighs in at 13,600 kilos and can destroy 25 percent of its
targets in bunkers buried beneath 60 meters of reinforced concrete, a depth
greater than any other bomb of its type." 
Do the Americans seriously think that Saudi Arabia
will ever use these bombs? The answer is no. These possibly will end-up in
storage with other Saudi offensive weapons.
The Saudis already have problems absorbing the huge
military hardware that they purchased in the 1980s and 1990s. Yet the
purchasing goes on without interruption. An early glimpse into the absorption
problems was provided in 1984 by Said K. Aburish (author of several
authoritative books on the Middle East). In his excellent book, "The House of
Saud," he pointed out the problems that were facing the Saudis in 1990s.
He wrote, "In the wake of the Gulf War, the hardware being purchased for the Saudi
armed forces will continue to outstrip their ability to use it. Saudi Arabia
has embarked on an armaments shopping spree which includes contracts to buy
American Patriot Missiles; F15s; laser bombs; a Hughes Aircraft aerial-defence
system; Canadian Halifax frigates, French Helec torpedo boats and British
aircraft; and helicopters and boats from British Aerospace, Westland
Helicopters and Vospers Thorneycroft." 
The problems apparently continued to persist into
2002, For Anthony H. Cordesman and Arleigh A. Burke of Center for Strategic and
International Studies (CSIS) reported the same problems as Aburish did in 1994.
In their report on Saudi security problems (2002), they stated the following:
should never be another set of massive arms package deals with the US or Europe
of the kind that took place during the Gulf War or a purchase like Al Yamama.
Barring a future major war, purchases should be made and justified on a
case-by-case basis, off budget and oil barter deals should be illegal, and all
offset deals subject to annual public reporting with an independent accountant
and auditor. Saudi Arabia must also take every possible step to eliminate the
waste of funds on:
- "Unique equipment types
and one-of-a-kind modifications.
- "'Glitter factor' weapons;
'developmental' equipment and technology.
- "Arms buys made from
Europe for political purposes where there is no credible prospect that the
seller country can project major land and air forces.
- "Non-interoperable weapons
- "Submarines and ASW
- "Major surface warfare ships.
- "Major equipment for
divided or 'dual' forces.
- "New types of equipment
that increase the maintenance, sustainability, and training problem, or
layer new types over old.
- "New types of equipment
which strain the financial and manpower resources of Saudi Arabia, and
overload military units that are already experiencing absorption and
conversion problems in using the equipment they possess or have on order."
But apparently no amount of analyses and reports by
individuals and organisations make any impression on the Saudi government, for
the shopping spree continues unabated.
In December 2005, The Guardian reported the signing of
a multi-billion dollar sale contract for the above mentioned Typhoons or
Eurofighters. The interesting thing about the sale was the reference to global
said: "The understanding document is intended to establish a greater
partnership in modernising the Saudi Arabian Armed Forces and developing close
service-to-service contacts especially through joint training and exercises.
The partnership also recognises the key objectives shared by the two
governments with regard to national security and actions to combat global
It is very interesting to find out how Saudi Arabia is
going to use these fighters in its war against global terrorism. But even if
this sale does not help the war on terror, at least it provided jobs for the
9,000 UK based BAE employees and pushed BAE’s share price up by 6 percent.
But what is it that compels Saudis to spend so much
money and resources on arms? What wars are they preparing for and whom are they
going to defend themselves against?
The Threat Within
The truth is that the only threat to Saudi Arabia
comes from within. The recent threats by al Qaeda would not have been so
dangerous if large segments of the population were not so sympathetic to it.
Saudi volunteers and money is seen behind recent attacks, from the US to Iraq
to North Africa. But the threat does not come only from the Jihadists. There
have been other threatening sources within the general population as well.
There have been several coup attempts in Saudi Arabia,
and not all of them from the Muslim extremists. There have been actions against
the House of Saud by various Saudi groups in 1969, 1972, and 1979.
For example since the Air Force rebellion of 1969,
pilots are recruited primarily from the "dependable" families and the extended
royal house (over 8,000 princes). Saudi princes occupy all top military and
political positions. Until the late 1980s, Pakistan was providing a protection
force of 11,000 to 15,000 troops to the Saudi government. After the
relocation of US troops from Saudi Arabia to Qatar and other places, the Saudis
are looking to Pakistan again for troops. According to the Financial Times ,
Pakistan is to send fresh troops to the kingdom for security duties and
training of Saudi military troops. There are also plans for purchasing
Pakistani-assembled tanks by the Saudis.
The interesting question here is why the Saudi
government needs foreign troops on its soil? Whom are the Pakistani troops
going to protect and from what?
For years now, many international human right
organisations have been reporting abuses in Saudi Arabia, without anything
happening. In 2000, Amnesty International reported the following: 
Arabia systematically violates international human rights standards even
after agreeing to be bound by them. For example, in September 1997 Saudi
Arabia acceded to the Convention against Torture. Yet, torture is widespread
in Saudi Arabia's criminal justice system.
Saudi Arabia, trials are held in secrecy. Detained prisoners are often not
told which offences they are alleged to have committed, and their
relatives, colleagues or managers are often left in the dark about the
charges, the trial or its outcome.
trials do not comply with international fair trial standards, and judicial
proceedings generally -- which include financial and other administrative
cases which affect businesses -- do not take place in a free and fair
atmosphere. This affects not only Saudi Arabian nationals, but also
foreign businesses which are active in Saudi Arabia. In fact, Saudi Arabia
does not meet some of the standards of governance identified by
international institutions because of its failure to establish an
independent judicial system.
are routinely denied access to lawyers. The Saudi criminal justice system
does not allow consultation with a lawyer as a matter of a prisoner's
right at any stage. This denies the prisoner's right to a fair trial.
employees can be, and often are, subjected to a wide variety of abuses,
including: prolonged solitary confinement, torture, flogging, amputation
and the death penalty. These abuses are of direct concern to businesses
operating in Saudi Arabia because their employees at all levels can be
workers, recruited from other countries by businesses operating in Saudi
Arabia, are particularly vulnerable, with their embassies unable to
provide adequate support.
Arabia does not allow free association for employees, both for foreign and
local businesses, although it has signed some core conventions of the
International Labour Organization. In such an environment, companies have
an important responsibility.
Every year the same charges are levelled against Saudi
Arabia and every year new arm sales are made. In 2005, Human Rights Watch
repeated the same charges against the government of Saudi Arabia and pleaded
with Saudis to do something about these violations.
"Human rights violations are pervasive in Saudi
Arabia, an absolute monarchy. Despite international and domestic pressure to
implement reforms, improvements have been halting and inadequate. King
Abdullah’s succession to the throne after King Fahd’s death in August inspired
some hope among Saudi citizens for future reform. King Abdullah quickly
pardoned three prominent reformers who had earlier been sentenced to long
prison terms for voicing criticism of the government, and announced a new labor
law promising increased rights for women and migrant workers, but overall human
rights conditions in the kingdom remain poor.
"Saudi law does not protect many basic rights.
The government does not allow political parties, and places strict limits on
freedom of expression. Arbitrary detention, mistreatment and torture of
detainees, restrictions on freedom of movement, and lack of official
accountability remain serious concerns. The kingdom carried out some
seventy-three executions as of late September 2005, more than double the
thirty-two executions in the whole of 2004. Saudi women continue to face
serious obstacles to their participation in the economy, politics, media, and
society. Many foreign workers face exploitative working conditions; migrant women
working as domestics often are subjected to round-the-clock confinement by
their employers, making them vulnerable to sexual abuse and other mistreatment.
The government continued to harass independent Saudi Arabian human rights
defenders and stifle their efforts to establish independent rights monitoring
But why don’t we see any campaign against Saudi
Arabia? Why don’t we hear presidents and prime ministers condemning these
atrocities? Why don’t we see articles urging a regime change in Saudi Arabia?
How come it is okay to have thousands of people killed to remove a dictator in
Iraq, yet it is not okay to even publicly call for change in the system of
government in Saudi Arabia?
The answer is provided by Mr. Aburish, "The House of
Saud is willing to provide the world with cheap oil and political support in
their problems with the Arabs and Muslims in return for elimination of all
criticism. It goes further and uses the awarding of huge defence contracts for
the same purpose. In reality, the twin policy of using oil and awarding defence
contracts is no more than blackmail; they protect the Western economies from
high oil prices and buy arms in return for silence" 
How is it possible to have an absolute monarchy in
2006? Especially in the age of the Internet and satellite TV? The answer is
terror of course. Only absolute terror can maintain an absolute monarchy. And
we in the West, while shouting about human rights in Myanmar, Sudan, and other
places, keep silent about Saudi Arabia.
However, history shows that no amount of oppression is
going to stop the inevitable from happening. It happened in Iran, it is
happening in Nepal, and if Saudis are not careful, it can happen in Saudi
Just look at the statistics. Nearly 40 percent of the
population (2005) is under the age of 14. The median age of the Saudi
population is 21. Imagine a country with such a large teenage population,
strict religious and social codes and no democracy. These people will demand
participation in the political process. If the government represses them (as it
is doing now); they become easy recruits for extremists.
What we should be aware of is the fact that people see
the cause of their plight in the support that the West provides the regime. If
they overthrow the government, in all likelihood, the new government will be
extremely anti-Western. To avoid this it is advisable to begin seriously
pressuring the Saudi government to reform.
Thomas, "Rights of Man," Great Britain
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), "SIPRI data
on military expenditure"
Center for Strategic Studies, "Saudi Arabia"
DebkaFile, "DEBKAfile reports: Bush is expected to offer
the mighty BIG-BLU bunker buster bomb to Israel and Gulf states, including
Saudi Arabia," 22 May 2006
5. Aburish Said K., " The Rise, Corruption and Coming Fall of THE
HOUSE OF SAUD," Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 38 Soho Square, London W1v 5DF,
UK, 1994. Page 187
Cordesman Anthoney H. and Burke Arleigh A., "Saudi Arabia Enters
the 21st Century: The Military and Internal Security Dimension:
Chapter Eleven: Summary and Conclusions," Center for Strategic and
International Studies, 1800 K Street N.W., Washington, DC 2006, USA.
sale to Saudi Arabia agreed," December 21, 2005
United States Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, "Saudi Arabia,"
Financial Times, "Saudi
Arabia and Pakistan in security tie-up," 16 April 2006
Arabia: Open for Business" , AI Index: MDE 23/082/2000
Rights Watch, "Human
Rights Overview: Saudi Arabia," 2005
Said K., " The Rise, Corruption and Coming Fall of THE HOUSE OF SAUD,"
Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 38 Soho Square, London W1v 5DF, UK, 1994. Page 76
Copyright © 2006
Abbas Bakhtiar. All rights reserved.
Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar lives in Norway. He is a consultant
and a contributing writer for many online journals. He's a former associate
professor of Nordland University, Norway. Bakhtiarspacefirstname.lastname@example.org.