Monday, June 20, 2005

Life in Saudi, by a new expat and a bibliography of recently published books (and due to be published) on Saudi Arabia

A Compound Life: Settling into Saudi

We've tracked Laura down in Saudi Arabia, and she's willing to share a few secret details of life there. Take a look...

At 4.30 on the morning of December 21, 2004 my daughter and I touched down in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The air was thick and hot, and inside the dusty arrivals hall of Jeddah International a sprinkling of custom officials where chit-chatting while waiting for something to do.
But they did seem to perk up when they spotted the dishevelled South African stuffed in a cheap black abaya scuffling wide-eyed in their direction. This was my entry into the country that is to be my home for the next year.
Maybe it was my shabby abaya or maybe it was just my lucky day, but they simply regarded me with a twinkle of curiosity, pouring for what seemed like hours over my passport and passing it back and forth among each other, before pinching my daughter's chin with a smile and stamping a whole lot of stuff in our documents.
I was in. And I wasn't searched (except for a comprehensive hand luggage check prior to boarding Saudi Air in JHB) which meant I could have packed half of Picardi Rebel in my suitcase! (Remember, no alcohol in Saudi Arabia; at least, none allowed). Darn. Anyway, husband whisked us away in his formidable 4x4, straight to our compound and a whole new life got underway.
The good, and the bad
And what a strange life it is. Saudi Arabia has to be the most extraordinary place in the entire world. And I'm absolutely fascinated. When I left women24, I wrote in my final column, that Saudi Arabia had to rank right behind Iraq as the worst place on earth to live. I was right, and I was wrong.
Right in that, for a Western woman (despite coming from Africa I’m regarded as a Westerner), it's one of the most restricted societies on earth, if not the most. Wrong in that it has afforded me the simplest, most wonderful lifestyle I could ever imagine.
Let me explain, and I'll start with the bad things; the things we hear about life in Saudi Arabia – especially regarding women. For instance, everyone knows women aren't allowed to drive, vote, or appear in public without being covered from head to toe in a black abaya (black cloak-like over-dress) and hijab (headscarf); that restaurants are strictly divided into family sections and sections for bachelors, and that segregation (gender "apartheid") is enforced in most of the workplaces where women are allowed to work. Unmarried men and women aren't allowed to go out together in public or visit unchaperoned (though I promise you they do – at their peril), and even married couples are cautioned against showing affection toward each other when venturing out.
If, for example, an expat husband is invited to dinner at a Saudi household, his wife can plan her evening in front of satellite TV back at the compound, as women aren't allowed to attend. And at the Saudi home her husband won't as much as spot someone of the female gender. This has been my unfortunate lot on many an occasion. I’m yet to see the inside of a Saudi household (where women’s and men’s quarters are often separated), or meet a Saudi woman.
Cover up
In Saudi Arabia – it's the only country where this is “law” – all women (that includes expats) are required to wear the abaya over their clothes to hide all signs of flesh. While Western women aren't strictly speaking required to wear a hijab , woe betide the woman who doesn't and is caught out by the Muttawa, or religious police, officially called The Committee for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue, upholding the rules of Wahhabism (the Kingdom's strict interpretation of Sunni Islam).
I've personally been castigated by them for not wearing my hijab while shopping in one of Saudi's hundreds of malls (strictly speaking they should have castigated my husband as they're not supposed to address a woman). And a friend of mine has had her ankles whipped for the same reason. It's not fun to be at the receiving end of their fervour, I promise you.
But some things have changed, like women don't have to sit in the back of the car behind tinted windows veiled to the eyebrows; i.e., they can sit in the front. But you rarely see this as the front passenger seat is normally reserved for the sons. And driving through the busy streets at night I've seen boys as young as 14 at the wheel, with the terrified mothers and daughters huddling in the back. More about that in a later column.
Recently there was a big brouhaha here over cars with tinted windows. Some Saudi men went so far as to tint all the car windows, except the front windscreen, to protect their women from preying eyes. But this has now been outlawed because the police and security forces can't see who's inside – the hunt for terrorists is big business in Saudi.
Go figure!
Also, the production and sale of alcohol is prohibited everywhere (imagine going to a restaurant and not having a glass of wine with your meal!), yet on the outskirts of Jeddah there's an alcohol and drug rehab centre - for Saudis!
Night time, after the final evening prayer, is when Saudi Arabia comes alive. People flock to the malls for hours of shopping and youths take to the streets in their fathers' cars. Driving home at around 11 pm you're sure to get stuck in a traffic jam. When we once left for the airport at 2:30 in the morning, we spotted a family getting out of their car to do the "day's" shopping. It's unbelievable. No wonder most Saudis only pitch for work around 10 in the morning. Pity on the children, though, who have to be at school at 8. During the day things are pretty quiet, and you'll be hard pressed to see a woman anywhere.
If you do see a woman, she's either quickly slipping from car to mall, or she's an unfortunate beggar. These women are mostly African – probably Sudanese – swathed in black with only their yellow eyes showing, and often pushing a pram (like our bergies push trolleys) heaped high with cardboard and other recyclable rubbish. Many of them have babies – some fair, some not – strapped to their backs. I shudder to think who the fathers of the children are, where the women sleep at night, and how they get by in a country were women, especially unmarried mothers, are regarded by most as the scourge of society. My guess is these women are either refugees or Hajj pilgrims who never left – either because they don't have the money or necessary paperwork; or they think this horrid existence in Saudi is better than the horrid existence in war-torn Africa.
What's ahead
I'm going to stop here now. In roughly two weeks, I'll be sending through my next column that will bring you some more inside info on life in a compound and explain why my life (and that of many, many expat women) in Saudi Arabia is simply the best I've had since I care to remember. Like everything else here in Saudi Arabia, it's fascinating stuff.
Over the next couple of months I'll be covering topics such as human rights in Saudi; women's plight; the Muttawa; the Monarchy; my beautiful abaya; when expats have to pay "blood money"; the Bedouin; shopping in Saudi; why Saudis are the worst drivers in the world and their hideously high road accident death rate; the new South Africa - Saudi Arabia love affair; the difficulties our men go through working with Saudis; South African businesses here; the life of a foreign woman; a typical Saudi meal; "fun" things to do in the Kingdom; growing religious fundamentalism; Saudiization (read: employment equity); racism; terrorism; why the Monarchy is between a rock and the Wahhabis, and much more.

* For security reasons, I have omitted my daughter's name, the name of her school and that of our compound. Sure you understand.

My Saudi Secret

Za'atar My first find is a herby, spicy mix called za'tar (Arabic word for wild thyme) that's enjoyed across the Middle East, Turkey and North Africa. There are many ways to spell zatar or zaathar, or za'tar, and similarly recipes differ too.
Rarely sold as a single herb, it is usually packaged as a combination of several herbs and flavours with thyme and sumac the main ingredients. If you can't find it in the Middle Eastern section of a deli try this recipe: Mix 4 tablespoons dried thyme with 2 tablespoons ground sumac (or use grated lemon zest), 2 tablespoons toasted white sesame seeds and a pinch or two of salt.
Sometimes zatar is mixed with paprika, hyssop (an aromatic minty plant), olive wood, marjoram, or oregano. Traditionally, zatar is served with pita bread and olive oil - dip the bread in the oil and then the herb mix and tuck in. Pita bread baked with a zatar topping and a splash of olive oil is absolutely delicious. Or make a paste of the oil and herbs, sprinkle generously on a serving of salty cheese, like feta or Bulgarian; sprinkle over ripe tomatoes; dust over thick Greek yoghurt or add to a yoghurty mayonnaise for a vegetable dip. Zatar also makes for a wonderful alternative to the ubiquitous European mixture known as herbes de province in recipes for roast chicken or beef, or lamb stew.

Laura of Arabia gives us the details of her life in a Saudi compound. Alcatraz or Utopia?

Living in a compound in Saudi Arabia is a bit like living on Alcatraz. It's a little patch of land surrounded by high walls and barbed wire where the "inmates" are kept in and the rest of the world kept out by an army of guards, security forces and policemen. For expats, a Saudi compound is a tiny island of free life in a teeming sea of unrelenting Islam.
Now and again you'll read an opinion piece in the Saudi press where the writer blames the lack of cultural integration in the Kingdom on the expats' choice to live locked away in compounds. Wrong!!! I can assure them, there are many foreigners who would prefer to live among the locals (I really would), but practically this just isn't possible. One, it's not safe as non-Muslims are the direct target of terrorists, and two, Saudi society as a whole is wary of influences that challenge its traditional values, making integration near impossible. Saudi society is to me like a slab of black slate – you can chip at it, but you can never get in.
Who lives where
Saudi Arabia is home to some 17 million Saudis who live in palaces, mansions, villas, flats and tents, and a whopping 8,8 million foreign workers, most of whom are confined to compounds of varying standards. The bulk of Saudi's foreign workers are from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines, and these people live mostly either in houses converted into living quarters where they live 100 to a 10-room house (shocking, we'll go into this later), or in the most basic compounds with cramped villas (houses are called villas here) and little more than a security gate.
Those here on more generous packages reside in expansive, upmarket compounds, some of which are more like holiday resorts and are heavily protected by the Saudi National Guard. The cost of living in one of these – including electricity, water, satellite TV and all services - is normally included in hubby's pay package and can be anything from around SAR (Saudi Arabian Riyals) 100 000 per year (R165 255) to double that.
At last count, there were about 6 000 South Africans in Saudi. Indeed, South Africa is producing "the next big wave" of foreign business workers as the strength of the US, UK and European currencies combined with the shaky security situation in Saudi, has seen workers from these countries finish up and get out. In South Africa, where good living standards come at a hefty price and the job market is in a wobble, the tax-free Saudi Riyal still has some lure.
Our compound, for example, consists of some 60 townhouse-type villas, with two swimming pools, a gym, tennis and squash quarts, a shop, satellite TV and a limousine and bus service, all run and kept in good nick by an outsourced team of ultra-friendly Philippinos. See pictures of Laura's compound by clicking here. By comparison, our compound offers less than some of the mega compounds that have medical clinics, restaurants, bowling alleys and beauty parlours, but the reason we chose this one is because it's right next to one of the best international schools in the Kingdom, which also means I don't have to put my child on a bus in the mornings to get to school. With animosity towards foreigners lurking in every corner, this is not something I wanted to do.
There are expats from all over the world in our compound, from the US, Australia, Britain, South America, France, loads more South Africans (representing almost the entire rainbow), a sprinkling of other Africans and, to my surprise, Muslim Sudanese, Lebanese, Egyptians and Jordanians. Ignorantly I thought Muslims wouldn't want to stay in compounds along with the "infidels". But then, not everyone subscribes to the prevailing Saudi view of non-Muslims.
What goes on behind these walls
Most compounds have buses that transport the ladies around (women aren't allowed to drive in the Kingdom). There's a monthly bus schedule and with abayas on and handbags stuffed with hubbies hard-earned Riyals, women get the chance to shop their way through the city while the driver takes a nap over the steering wheel, motor running to keep the aircon going.
For non-working women left alone at home in a less luxury compound (no transport, no shop, e.g.), life can be taxing. They can't really get out and about (taking a taxi is risky) and there's no other public transport for women, so if they're out of ciggies or milk, they have to wait until hubby comes back to take them shopping. Just like anywhere in the world, hubbies are tired at the end of a working day, and want to put their feet up and be fed. The wife, starved of life outside her "prison", has to cunningly persuade him to get back in his car and take her out for her shopping therapy, ciggies and milk.
Not all moms stay at home or shop all day; some compound moms work half day at the schools and there are of course single women here on their own packages, working in the hospitals or women's' colleges.
Many households employ women as chars. I have a lovely, lively lady from Eritrea who helps me once a week and fills me in on the word on the ground. While we're on the topic of help in the house, allow me to gossip just a teeny bit. A friend of mine who lives in one of the bigger Jeddah compounds and has two toddlers tells me there's a community of other Middle Eastern families (from Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, etc.) in her compound, and they all have live-in maids. Apparently these maids take the children to Moms and Tots playgroups and to the playgrounds (on the compounds) and to and from school, while the mothers stay at home doing heaven knows what.
Although being "stuck" in a compound without practical means to go anywhere, to pursue your career and/or to earn your own income has driven many a good woman to polish off the homebrew as quickly as her husband can make it, most women I've spoken to agree this is an absolutely wonderful, simple life. Gone is the stress and constant fatigue that comes with living in the rat race; the concern about the children's education and whereabouts; the worry about money; the claustrophobic, crime-ridden existence in South Africa.
Here you know what you can do and what you can't do, and for the rest you have a driver who takes you where you want to go; time and money to shop, time to get to know your children; time to cook a four-course Arabian meal, and finally get time to paint, write or learn cross stitching. Yes, imagine having time to learn to do something as bizarre as cross stitching. Why not?
Ironically, the easy life so many of us embrace here is exactly the "easy" life many Saudi women wish they can break free from. For us it's a sabbatical from the rat race; for them it's an enforced way of life. What indeed makes this such a positive experience for many women is the fact that it's not forever. We all agree that, if this was going to be our life for the rest of it, we'd go mad.
Friendship, tea and sympathy
Friendship is the glue that keeps compound life together and you make friends with people you'd ordinarily never dream of sharing a pot of tea with. The South Africans have braais at the pool on Thursday evenings (the start of the short Saudi weekend), we drive out to the wadis for weekend camping; go on shopping trips in the city, and gossip about the other people in the compound.
But that's a drawback of compound living – you're so on top of each other that you get involved with each other's parenting styles, chitchat about how much who's husband is earning or where your neighbours went on holiday and compare how good your purchases at the latest Debenham's sale was or for how cheap you got a bottle of Dior J'Adore. You basically live in each other's backyards, so keeping the peace while the husbands do battle with Saudi men on the business front, can offer enough excitement to keep the ghosts from your idle mind.
I've made some great friends in our compound. Among the South Africans there's kind-hearted Carene, and former Mrs SA Globe and Mrs Body Perfect who keeps us all sane with her great sense of humour and the compound staff in a toestand as she struts to the shop in her sundress and stilettos; there's down-to-earth Lorraine who always has time for a chat and worldly advice; mother-of-all Maria whose straightforward charm quickly makes you forget any inclination of self-pity, alles-klaar Babette, who's super parenting skills put us all to shame, and the soulful Bev, who moves silently from villa to school (where she teaches) and back before anyone can get the chance to talk to her.
Interestingly enough, the South Africans are the most social in our compound. The other people seem to confine themselves to their villas and heaven alone knows what they do in there.
The one thing you have to get your head around when settling into a compound and start making friends (and this goes for the children, too) is that at any time a family can disappear just as suddenly as they came. Contracts come to an end, and it could be years before you see each other again, if you ever do.
Finally, one thing all compounds have in common is the presence of (mostly feral) cats. Some of them are downright nasty, some have learnt the art of charm to get food, and a whole bunch of them are pregnant. My husband gave us strict instructions to leave the cats alone, yet we've managed to convince him that one young female was directly descended from the Arabian wild cat, and needed love and Whiskas and a collar – the collar is essential lest she be dispatched to the "fish market" during the annual feral cat cleanout. She (Kriewel) has now had three kittens and although one unfortunately died, the other two (Dozi and Bin Laden) are downstairs climbing the curtains as we speak.

To give you a better idea of the pros and cons of compound life, here's what my South African friends have to say:

Carene:Compound life is more like survival camp. I love the social life, so for me, being boxed in behind brick walls the colour of grey tombstones makes me feel like I'm a half-dead bird living in a comfortable cage. My religion keeps me going, though, and I live by my motto: changing the world one soul at a time.

Maria:Inside these high security walls you're much safer than in any South African suburb I know. Sometimes you get Big Brother-like cabin fever, but that's quickly remedied by hopping onto the bus for some retail therapy, which is the only thing a woman can really do here. Living in a compound can be compared to living in a townhouse complex or security village in South Africa. We just have more fun!

Lorraine:Living in a compound is like being on extended holiday. You are totally spoilt; you've got a personal driver; the compound staff take care of all maintenance; you meet people from all over the world and although it gets boring at times and there's not much for teenagers to do, this wonderful lifestyle is hard to beat.

Both Carene and Maria's husbands work in other cities, so they only see their families once a week. It can be both taxing and relaxing to raise children on your own in a compound, but these girls are strong and believe me, there's never a dull moment. Our best times are piling into the compound bus, layered in abayas and makeup, heading off to Pizza Hut on a Tuesday for an all-you-can-eat fest in the family section, or simply heading off the mall at 10:30 in the morning for coffee, a spot of shopping and some fresh desert air.
Ok, that's compound life in Saudi Arabia for you. Plain and simple. Next time, How Safe is Saudi?

If there's anything in particular you'd like to know about life in Saudi Arabia, or if you'd like to comment on this article, send me an email at

My Saudi Secret

Nigella: My secret find for this week is a black seed called kalonji or Nigella Sativa. It's also sometimes called "black cumin", but it isn't cumin at all, just looks like it. Apparently the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself said "Shooneez [what it was called then] is a cure for all ailments except death." And the Arabs swear by it.
It's reported to be beneficial for the respiratory system, has been shown to have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and is used for colds, diabetes and skin disorders.
The seeds are pitch black, angular in shape and have a wonderfully aromatic smell. They're used whole, mainly sprinkled on Arab flatbreads. The seeds are also sautéed in ghee or dry-roasted to release the aroma and flavour and then added to vegetable dishes. Nigella is sometimes confused with onion seeds or caraway - the taste is certainly somewhere in-between - and is also called love-in-a-mist, fennel flower or simply black seed. I hope you can find it!
Suggested reading:Price of honourMuslim women, symbols of honour for their men, speak out in this provocative book that takes us into the volatile heartland of Islam, the world's fastest growing religion. With a wide range of telling, often horrific stories about the ways in which Muslim women are abused and oppressed by their men folk, Price of Honour by Jan Goodwin shows how restrictions on women act as a barometer for measuring both the growth of fundamentalism and the Muslim regimes' willingness to appease extremists.

Laura of Arabia

(more articles by Laura of Arabia on the website)

A selection of books recently published on Saudi Arabia

AbuKhalil, As'ad: Saudi Arabia & the United States: The Tale of the Good Taliban. Seven Stories Press 2004 ISBN 1583226109

Aburish, Said: House of Saud: Rise, Corruption and Coming Fall of the House of Saud. Bloomsbury 2005 ISBN 0747578745 (pbk)

Amirsadeghi, Hossein, al-Nahyan, H.H.Sheikh Zayed bin-Sultan: The Arabian Horse: History, Mystery and Magic. Thames & Hudson 2005 ISBN 0500285624 (pbk)

Anderson, Norman:The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 3rd ed. Stacey International 2005 ISBN 1900988739

Bin Laden, Carmen: Veiled Kingdom. Virago Press 2004 ISBN 1844081028

Bradley, John R.: Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis. Palgrave MacMillan 2005 ISBN 1403964335

Braine, George: Teaching English to the World: History, Curriculum, and Practice. Lawrence Erlbaum 2005 ISBN 0805854010 (pbk)

Bronson, Rachel: Thicker than oil: the U.S. and Saudi Arabia: a history. Oxford University Press Inc. 2005 ISBN 0195167430

Brown, Malcolm: Lawrence of Arabia: The Life, the Legend. Thames and Hudson 2005 ISBN 0500512388

Bryant, William: The Al-Batin Diaries: A Season in the Work Camps of Saudi Arabia.,US 2004 ISBN 0595340385

Cordesman, Anthony H.: National Security in Saudi Arabia : Threats, Responses, and Challenges. Praeger 2005 ISBN 0275988112

Cuddihy, Kathy: An A to Z of Places and Things Saudi. Stacey International 2004 ISBN 1900988402

Gold, Dore: Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism. Regnery Publishing Inc. 2004 ISBN 0895260611

Al Hamad, Turki: Shumaisi. Saqi Books 2004 ISBN 0863569110
Khan, Riz: Alwaleed: Billionaire, Businessman, Prince. HarperCollins 2005 ISBN 0007215134

Lewis, Bernard: The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror. Orion Publishing Co 2004 ISBN 0753817527 (pbk; new ed)

Lippman, Thomas W.: Inside the Mirage: America's Fragile Partnership with Saudi Arabia. Basic Books 2004 ISBN 0813340527 (hbk) 0813343135 (pbk; new ed.)

Long, David E.: Culture and Customs of Saudi Arabia. Greenwood Press 2005 ISBN 0313320217

Mallos, Tess: Cooking of the Gulf: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates. Parkway Publishing, 2004 ISBN 1898259062

Menoret, Pascal: The Saudi Enigma. Zed Books 2005 ISBN 1842776053

Mitchell, Sandy, Hollingsworth, Mark: Saudi Babylon: Torture, Corruption and Cover-up Inside the House of Saud. Mainstream Publishing 2005 ISBN 1840189614

Murawiec, Laurent: Princes of Darkness: The Saudi Assault on the West. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc 2005 ISBN 0742542785

Niblock, Tim: Saudi Arabia. Taylor & Francis Ltd 2005 ISBN 0415274192 (hbk) 0415303109 (pbk)

Nicholson, James: The Hejaz Railway. Stacey International 2005 ISBN 190098881X

Nomani, Asra: Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam. HarperSanFrancisco 2005 ISBN 0060571446

Peterson, J.E.: Saudi Arabia and the Illusion of Security. Taylor & Francis Ltd 2005 ISBN 0198516770

Posner, Gerald L.: Secrets of the Kingdom: The Inside Story of the Secret Saudi-U.S. Connection. Random House 2005 ISBN 1400062918

Ramady, Mohamed A.: The Saudi Arabian Economy: Policies, Achievements, and Challenges. Springer 2005 ISBN 0387248331

Rentz, G. S.: Birth of the Islamic Reform Movement in Saudi Arabia: Muhammad B. 'Abd Al-Wahhab (1703/4-1792) and the Beginnings of Saudi Arabia. Arabian Publishing Ltd 2005 ISBN 095447922X

Ross, Shirley L.: Eyes and Ears in Saudi. ISBN Xlibris Corporation 2004 1413442234

Russell, David E.: The Old Arabia and the New Arabia: An American Engineer in Saudi Arabia 1954 and Again in 1982. Authorhouse 2004 ISBN 1418492450 (hbk) 1418492469 (pbk)

Rutledge, Ian: Addicted to Oil: America's Relentless Drive for Energy Security. I.B.Tauris 2005 ISBN 1850436746

Sasson, Jean: Daughters of Arabia. Bantam 2004 ISBN 0553816934 (pbk)

Shoult, Anthony: Doing Business with Saudi Arabia 3rd ed. Kogan Page 2005 ISBN 1905050062

Simmons, Matthew R.: Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World
Economy. John Wiley & Sons 2005 ISBN 047173876X

Topham, John: Traditional Crafts of Saudi Arabia. Stacey International 2005 ISBN 1900988720

Unger, Craig: House of Bush House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties 2nd ed. Gibson Square Books Ltd 2005 ISBN 1903933625 (pbk)

Yamani, Mai: Cradle of Islam: The Hijaz and the Quest for an Arabian Identity. I. B. Tauris 2004 ISBN 1850437106

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

King Fahd and ex-wife: possible London open court case

Ex-wife's revenge on Saudi King

By Helen Nugent

The Times 14 June 2005

FEW have penetrated the closed world of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family, with its enormous wealth, the lavish lifestyles of its princes and their private passions. Those who do know the truth about King Fahd and his family — the wives, mistresses and advisers — are usually well rewarded to hold their tongues.
But a ruling by a senior High Court judge has opened the door to the House of Saud and will allow a rare glimpse inside. Later this year at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the bitter dispute between King Fahd, 82, and one of his wives, will be aired in public.
It will be an unprecedented hearing, keenly awaited by observers of the kingdom and its absolute rulers. The woman who threatens to expose the ruling family’s inner workings is Janan George Harb, 57.
Mrs Harb, who under Islamic tradition kept her own name after her marriage, is suing the King for increased maintenance from his £32 billion fortune. She says she needs the money to maintain a suitable lifestyle at her Knightsbridge home. She has lived in London for much of the past 30 years and is now a British citizen.
Mrs Harb has pursued her claim despite attempts by the king’s lawyers to keep the case out of the public eye. Previous High Court hearings were cloaked in secrecy and were listed simply as Maple v Maple.
Mrs Harb’s claim is believed to be the first of its kind for a family which regards those who challenge its secrecy as traitors and outcasts. “I don’t know of a single case where anyone has sued the Royal Family for maintenance, I don’t think it has ever happened,” said Said Aburish, an expert on the Fahd family.
In March 2001 the King’s lawyers agreed to pay Mrs Harb “a very substantial sum” on condition that she entered into a binding agreement to reveal nothing of their relationship. Precise details of the maintenance settlement and Mrs Harb’s demands for more money remain unclear but wives of the Saudi royals are known to lead opulent lifestyles.
King Fahd is said to have seven palaces in Saudi Arabia, a chateau on the French Riviera, a private Boeing 747 and two liner-sized yachts.
Under Islamic law, men may take four wives. King Fahd’s father is understood to have had 145 wives during his lifetime and dozens of children. His son has been married fewer times but the frequency of Saudi royal marriages makes it difficult to estimate his total number of wives and ex-wives.
Mr Aburish said: “There are probably only three or four people in the world who know how many times King Fahd has been married.” According to a leading Arabic academic, who did not wish to be named, the wives usually each take a private residence in Saudi Arabia and are habitual travellers.
The family has mansions all over the world and a wife visiting different homes travels with her own entourage, including security guards. Mrs Harb is understood to have been shunned by the household over her Palestinian origins and Christian beliefs.
At previous hearings the King had successfully argued that as a head of state he had sovereign immunity. Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, then President of the Family Division, upheld his argument in December last year. But Lord Justice Thorpe has ruled that Mrs Harb’s claim must be held in open court.
The judge said: “I see no legitimate ground for imposing reporting restrictions that would thinly disguise the identity of the sovereign. The identity of the sovereign seems to me to be relevant to any public debate of the issues raised by the plea of immunity.”
· King Fahd is the son of Abdel Aziz Ibn Saud, who established the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932
· His mother was Hussah Bint Al Sudairi, the most favoured among Abdel Aziz’s many wives, of the powerful Sudairi clan
· King Fahd and his six brothers form the “Sudairi Seven”
· The Sudairi Seven presently control all the vital sectors in Saudi Arabia, from oil to defence and internal security. They function as a close-knit group and try to meet at least once a week
· King Fahd was proclaimed king in June 1982 upon the death of King Khalid
· King Fahd controls the largest oil reserves in the world
· He has seven palaces in Saudi Arabia, a chateau on the French Riviera, a private Boeing 747 and two liner-sized yachts
· After suffering a stroke in November 1995, King Fahd has been hidden behind a shroud of official secrecy

Estranged wife sues King Fahd in London for share of $22bn fortune

By Jonathan Brown

Independent 14 June 2005

The ailing King Fahd, one of the world's richest and most powerful men, is facing an embarrassing public showdown in a British court later this year with a woman who claims to be his estranged wife.
The 83-year-old ruler of Saudi Arabia is being sued by Janan Harb for a share of his $22bn (£12.2bn) fortune over his alleged failure to provide adequately for her. Mrs Harb, 57, who was born in Jordan and lives in Kensington, west London, was described by friends as "incredibly strong-willed and determined".
Her action, if successful, could prove to be the most lucrative maintenance settlement awarded by a British court. Mrs Harb is claiming the King "wilfully neglected" to maintain her under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. She says she is one of the King's three wives. A friend said she still loved the King and blamed his advisers for her predicament. "What she is doing is without precedence in the Middle East, for the wife of a ruler to sue him for maintenance, but she wants to see justice done," the friend said.
King Fahd is recovering in hospital in Saudi Arabia after being admitted with pneumonia, fever and respiratory complications in May. The Saudi interior ministry said yesterday that his health was steadily improving. It was the first official report on his condition for more than a week.
The day-to-day running of the world's largest oil exporter passed to 81-year-old Crown Prince Abdullah in 1995 after King Fahd suffered a stroke. The Prince is now embroiled in a battle with Islamic militants who oppose the monarchy.
Lawyers acting for Mrs Harb successfully challenged a decision made by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss in December last year that the hearing on whether King Fahd should enjoy sovereign immunity from the maintenance proceedings should be held in private. Lawyers for the King argued that heads of state should be protected from civil actions in overseas courts.
At the hearing, Dame Elizabeth, then president of the High Court's Family Division, also imposed strict reporting restrictions on the case which prevented the King's name being made public. She told the court that the King was entitled to secrecy. "Once the press are aware of this they will dig a great deal deeper and there will be a great deal of information which they will be able to put into the public domain," she said.
Last month however, three Court of Appeal judges overturned her decisions and the case challenging King Fahd's immunity from prosecution will now be heard in open court in November. Lawyers for the King sought to argue that the immunity appeal should be held in private to protect his "dignity" under the Geneva Convention. But The judges said it was unprecedented in the past decade for such a case to be heard in secret and concluded that Dame Elizabeth had "misdirected herself" in agreeing to it.
If the court finds for Mrs Harb, the maintenance proceedings will return to the Family Division next year when they will be heard in private.
King Fahd ascended to the Saudi throne in June 1982, when the kingdom was enjoying the peak of the petrodollar boom. He became custodian of Islam's two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, and assumed control of a vast personal fortune. As well as a palace in Saudi Arabia, he owns a 100-room property in Marbella, southern Spain, called the Mar Mar Palace, modelled on the White House.
The King's arrival in Marbella is always keenly awaited by local traders. During a visit in 2002 he was said to have been accompanied by a "caravan" of 3,000 people. As well as hiring a fleet of 500 Mercedes to convey his guests around town, he also set up unlimited charge accounts at the resort's leading shops. Thousands of pounds worth of flowers and provisions were brought to the palace each day. Such is the extravagance that his mere presence is said to generate £1m a day for the local economy.
The King's yacht, Al-Diriyah, is one of the largest and most opulent in the world. He also has a Boeing 747 at his disposal, complete with an intensive care unit.
No one from King Fahd's legal team, the London solicitors Howard Kennedy, was available for comment.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Saudi Arabian oil reserves: two views and reform in Saudi Arabia

Oil Prices and Saudi Arabia:

Interview with Matthew Simmons (extracts)

Full text on

Sean-Paul Kelley - 6/7/2005 Matthew R. Simmons founded Simmons & Company in 1974. The company's focus is on oil services, mergers and acquisitions, as well as bankruptcy workouts. In 1995, the company began providing "total energy services" to the industry. It has offices in Texas, Louisiana and Scotland, with 126 employees, including 76 professionals.

SPK: There has been a lot of talk about Saudi Arabia's spare capacity, just how much do they have. Do you believe they have spare capacity and if so, what do you think it is?
MRS: If they have any spare capacity left it would have to be in Safaniya, which is the big offshore field. That's 28 gravity oil which is heavy oil, and there really isn't any spare refinery capacity left in the world for heavy oil. And if Safaniya actually could crank up by 1.5 mbds and at peak Safaniya could produce 1.2mbd, maybe 1.5mbd 20 years ago, so the whole definition, if you define spare capacity by the amount of readily available oil that is useable then I think the answer is categorically no, they have no spare capacity.
SPK: The criticism that you just laid out I have heard that from a friend who runs a hedge fund. Nice to hear it seconded.
MRS: They toss around with great frequency that they have 11mbd of capacity, that they are producing at some number, but I think it is highly questionable that they are producing 9.5mbd a day.
SPK: Now that I have not heard before.
MRS: I'll tell you why I say that. SPK: Ok. MRS: It's a world of sketchy data, there are only a few pieces of reliable data, really very solid data, and on the Oil Monthly Supply Report from the International Energy Agency almost all that data is just an estimate. The best table of data is the table 6 that shows the OECD Member countries, their crude oil by country of origin, and if you trace the amount of oil that has come in from Saudi Arabia and add it up, well, it doesn't add up.

SPK: I want to get into the specifics of your book and some questions about Saudi Arabia. My first question is about Ghawar, the super giant field in Saudia Arabia. What is its decline rate in real terms?
MRS: No one really knows but I will say this: its production is so totally different from normal fields and Ghawar is a prime example of this is that the reason normal fields start in decline is that the reservoir pressure finally drops to a level that the gas starts to bubble to the top of the field and the water starts intermingling at the bottom and the water and the gas crowd the oil out of the well bore. In very simple terms that's what declines are all about. In the early 60s as the Saudis, Saudi Aramco that is, started becoming very, very nervous about the rapid drop in reservoir pressure in these keys fields, and there are only three of them basically really being produced, they first experimented with gas injection to see if that would maintain higher reservoir pressure and that didn't work. So they then went to a novel approach, it's not novel any more as it's become sort of routine, of water injection as you produce oil producing at least a barrel of water and then a barrel and a half and then two barrels of water until now it's almost three barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced and what you are doing, is that you are basically doing that to continually drive the water column up towards the top of the reservoir to keep the reservoir artificially high. Incidentally you're squeezing the oil from the flanks to the center. And so all during this period of time you have at the surface the appearance of, "oh there's no decline rate." What you are doing is primary and secondary recovery at the same time. And there is a lot of evidence if you read through these technical papers that within the most prolific part of Ghawar which was Northeast Uthmaniyah that in 1979 when they were reaching peak production rates Ghawar was doing about 5.8 million barrels of oil a day, Uthmaniyah was producing three of the 5.8mbd. My guess is that North Uthmaniyah is now almost gone.
SPK: You talk about the watering and what not but it is kind of an aside, do you anticipate something like the rapid decline in production at the Yibal field in Oman happening in Saudi Arabia?
MRS: Yup. That's the reason I've basically used the Yibal field as a case study. It's one of the most sensitive areas where I have gotten the most knee-jerk response. I've been told numerous times by Senior Petroleum Ministry and Aramco people, "Matt the Yibal field is nothing like our carbonate reservoirs." And I said, " I know its not, it's exactly like the reservoir you would have in China." I'm not using it for the reservoir, I'm using it because it was the first giant field in the Middle East to import the technical tools that you think are destructive technologies and will allow you to produce for another 50 years and so do the technical best people at Shell. The best technical people at Shell were so enamored with the use of these technical tools that they convinced the Oman government with a field of 250,000 barrels to ramp it up another 30% for ten years. That was in 1997. Just as they were starting the field went into collapse and by 2003 was producing 30,000-40,000 barrels a day. That's the scary thing in my opinion. It's not the proven reserve controversy. That is a different issue. But the scary thing is that we should basically presume and then be surprised if they ever opened up the data I believe that all five of these great fields that are still close to 90% of production are headed towards collapse.
SPK: How well do you think Saudi Arabia could fake a massive decline rate? How long do you think they could keep something like that under wraps?
MRS: Until the production collapsed. What's ironic is that three years ago today I had no earthly idea I was going to write a book. But I read 15 to 20 technical papers as of this time two years ago and I said to myself, "Gosh, this is troubling." They are encountering a lot more problems than I ever would have imagined. I don't think there is any reason in the world to think that anybody would be any more concerned about Saudi Arabia than the gasps I got two years ago when I started saying, "you know what, I'm actually starting to think Saudi Arabia is an illusion." I can't tell you the gasps I got from people, "you know Matt, I know you kind of picked the gas problems, natural gas here in the US, but you're going over the top. Saudi Arabia? Gimme a break!"
SPK: People these days don't like a Canary in the coalmine!
MRS: Well, you know it's amazing how the human mind works. Here's an example: somebody basically said the USSR is the only super-power that is as big as the US and by the hundredth repetition every single person in the world believes it and then the wall comes down. And people say, "oh my gosh, it's a third world country." This is the same sort of a deal.
SPK: Do you think that Saudi Arabia can drill their way out of the current decline rate? Exploration?
MRS: Nope. Part of the issue is, I want to go back to the Ghawar field. The top 20% of Ghawar which is referred to as North Ghawar is basically where this very, very high permeability within the Arab B Zone 2B resides. Within the Arab B Zone 2B there is unbelievable permeability. When you get outside North Ghawar you have the bottom 80% of the field that will basically produce 300,000 barrels a day for 30 years. That's the bottom 47 miles of Ghawar. And the top 30 miles were basically 4.5 million barrels a day. If you could take the rig counts in Saudi Arabia from 45 to 50 up to 2,000 over a decade they could basically sustain their current production. What you have to do is take every rig in the world to Saudi Arabia. They are going to have one hell of a time going to 100 rigs by the end of 2006, which is their announced plan.
SPK: How large are the Saudi tank farms in country and internationally, like the ones in the Caribbean?
MRS: Somewhere between 50 and 70 million barrels of domestic tank farms and they have about 10-15 million barrels of Atlantic basin tanks farms that is broken out between some storage they rent in Rotterdam but the majority is in the Caribbean. The only times there is clear evidence of a Saudi surge was during the Iraq war where it jumped by about 800,000 barrels a day for about 45 days. I bet you they were just emptying the tanks farms. S
PK: Do you think there is any truth that the wells in the Neutral Zone are long horizontal wells and is it possible to run a multi-model horizontal leg into Iraq and tap it that way.
MRS: No, they can't reach that far. Not that I know of. And the Neutral Zone fields are so crappy. Why bother. Bear in mind that that is the northern extension of the Safiniyah field.

Top Saudi Says Kingdom Has Plenty of Oil

By ANNE GEARAN AP Diplomatic Writer

Guardian June 9, 2005

WASHINGTON (AP) - Saudi Arabia has plenty of oil - more than the world is likely to need - along with an increasing ability to refine crude oil into gasoline and other products before selling it overseas, a top Saudi official says.
``The world is more likely to run out of uses for oil than Saudi Arabia is going to run out of oil,'' Adel al-Jubeir, top foreign policy adviser for Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler Crown Prince Abdullah, said Wednesday.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, Al-Jubeir said relations between his nation and the Bush administration were strong but ``the environment in which the relationship operates ... still leaves a lot to be desired.''
He denied his country has any nuclear weapons ambitions, despite international concerns about a Saudi request to lower international scrutiny of its lone nuclear reactor.
He said he was ``bullish'' about the Saudi economy, which although based on the country's vast oil reserves has also diversified to include a galloping stock market.
Al-Jubeir dismissed speculation, including in a recent book, that the country was hiding the true picture of its oil reserves and that it may have far less than publicly assumed. He said Saudi Arabia has proven reserves of 261 billion barrels, and with the arrival of newer technology could extract an additional 100 billion to 200 billion barrels.
``We will be producing oil for a very long time,'' al-Jubeir said.
Saudi Arabia now pumps 9.5 million barrels of oil daily, with the capacity to produce 11 million barrels a day. The country has pledged to increase daily production to 12.5 million barrels by 2009, and the nation's oil minister said last month the level of 12.5 million to 15 million barrels daily could be sustained for up to 50 years.
High oil prices benefit the Saudi economy in the short run, but al-Jubeir said his nation wants a stable price that won't hurt consumers so much that they reduce their energy demands.
The problem for both the Saudis and the United States is what happens after the oil is pumped.
``If we send more oil to the United States and you can't refine it, it's not going to become gasoline,'' al-Jubeir said. The United States has not built a refinery since the 1970s, and other markets have similarly outmoded or limited refining capacity. Environmental concerns and local opposition make it unlikely new U.S. refineries can be built quickly, even with the current gas price crunch.
Saudi Arabia has partly stepped into the breach, with new refineries being built inside the kingdom as well as in China and soon in India, al-Jubeir said.
The country has also invested in gasoline stations, part of a strategy of ``going downstream'' from oil production to distribution, al-Jubeir said.
``We continue to do it, and we have one of the largest refining and distribution systems in the world,'' he said.
Ordinary Saudis remain deeply distrustful of the United States in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion and revelations about mistreatment of Muslim prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and a range of complaints about conditions at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, al-Jubeir said.
``Why do they hate you? They don't hate you, they just don't like your policies.''
Al-Jubeir said the Saudi regime takes no umbrage at U.S. efforts to spread democracy in the Middle East. President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have made democratic expansion a centerpiece of Bush's second term foreign policy.
``We believe that the idea of spreading freedom and democracy is a noble one,'' but change must come on terms each country can accept, al-Jubeir said.

Reformers in Saudi Arabia: Seeking Rights, Paying a Price


New York Times 9 June 2005

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - The Saudi writer Turki al-Hamad wants to shake the younger generation attracted by militant Islam. His new novel, a thinly disguised sketch of four Sept. 11 hijackers, seeks to warn those weighing suicide missions.
"Put your luggage aside and think," reads the opening page to the book, called "The Winds of Paradise" and just released in Arabic.
"I wrote the latest book just to say that the problem is not from outside, the problem is from ourselves - if we don't change ourselves, nothing will change," Mr. Hamad said over coffee in the green marbled lobby of a hotel near Dammam, the city along the Persian Gulf where he lives. His earlier books challenging sexual and political mores remain banned.
After Sept. 11, 2001, the push toward reform in the Middle East gained momentum with the recognition in some quarters that stifling political and economic conditions helped spawn extremism. Reform advocates like Mr. Hamad live under threat but have also gained some space to air grievances.
Hence, Mr. Hamad writes novels to try to jolt young Saudis into re-examining their own society. Fawaziah B. al-Bakr, a woman and a college professor, agitates for women to question their assigned roles. Hassan al-Maleky, a theologian, argues that no one sect - like the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia - holds a monopoly on interpreting Islam.
They are the first to say that meaningful change remains a distant prospect because the institutions opposing such change are so powerful. And because there is no real forum to even discuss change, the process of creating open, freer societies is more the sum of individuals chipping away at the traditional order, rather than any organized movement or national discussion.
The three barely know each other, and their lack of contact is emblematic of Saudi Arabia, which ranks among the most closed Arab countries.
Here and elsewhere, Arab reformers tend to be isolated dissidents, sometimes labeled heretics, much like those persecuted under Soviet totalitarianism.
Even those who pursue the mildest forms of protest are slapped with long prison sentences. The right to assemble does not exist, political parties are banned along with nongovernment organizations, and the ruling princes constantly tell editors what they can print. Local television is almost all clerics, all the time.
The many Islamic theological institutions that maintain the rule of the Saud princes determine the parameters of any public debate.
They evaluate everything through the prism of the Wahhabi teachings unique to Saudi Arabia, vehemently rejecting any alternative.
For many reformists, the lack of free speech grates most; obtaining it is a far higher priority than elections or other formal ingredients of Western democracy.
"Sometimes I don't want elections here, I want public freedoms and public rights," says Mr. Hamad, echoing a statement heard from reformers across the kingdom and indeed across the Arab world. "Give me those things and everything else will come automatically."
But that must be endorsed by the ruling Saud tribe. The eruption of terrorist bombings in downtown Riyadh and elsewhere starting in May 2003 forced them to recognize that Islamic extremism was not some foreign problem.
It is far from clear, however, just how committed the growing number of princes are to altering a system that, ever since the founding monarch put the clan's name on the kingdom in 1932, has given them total control over the world's richest oil resources.
"The will is there but there is hesitation because Saudi Arabia's Islam is based on a certain kind of Islam," Mr. Hamad says. "If you meddle with that culture, you are meddling with the legitimacy of the system. It is a problem that needs to be solved, and it can't be solved behind closed doors."
A Lesson About Sin
The resistance to change became abundantly clear to Mrs. Bakr, an associate professor of education at King Saud University in Riyadh, at a workshop she taught for supervisors on new ways to evaluate teacher performance.
When it was over, one of the more enthusiastic participants handed her an envelope. Inside was a fatwa, or religious ruling, from a local cleric admonishing Mrs. Bakr that her plucked eyebrows were a sin.
"Religion has been made so superficial," Mrs. Bakr says, echoing a common frustration among educated Saudis.
The mind-set that reduces every tiny detail of life to whether it conforms to Wahhabi teaching has prevented Saudi Arabia from using its oil wealth to become one of the richest, most developed countries on earth, many Saudi reformers say.
Reformists believe that the problem starts from the earliest years in school, because the Ministry of Education has set its goal as promoting the glory and proud heritage of Islamic civilization, which began here.
But the reality is that elementary school lessons, particularly the 60 percent of classroom time devoted to religion, have zero application in the modern world, Mrs. Bakr says. She reels off a long, random list.
Fourth graders are taught how to clean themselves in the Islamically acceptable manner after relieving themselves in the desert. The telephone is described as a modern innovation.
At a middle school's traffic safety day recently, one talk focused on the risk of being tortured in the grave if you died in a traffic accident while living contrary to God's commandments.
"Why waste time on these trivial things? I don't get it," she said, in her Riyadh home with her husband or teenage son always present, so no one could accuse her of welcoming an unrelated man into her house alone. "Teach the students how to think, give them a scientific project, teach them skills."
She and others like her are lobbying to have all religious lessons consolidated into one subject, Islamic studies, that would afford students more time for other learning.
A few years ago, religious fundamentalists were so influential in the university that she would not have dared raise such questions, Mrs. Bakr notes.
Major limitations on pushing for change still remain. Not least, male professors bar their female colleagues from attending department meetings because Islam dictates that men should hear a woman's voice only when absolutely necessary, lest they become aroused.
Mrs. Bakr says she wanted to rebel against certain Saudi ways of doing things from her earliest years - when men in her neighborhood yelled at her for playing in the streets, or when her teachers hit her with short bamboo prods because her abaya, or cloak, was askew.
As an adolescent, she made a precocious debut as a newspaper columnist while still in high school, railing against the way women lack rights in the kingdom. But any open rebellion is just about impossible, as Mrs. Bakr learned the hard way.
In November 1990, she had just returned with her doctorate from the University of London and was appointed to the faculty at King Saud University. She held the post for all of two days when she joined a group of 47 women protesting the ban on women driving by getting behind the wheel for just 15 minutes. The ensuing outcry from religious fundamentalists pushed her out of a job for 18 months, until King Fahd reinstated the women.
Despite the passage of 15 years, the protest still resonates. She has been denied promotions or the chance to serve on government committees. The enduring price made that demonstration practically the first and last of its kind.
Punishing the Reformers
The Sauds were prepared to allow limited discussion in the press, but have come down hard on those who continue to press publicly for reform. A gathering of about 100 reformists from across the country at a hotel near Riyadh airport in February 2004 provoked their wrath.
Three activists - two academics, Matrouk al-Faleh and Abdullah al-Hamid, and the poet Ali al-Domeini - were arrested after circulating a petition supporting a constitutional monarchy. Their lawyer, Abdulrahman al-Lahem, was also jailed last fall.
In May, the three were given heavy jail terms: Mr. Domeini, nine years; Mr. Hamid, seven years and Mr. Faleh, six years. Mr. Lahem has not been charged.
The case has become a benchmark of the government's attitude toward reform because the three demanded that the laws already on the books guaranteeing a transparent judiciary be respected.
"They did not want to topple the regime and they did not question the legitimacy of the king or his sons or his grandsons," says Fawziah al-Ayouni, the poet's wife, a soft-spoken former teacher. "They did not violate any law; to raise a petition to the ruler is a tradition in Islam."
A key problem is the utter lack of civil rights. Saudis are taught in schools and told in mosques that actions by state institutions like the religious police cannot be questioned because they operate under the mantle of Islam.
In a particularly graphic example, a 31-year-old businesswoman was hauled in by the religious police in February, accused of office adultery and using drugs.
The woman, who asked not to be identified for fear of another arrest, said her father was ill so she went to his office to fill in and open the safe. The business was raided by the religious police, formally known as The Society for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.
"Don't you fear God?" she recalls them screaming, demanding that she not address them from behind a desk because women don't belong there. "It is a sin that you are sitting in this office around men." The woman says one of the men groped her while ostensibly searching for drugs before dragging her kicking and screaming into an unmarked Toyota.
She had called her husband, but when he tried to collect her from the station, they pretended she was elsewhere. Instead they locked her into a roach-infested jail for a couple of days and forced her to endure an extended lecture by the prison's religious sheik about the sin of adultery.
"He thought I was weeping because he was so convincing," said the woman, pale and shaking a week after the ordeal. She doubts most princes have any grasp of such hidden problems because no policeman would dare touch a royal.
A Theologian's Penance: Prison
Resistance to change is soaked through the ranks of the country's top religious officials, and even trained sheiks face jail time for suggesting that the way the religion is taught needs reforming.
Hassan al-Maleky is a Saudi theologian who was imprisoned briefly and fired from his government job for repeatedly raising doubts about how Wahhabis interpret Islamic history.
Those whom the West call fundamentalists are referred to in the Muslim world as salafis, an Arabic word referring to the early generations of Muslim leaders who followed the Prophet Muhammad. Salafis believe that Islam reached its purest form at that time and should return to it.
But Mr. Maleky argues that the caliphs of the Umayyad dynasty, which ruled from Damascus from 661 to 750, were garden variety despots who decreed that the public could not question decisions made by rulers in the name of religion.
"The salafis blindly defend the Umayyads despite their many injustices," said Mr. Maleky, a studious figure in a long white robe and white head scarf, sitting in the book-lined living room of his house in a poor Riyadh neighborhood.
"After the Umayyads, Islamic thought left everything to the ruler, absolute obedience was expected in all circumstances, and that is not right," he said.
Mr. Maleky views Saudi Arabia's religious establishment as the spiritual descendants of the repressive Umayyads. An article reflecting his viewpoint got him expelled from Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud University, Riyadh's prestigious center of Islamic higher education, in the early 1990's, he says. His books echoing similar themes are banned, and he is not allowed to travel outside the kingdom.
Mr. Maleky, 38, grew up in a poor family of banana and coffee farmers in mountainous southwestern Saudi Arabia, where he walked four miles to elementary school every day. His parents were illiterate. He was the first in his family to reach university.
When he got there, he found it even more rigid and formulaic than his earlier schooling. Hence Mr. Maleky arrived at roughly the same conclusion as Mrs. Bakr and many other reformers: he had to spend his life agitating for change.
The religious establishment always calls for "dawa" or preaching, he says, but never for research or revision.
"Where are the concerns for public interest and other big issues?" he laments. "These things have no presence. Preaching here is not for knowledge and thought. "
He extracts one book from a 16-volume set that contains most of the important religious fatwas, or rulings, that dictate the rituals of daily life in Saudi Arabia. He reads a few lines each from fatwas that talk about keeping women covered, about how policemen should not wear uniforms because pants ape Western garb and how listening to the noise of gurgling water is sinful.
Once when he was arrested, Mr. Maleky said he found himself in the absurd position of being questioned by security officers about his views toward the second Umayyad caliph. "What does the Interior Ministry have to do with that?" he said.
The consequences of elevating extremist thought to the point where it cannot be questioned are grave, Mr. Maleky believes. "If Wahhabism doesn't revise itself," he says, "it will produce more terrorists."
Change at a Measured Pace
Of course many Saudis, and not just the princes, argue that reform is en route, but must proceed at a measured pace. The mere fact that the word Wahhabi, which was once banned, can now be used in public, means that at least the terms of the debate are becoming more realistic.
Having males nationwide vote for half the members of the municipal councils for the first time this year is an important step, too, they say. Most of those who won, especially in urban areas, had heavily religious backgrounds. Those elected said this showed that Saudis in general favor a go-slow approach to reform.
"We need to absorb and digest this - even the terminology used in the election is new," says Tarek O. al-Kasabi, the chairman of a Riyadh hospital, who won election to one of seven city council seats in the capital in February. He would like an elected parliament, as opposed to the 150-member body now appointed by the royal family, but prefers a smooth transition rather than an abrupt switch.
"I am flexible about the timetable," Mr. Kasabi said. "I don't want to risk the process."
Whether Saudis believe the changes are coming too fast or too slowly, they all agree that everyone is dependent on the ruling Sauds accepting that change is necessary. For that they believe outside criticism is necessary, as long as it does not come across as an attack on Islam.
Western governments, reformers say, should question why curriculums are so weak, why Arab societies contribute virtually nothing to the world's scientific or technological advancements. That sort of criticism echoes questions that some Saudi parents ask.
Among themselves, Saudi reformers sometimes argue that they are too timid about challenging the status quo. Some, like Mr. Hamad, believe changing the Saudi way of thinking is more important than open confrontation.
In 1995, he sought early retirement from King Saud University at the age of 45 because he figured writing novels was a more effective way to get young Saudis to think than his frequent political columns in newspapers. He said he was tired of being dictated to about what he could teach in his classroom.
Hisham al-Abir, the central character in Mr. Hamad's coming-of-age trilogy hardly conforms to the ideal image of a Saudi youth. The titles are "Adama," a Dammam neighborhood; "Shumaisi," a Riyadh quarter; and "Karadib," a Jidda prison. In the trilogy, Hisham drives a prostitute out into the desert beyond Riyadh for drunken sex. He joins an underground political organization. He dismisses as backward some prominent religious works used to bolster what he considers overly rigid Islamic traditions.
When he published them in the late 1990's, the books shattered just about every social taboo and quickly became best sellers. The Saudi government swiftly banned all three. Some members of the religious establishment, interpreting the novels as autobiography, rumbled out four fatwas calling for his death.
Still, Mr. Hamad says, even if they have to be smuggled into the kingdom, novels are a way to circumvent the lack of free speech. To him the point of the trilogy was to cast light on subjects like sex, religion and politics, which Saudis discuss endlessly in private, yet can rarely broach publicly.
The next generation, exposed through the spread of the Internet and satellite television to how such freedoms work elsewhere, is more likely to push against such restraints, Mr. Hamad says.
He draws a parallel with soccer. Saudi Arabia plays soccer according to the same rules as everybody else, he notes. So Saudis need to learn that their society, too, can afford the same kind of open debate and discussion allowed in other countries.
"If you teach people that you are totally different, you are totally special, you don't belong to the world, the world has a kind of conspiracy against you, everybody is waiting for the opportunity to attack you," Mr. Hamad says. "What does this bring you? You are making an explosive mind, a very hostile mind. So how can you have democracy in such a situation? The first thing is that you have to use the educational system to spread different values, human values."

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Don Stanislao and a quiz

Pope's aide disobeyed him and kept his papers

By Peter Popham in Rome

Independent 06 June 2005

The man who served Pope John Paul II as his private secretary for nearly 40 years has revealed he disobeyed the pontiff's last testament instruction to burn his papers because they were "great riches". Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, one of only two individuals mentioned by name in John Paul's will, said in an interview on Polish radio that there were "quite a lot of manuscripts on various issues," but refused to give any details.
He suggested some of the material left by the pope could be useful in the process of beatification, announced by Pope Benedict XVI last month.
"Nothing has been burnt," he went on, "Nothing is fit for burning, everything should be preserved and kept for history, for the future generations - every single sentence." Don Stanislao, as he was known in the Vatican, was the pope's constant companion and the two enjoyed a relationship described as father-son and love-hate. Born in southern Poland in 1939, the son of a railway worker, and ordained a priest in 1963, he was Archbishop Karol Wojtyla's assistant in Krakow, and followed him to Rome on his election as pope.
During the pope's final years, when he was increasingly helpless, Archibishop Dziwisz gained enormous power as his doorkeeper. "He was the most hated man in the Vatican," said one Polish observer, "but that's the lot of every pope's secretary." He caused outrage among some Polish Catholics when he refused to allow Father Adam Boniewski, a biographer and old friend of the pope, to see him for the final 12 years of the pope's life.
Pope John Paul went against tradition by appointing Don Stanislao first bishop and then archbishop. On Friday, the Polish prelate was named the new Archbishop of Krakow, one of the most important Catholic archdioceses.
The archbishop's few public pronouncements have been notably acid. In October 2003, amid speculation the pope was mortally ill, he said: "Some journalists who in recent years have spoken and written a lot about the pope's health are already in heaven."
In the same month the present pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, told a journalist he bumped into on the street that John Paul was "in a bad way" and that the faithful should pray for him - an innocuous enough remark, but so infuriating to Archbishop Dziwisz that his rebuke reduced Cardinal Ratzinger to tears, which Archbishop Dziwisz then made public.
"Cardinal Ratzinger was crying yesterday, explaining that he never gave an interview but merely answered someone he met on the street, saying, if the pope is sick, pray for him," Archbishop Dziwisz announced. The Polish archbishop gave no hint as to how many papers he has declined to burn. "He's clever to make this announcement," said the Polish source.
The source continued: "It's his way of saying, 'I have my hands on these papers, nobody knows what's in them'. There's a real danger that he could invent an order of John Paul's, leading to the promoting or firing of people, and there would be no way of checking it."

Pope's last wish ignored as private papers kept for 'posterity'

By Jonathan Petre

Daily Telegraph 6 June 2005

John Paul II's former private secretary has ignored the late pontiff's dying wish that his private papers be destroyed, saying the documents were a "great treasure" that should be kept for posterity.
The late pope said in his last will and testament, which was published a few days after his death, that he had asked Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz to oversee the burning of his personal documents and notes.

But the archbishop disclosed at the weekend that he had so far refused to comply. "Nothing has been burned," he told Polish state radio, "Nothing is fit for burning. Everything should be preserved and kept for history, for the future generations - every single sentence.
"These are great riches that should gradually be made available to the public."
Archbishop Dziwisz said he felt that his devotion to the memory of the late pope outweighed his responsibility to burn the papers. He suggested that they would contribute to the process of canonising John Paul II as a saint.
His disclosure will trigger speculation about the contents of the documents, which could include the late pope's reflections on international events and personalities as well as spiritual insights.
Many will also be surprised by Archbishop Dziwisz's apparent act of disobedience to the late pope's wishes.
He worked alongside John Paul II for nearly 40 years and was regarded as his most trusted aide and confidant.
His role as "gatekeeper", zealously controlling access to the late Pope, irritated some in the Curia and added to their resentment of the influence of the Polish contingent in Rome. But his loyalty was rewarded on Friday when he was appointed Archbishop of Krakow in Poland by the new pope, Benedict XVI, another close aide to the late pontiff.
Krakow was John Paul II's archdiocese before he was elected to the papacy in 1978.
Pope John Paul II said in a March 1979 entry to his testament, which was written over a number of years, that he left no material property and asked that Archbishop Dziwisz burn all his personal notes.
The testament was, however, a spiritual rather than legal document and has only moral rather than legal force.
Archbishop Dziwisz told Polish radio on Saturday that he had saved "quite a lot of manuscripts on various issues" but declined to elaborate further.
The archbishop said he had also kept his own copious daily notes, in 27 volumes, about the late pope and they could be made public to help the canonisation process.
Last month, Benedict XVI announced that he was lifting a five-year waiting period for the start of the process toward beatification, the last formal step before the late pontiff could be made a saint.
Archbishop Dziwisz became secretary to Karol Wojtyla in 1966 when he was archbishop of Krakow and remained at John Paul II's side throughout his pontificate.
In 1981, when John Paul was shot by Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk, Dziwisz held him in his arms as he was rushed from St Peter's Square to hospital. He has published a book about the assassination attempt.
Archbishop Dziwisz also said in the radio interview there was a general expectation that Pope Benedict XIV would not travel as extensively as his predecessor, but that he would like to visit Krakow and the Polish capital, Warsaw.

Kim jest arcybiskup Dziwisz

Michał Stangret 12-04-2005


"Kto jest za tym, żeby arcybiskup Dziwisz został prymasem Polski, wpisujcie się!" - taki apel pojawił się na forum dyskusyjnym Listy z podpisami krążą już po sieci. Osobisty sekretarz Jana Pawła II stał się jedną z najpopularniejszych postaci w Polsce. Czy pokieruje Kościołem w naszym kraju?1-->Don Stanislao (jak mówią na niego Włosi), czyli ksiądz Stanisław (jak nazywał go Papież), przez cały pontyfikat, czyli ponad 26 lat, był osobistym sekretarzem Jana Pawła II. Główny doradca i Jego prawa ręka. - Czy Ojciec Święty używał telefonu komórkowego? Oczywiście, podawał mu go czasem ksiądz Dziwisz - opowiada biskup Tadeusz Pieronek. Podawał Mu teksty, okrywał płaszczem, trzymał parasol. To w jego ramiona padł Ojciec Święty w chwili zamachu. To właśnie abp Dziwisz trzymał Ojca Świętego za rękę 2 kwietnia o godzinie 21.37. To on wykonał potem ten ostatni - najbardziej osobisty z osobistych - gest nałożenia na twarz Ojca Świętego białej, jedwabnej chusty tuż przed zamknięciem wieka cyprysowej trumny...Nieprzypadkowo - jeśli można użyć takich słów - znał Jana Pawła II od podszewki. Papież dzielił się z nim problemami i troskami. Wyszeptał mu na ucho wiele tajemnic. Nic dziwnego, że choć wielokrotnie proszony, ks. Dziwisz nigdy nie udzielił prasie wywiadu. Wiedział wszystko, ale niczego nie mówił. Może bał się, że powie za dużo... Papież całkowicie polegał na jego dyskrecji i lojalności, i nigdy się nie zawiódł. Kim jest człowiek, którego Ojciec Święty obdarzył bezgranicznym zaufaniem?Zaczęło się od Tatr Jak każdy biskup, tak i Stanisław Dziwisz posiada herb. Ma wpisaną w niego gołębicę (symbol Ducha Świętego), sześcioramienną gwiazdę i zarys Giewontu z krzyżem. To właśnie miłość do Tatr i długie rozmowy podczas wspólnych górskich wycieczek po górach w latach 60. ugruntowały przyjaźń między nim i Karolem Wojtyłą. Dziwisz, jak Karol Wojtyła, pochodzi z okolic Krakowa, urodził się 66 lat temu w Rabie Wyżniej koło Nowego Targu (do dziś mieszka tam jego brat). Gdy przychodził na świat jako siódme z dziewięciorga dzieci pobożnego kolejarza, Karol Wojtyła kończył właśnie I rok studiów na Uniwersytecie Jagiellońskim.Na chrzcie Dziwisz otrzymał imię patrona parafii, a także archidiecezji krakowskiej i Polski. Potem pisał o św. Stanisławie pracę doktorską, a postać ta była też ulubioną postacią historyczną Jana Pawła II.Jego ojciec zmarł, gdy Staś miał dziewięć lat. Matka - gdy był już dorosły. Do seminarium wstąpił zaraz po maturze. Rodzinę powiadomił o tym dopiero po złożeniu dokumentów. Kleryk Dziwisz przelotnie poznał Wojtyłę w seminarium, gdzie tamten wykładał. Traf chciał, że to właśnie biskup Wojtyła w 1963 roku udzielił Dziwiszowi święceń kapłańskich. Trzy lata później bp Wojtyła zaproponował Dziwiszowi - wtedy wikariuszowi w Makowie Podhalańskim - funkcję kapelana. W praktyce oznaczało to awans. Roztargniony Wojtyła wiedział, co robi, wybierając sobie na sekretarza skrupulatnego i zorganizowanego Dziwisza.Szykanowany przez SB Odtąd, jako bardzo bliski przyjaciel Wojtyły, Dziwisz znalazł się pod stałą obserwacją SB. Marek Lasota z krakowskiego oddziału IPN tak opowiada o jednej z prowokacji, którą Służby Bezpieczeństwa przyszykowały na ks. Stanisława: "W latach 60. zrobili mu zdjęcie na plaży podczas wypoczynku na Zarabiu. Tak ustawili kadr, że uchwycili obok opalającą się młodą kobietę. Stawali na głowie, żeby ją potem odszukać, ale nie udało im się. Zdjęcie planowali wykorzystać do szantażu albo prowokacji".Po wyborze kard. Wojtyły na Papieża Jego osobisty sekretarz przeniósł się razem z Nim do Rzymu. W 1998 r. Papież podziękował mu za oddanie, wręczając nominację biskupią - ks. Dziwisz został Tytularnym Biskupem San Leone. Nieco później Papież podniósł go do rangi arcybiskupa.Biskupia nominacja dla osobistego sekretarza to było w Watykanie wydarzenie. Wcześniej żaden z papieży nie nagrodził tak swego sekretarza. Dziwisz był też protonotariuszem apostolskim (jedną z kilku osób w Watykanie, która może podpisywać oficjalne dokumenty Stolicy Apostolskiej). Niektórzy twierdzą, że został także nominowany przez Papieża na kardynała "in pectore" (w sercu). Czy tak faktycznie było? Tę tajemnicę Jan Paweł II zabrał ze sobą do grobu.Może zostanie prymasem? Papież ustanowił abp. Dziwisza wykonawcą Jego testamentu. Ma spalić wszystkie osobiste notatki, a rzeczy, którymi posługiwał się Jan Paweł II, rozdać według uznania. Z realizacji tego zadania Dziwisz będzie musiał zdać relację przed następnym papieżem.Abp Dziwisz nadal pełni funkcję wiceszefa Papieskiego Dworu. Ponieważ nikt nie pozbawił go tego urzędu, nie musiał opuszczać Watykanu. Zrobił to jednak z własnego wyboru. Przebywa teraz z Domu Polskim przy via Cassia na przedmieściach Rzymu. - Chciał usunąć się w cień, miał dość uszczypliwych docinków o jego "wszechwładztwie" - mówią komentatorzy.Czym się zajmie, gdy już wykona testament? Być może wybierze spokojne zajęcie w Fundacji Jana Pawła II, która zajmuje się archiwizowaniem spuścizny po Papieżu, albo zacznie spisywać wspomnienia. Być może "otrzyma" jakąś polską diecezję i zostanie jej zwierzchnikiem albo będzie urzędnikiem watykańskim.Nie jest też wykluczone, że zostanie... arcybiskupem krakowskim i zastąpi kard. Franciszka Macharskiego, który już dwa lata temu osiągnął wiek emerytalny. Są też opinie, że powinien zostać w Rzymie i dopilnować beatyfikacji Jana Pawła II, bo bez niego procedura może się odwlec.A może, jak chce część polskich internautów, abp Dziwisz zostanie prymasem Polski? - Gdyby dowiedział się, że jest tak popularny, na pewno by się ucieszył - mówi "Metru" ks. prof. Michał Czajkowski. - W przyszłym roku kard. Józef Glemp przejdzie na emeryturę jako zwierzchnik archidiecezji warszawskiej i najprawdopodobniej utraci też urząd Prymasa Polski. Zawsze jest też możliwość, że Józef Glemp sam zrzeknie się tytułu prymasa - dodaje.Ale o ewentualnym prymasowaniu zdecyduje nowy papież, do którego dyspozycji oddał się abp Dziwisz.

Phoney pilgrims haven't a prayer of seeing Pope

Roger Boyes in Berlin

The Times 7 June 2005

FOREIGN tourists requesting visas to visit Germany for the Pope’s first pilgrimage abroad are being asked searching questions about their knowledge of Christianity.

The measure by Germany is designed to prevent a wave of illegal immigration, especially from the Balkans.
More than a million young believers are expected to attend the World Youth Conference in Cologne in August, when Pope Benedict XVI will make his first papal trip.
Germans are concerned that the religious festival will be exploited by people because of their country’s fast-lane visa regulations.
The career of Joschka Fischer, the Foreign Minister, was damaged this year after he was questioned on television for 12 hours over visa rules that allowed an influx of illegal Albanian and Ukrainian immigrants, many of whom were said to have become involved in drugs and prostitution.
German embassies abroad have therefore concocted a scored questionnaire to sort out the true pilgrims from the would-be criminals.
The questions begin harmlessly enough. “Who were the first people?” and “How and when did Jesus die?” The seven deadly sins, judging by a straw poll conducted by The Times among young Germans in Berlin, are generally known, though often for the wrong reason. “I know them because of the film Seven with Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow,” a 26-year-old woman said.
For infrequent churchgoers, naming the sacraments proved more difficult, and a question asking about the types of sin baffled many. Describing God’s activity (or rather lack of it) on the seventh day of creation was regarded as a little too tricky.
The questions are marked according to difficulty. The pass mark is 70 per cent. They are drawn from four quizzes used by the German Embassy in Tirana, leaked yesterday to the mass-circulation Bild newspaper.
German officials said that there had been no attempt to discriminate against Albanian visitors; the quiz was being applied in several non-European Union countries and was simply a guide for consular officials to determine how genuine the visa applicant’s motives were.
But Albania is sensitive. The cross-examination of Herr Fischer came after it emerged that lax visa rules applied to Albanians and Ukrainians led to hundreds of thousands entering Germany and the European Union between 2000 and 2002.
As many of these people on tourist visas worked illegally or turned to crime, the Christian Democratic Opposition accused Herr Fischer of irresponsible behaviour. The lasting impression of the television duel was that Herr Fischer was not in full control of his ministerial officials.
Although the scandal has gone off the boil, it has accelerated the decline of the Social Democratic- Green coalition Government.
The Government’s first response has been to tighten consular practices in the Balkans and Ukraine, hence the Christianity quiz.

A test of faith for pilgrims
1. Who were the first people?
2. How and when did Jesus die?
3. In the story of the Creation, what did God create on the seventh day?
4. As a result of the sin committed by Adam and Eve, in what condition do we now live?
5. How many kinds of sin are there? Name them
6. Who is the father of Jesus Christ?
7. Who sentenced Jesus to death?
8. Who were the sons of Adam and Eve?
9. How many sacraments are there? Name them
10. Name the seven deadly sins.
11. Who betrayed Jesus to the Pharisees?
12. Where does Jesus sit in Heaven?
13. Name the three divine virtues.
14. How long did Jesus stay on Earth after his resurrection?

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Non and Nee: two views

The peasant's revolt

Simon Jenkins went to Holland to see the death throes of old Europe and found himself witnessing a rebellion that is both thrilling and laced with menace

Sunday Times 5 June 2005

In Brussels the “mannequin pis” winked. In Holland the boy took his finger from the dyke. In Paris Marianne bared not her breast but her buttock. The cock crowed, the lion roared, the bear growled. Bliss it was last week to be alive and in Amsterdam, the city which since the 17th century has embodied civic autonomy and global commerce. It has just perpetrated a revolution and can hardly believe it.
Two hundred kilometres to the south in Brussels, the humiliated courtiers of the European Union sat gloomy in their gilded salons, wondering how to hold off the upstart mob. Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, presiding over the EU’s Council of Ministers, tearfully suggested that Europe’s voters be asked to vote again “until they get it right”. Lord Kerr, Britain’s envoy at this court, described the referendums as a “macabre ritual”. Jose Manuel Barroso, commission president, warned of a “risk of contagion” spreading across Europe. Only in Brussels is the word democracy synonymous with disease.
On the radio I listened to Peter Mandelson, Neil Kinnock, Chris Patten and Jack Straw splutter that a period of “sober reflection” was in order, as if a brief visit to the confessional would purge Holy Mother Church of the sin of pride: surely this Martin Luther moment must pass. But by the weekend, anti-constitution sentiment was wildfire. Those silent referendums, the opinion polls, were taking up the cry from Warsaw to Lisbon. Even pro-European Luxembourg doubled its “no” vote in a month. It is hard to overstate the trauma of this past week.
What does it mean? In France the vote was being interpreted in as many ways as there are French philosophers. The best answer was the simplest, that of a veteran of the Foreign Legion, a farmer in the Lot, on whose views on Europe I can always rely to produce unprintable expletives. He loathes Paris, Brussels and Muslim immigrants in that order. He is the personification of “non”. But France’s defection has always been on the cards.
I remember a French embassy official during Britain’s last referendum on the EU in 1975 (when only the Shetlands voted no). He warned me that “France will be European as long as Europe is French”. When that ceased to apply, “France will dispense with Europe. It will destroy it”. Last week he was proved right. France embodies the nation as saboteur.
The Netherlands result seemed to require a different reading. At an informal seminar in a Concertgebouw cafe on Thursday, I heard a group of Dutch writers gasp at what their countrymen had done. A loyal European state that once viewed the EU as a bulwark of prosperity and security in a hostile world had voted a massive “nee”.
This outcome once seemed inconceivable. Every political party, every newspaper, every trade union, the entire Dutch establishment, had campaigned for yes. Over Amsterdam’s central square, the Dam, towers a royal palace filled with the emblems of world trade. Yet Holland had gone for what was in truth a chauvinist rebellion. Nor were there any fancy excuses. The pundits agreed that the people were voting not just against an unpopular prime minister but against the euro, immigration, the loss of the Dutch veto and Europe in general. This was new.
The Dutch government had tried to scare them into a yes. It used television footage of Auschwitz and Srebrenica to imply that a no vote meant war. It said that electricity would fail and lights would go out. The economics minister, Laurens-Jan Brinkhorst, took leave of his democratic senses and declared the referendum stupid because the Dutch people “are being allowed to vote on an issue they know nothing about”. The prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, pleaded with the electorate not to “humiliate me when I go to Brussels”, an invitation no red-blooded democrat could refuse.
Three years ago the Dutch gave their leaders a warning by flirting with the gay anti-establishment politician Pim Fortuyn, since dead. Now they let rip. As the columnist Leon de Winter remarked: “The Dutch people looked at what was on offer and immediately smelt a rat.” The referendum was “Pim Fortuyn part two”.
Though the French and Dutch votes have been given wildly differing analyses they have much in common. Both display the new politics of Europe. This no longer trusts those in power to protect the public’s demand for commercial, social and ethnic sovereignty. It is the politics of protectionism in every sense of the word. The Dutch may be less chauvinist than the French, and less committed to a “social” Europe, but they too see the EU as no longer a defence but a threat.
British Eurosceptics may welcome the no vote for their own reasons, but they should not be fooled. With the kitchen of global competition hotting up, the no vote is mostly a vote to leave it for the comfort of protectionism.
The Dutch may profess themselves liberal in outlook, but each day the motorways from the north bring swarms of economic migrants from Poland and beyond, ready to work for low wages. Ninety per cent of the rented housing in Amsterdam is now subject to some form of covert anti-immigrant control. Predictions suggest that Amsterdam and Rotterdam will have majority immigrant populations by 2010. The government is already expelling “illegals” by the thousand.
Tell the Dutch that their social policy within a decade may depend on the votes of 70m Turkish Muslims and they will blow a raspberry. Even Maastricht, the city that “beats at the heart of Europe”, voted no last week. An informal poll of 24,000 Dutch high school pupils registered 70% in the no camp.
Returning to London I heard a Eurocrat and a Finnish MEP claiming on the radio that, despite all this, ratification should proceed anyway, a view shared by many stunned European leaders. They might have been on the moon. The argument was that a majority of EU governments were for the constitution and a minority should not be allowed to“get in their way”. No American senator would dare speak that way of states’ rights, even within the US. The conversation showed the mindset of thousands whose careers must now depend on the Brussels gravy train moving forwards.
Europe is not a majoritarian state but a treaty-based collection of free countries. As the phone lines burned this weekend and France and Germany rushed into a defensive clinch, the terms of European statecraft were being rewritten. In Madrid and Rome, in Athens and Prague, in Dublin and London, elites stared at the ruin of half a century of shared assumption, that Europe would progress to the Treaty of Rome’s “ever closer union”. The phrase had guided their careers. It had sent their children to Fontainebleau and Harvard, to apprenticeship at the World Bank and sinecures in a Brussels “cabinet”. Ever closer union had distanced them from their home countries and, fatally, from their electorates. I shall not forget the expostulation of that master Eurocrat, Pascal Lamy, in Brussels 15 years ago, “But Mr Jenkins, you cannot take national governments seriously. They are the past!” Thus might a pampered prelate dismiss Luther’s Reformation as a minor burp.
The referendum is the answer to Lamy. It is democracy’s nuclear weapon, used only where conventional politics are thought to yield insufficient legitimacy. That is why governments turn to referendums only when they think they can control their raw explosive power. The French and Dutch votes show what happens when that calculation goes wrong. They are to the EU what Hiroshima and Nagasaki were to wartime Japan.
The countries of Europe must now seek a new political narrative and a new and limited destination. As the Dutch foreign minister admitted last week, the EU was always a journey rather than a goal. Europe set off after the second world war like Ulysses on an odyssey. It diverted itself to Brussels and found a city full of horrors, Cyclops, the Sirens and Scylla and Charybdis all in one. It plotted schemes and interventions more potent than the dreams of empires past. It measured swimming pools, counted chemicals and fixed the length of ladders. It taxed its subjects to distraction. Ulysses may have gone along with this, but his crew have mutinied.
The new narrative must run with, not against, the grain of Europe’s national groups. It must lie in the cantons of Switzerland, the mairies of France, the “free communes” of Sweden, the Rathausen of Bavaria and the parish halls of England. There must be a new treaty to guide European trade, but it must respect subsidiarity, not just the lip service paid in the doomed constitution. It must grow from the bottom up and cannot be fashioned in a French chateau amid claret and caviar.
The wisest comment on last week’s events came from the Swiss finance minister, Hans-Rudolf Merz: “European integration that goes beyond economy and security always stumbles at borders.” Europe has borders for good reasons. They are written in blood and cannot be discarded to suit the convenience of a codfish lobbyist or a cosmetics directive.
One destination is obviously the “variable geometry” presumably plotted this weekend by the Germans and French in Berlin. It has already entered the post-referendum lexicon with its two speeds, twin-tracks, concentric rings, core-and-periphery and an end to one-size-fits-all. The message is slowly striking home, that a wider union cannot mean a deeper one. Brussels was an empire too big. Enlargement was an empire too far. As both Napoleon and Hitler discovered, when European imperialists march to the east they eventually lose in the west. The elastic is overstretched.
It is now inconceivable that the French will ever tolerate 70m Turks as common citizens of Europe. It is inconceivable that the British will tolerate France’s rampant protectionism. It is inconceivable that anyone will tolerate Britain’s budget rebate. New and variable relationships must be forged.
The old stereotypes are defunct, of Germany and France in the “fast lane” with smaller states cringing under Germany’s skirts and Britain as the ever sceptical laggard. When I asked my Dutch friends if they feared a new Franco-German “core” they laughed. France and Germany are now the problem, not the solution. The euro is a brake not an accelerator. The Czechs, Poles, Scandinavians are in the fast lane. As for Turkey, Angela Merkel, the possible next German chancellor, is already talking the realpolitik of “privileged partnership”.
A bold futurologist might even take his cue from Donald Rumsfeld. He might see in “old and new Europe” the next continental dynamic. This sees another iron curtain rising across Europe. To its west are the old socialised economies of the original Common Market, stuck inside protectionist walls and crippled by emigration, low birthrates and welfare burdens. These economies will be trapped by voters of the fearful right and the fearful left. Their borders will close and their politics become ever more introverted.
To their east will be the “new tigers” of the former Soviet bloc, untrammelled by social models, with open labour markets, natural resources and easy access to the Middle East and Asia. It was the Czech Republic that on Thursday heralded the French vote as “a victory for freedom”. The Poles could well vote against the constitution in September. Nor is that all. Since most eastern states will remain oligarchic in character, they will be less inhibited by electoral resistance to economic reform. They may be nasty but they could be rich.
Last week’s referendums offer one final message that might avert such a nightmare prospect. It was not only a European constitution that hit the buffers. It was also the constitutions of France and the Netherlands. The no votes were a withdrawal of trust equally from the denizens of Brussels and of Paris and the Hague.
The present leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Holland are more discredited than any of their predecessors. In France the division of power between President Chirac and his cabinet is near chaotic. In Holland the “rolling” Christian Democrat coalition under Jan Peter Balkenende is the most unpopular in modern Dutch history. Yet proportional representation gives it indefinite life. PR constitutions have blighted democratic participation in Scandinavia and Italy. Everywhere constitutions are in crisis — even to some in Britain.
Many European states struggled to amend their constitutions in the 1980s and 1990s. Denmark, France, Italy, Spain and Sweden all radically decentralised their governments. Some did so to stem the tide of separatism, notably in Spain and Italy. All were responding to a widespread sentiment that modern government had become too distant, that real political power should pass back to local communities and provinces.
When France passed the decentralist “loi Deferre” in 1982, departmental prefets in line of descent from Napoleon reportedly broke down and wept. Germany has had a decentralised constitution ever since the war, when the allies imposed Länder devolution to impede a revival of the Führerprinzip. This devolution was so effective as now to stymie economic reform, the allies’ poison pill within the German post-war miracle.
Until now these decentralist measures have been popular. French politics, so moribund nationally, remains vital locally. Vital too are such renascent cities as Milan, Toulouse, Barcelona and Munich, revived by a civic autonomy unthinkable in Britain. An ironic result has been that constitutionally reformed nations have been more tolerant of power passing to Brussels than has unreformed Britain.

If a Swede or a Sicilian can run his own school, his healthcare and his community planning, he is less inclined to worry when his national parliament loses out to Brussels. In return Brussels has assiduously courted localism. Go to the Scottish Highlands and ask who pays for its excellent roads.
Yet the referendums suggest that even this “Euro-regionalism” is not enough to placate the people of Europe for their loss of local power. The flight into the politics of identity is now a panic rush. It leaves not just Brussels but national capitals vulnerable to the new politics.
Last week the Dutch voted to stay Dutch, not just in social laws but in the ethnic composition of their country. The French feel the same, as do the Ukrainians and other east Europeans as they emerge from the yoke of Russian homogeneity.
I found in Holland and France an openness in opposition to non-European immigrants that in Britain would be thought racist. The Dutch “no” campaigner and MP, Geert Wilders, makes the British National party seem like reticent liberals. If the sentiments are not racist they are ethnically exclusive.
The new politics is reflected throughout Europe. It is seen in the demands of Basques, Catalans and Galicians to self-government within a Spain that is nowadays more a loose confederation than a nation. Public schools in Barcelona teach in Catalan, not Spanish. Special constitutional status in Italy is awarded to the Sicilians and Val d’Aostans and in France to the Bretons and Corsicans. Germany may struggle to re-establish Berlin as a strong centre, but it must do so against the mighty länder. Even in super-centralist Britain, nobody would seriously propose reversing Scots or Welsh devolution. The Welsh television channel may be the most expensive in the world, but nobody would dare close it down. Across Europe this “enclave democracy” is gradually superseding the federal nations fashioned in the 19th and 20th centuries. Politicians such as Le Pen, Wilders and Austria’s Jörg Haider are not passing phenomena. They have emerged as a result of lax constitutions which assumed that popular apathy meant popular consent.
The most alarming response to this comes from an improbable quarter. In 1998 the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, decided to celebrate the millennium in an appropriately solemn fashion. It commissioned five wise persons to investigate Norway’s democracy and chart its course over the next century. The curt answer was that “the democratic infrastructure is in collapse”.
Democracy might prove to have been a passing blip on the radar screen of history. Proportional representation and “rolling coalitions” were breeding public cynicism that elections never changed governments. Local democracy, once strong in Scandinavia, was waning. People were becoming comfortable and apathetic, roused to anger only “just-in-time”, on specific issues such as the location of a road or the closure of a hospital.
Unless the Norwegian constitution was reformed, said the study, Norway would become a form of oligarchy. A stage army of self-selected party politicians in Oslo would share power with an elite of unelected technocrats, lawyers, bankers and journalists. They would adjust policy by regular focus groups and opinion polls. The urban poor would be a helot class, too small to matter politically. The only threat to this oligarchy would come from outbursts of protest, controlled by ever tighter security.
What is plausible in this prediction is that it echoes trends discernable across most of Europe. Deprived of power over their local communities, people cede control over their lives to national and international elites. They no longer participate in conventional politics and “care” only when the rhythm of their lives is upset by some extraneous phenomenon. When they are upset, the explosion is the more seismic, as when they are visited by a new European currency or the arrival of a wave of immigrants. Such politics is reactive, introspective and chauvinist. It is the true meaning of “no”.
If history offers any lesson from the past week it is that Europe courts disaster if it allows the politics of union to override the politics of division. Regions, enclaves, provinces and statelets are part of the European kaleidoscope. The peoples of eastern Europe, notably in what were Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, have just risked their wealth and even their lives to recover their historical identities. They want self-government to mean just that, as do the enclaves of the west. Only if they are convinced such so-called subsidiarity is genuine will the myriad peoples that make up Europe consent to the national or supranational disciplines needed to keep Europe competitive.
This past week has seen democracy explode its most dangerous weapon, a referendum. The release of energy was awesome. Power asked a question of freedom and was given a punch in the face. Such moments are rare and they are beautiful. They are also menacing and full of meaning.

What is to be done?

Blairism is the answer to Europe's ills - but we need someone else to deliver it

Timothy Garton Ash

Guardian June 2, 2005

Last week I wrote, in this column, a passionate appeal to the French to vote yes. This British appeal appeared on the front page of Le Monde the day before the referendum. Perhaps it contributed to the scale of the no vote.

[Appeal column,5673,1492249,00.html]

For many French people, if the British think something is a good idea, that's another reason to be suspicious of it. In this referendum campaign, one of the main French objections to the European Union as represented by the constitutional treaty was that it was too "British": that is, too much enlarged to include new countries, too Anglophone, and too enamoured of liberal, free-market economics. In one poll of French no voters, 40% said they had rejected the treaty because it was "too liberal".

Yet will the French no - especially as it has been followed by a Dutch one - result in precisely the outcome they hoped to prevent? A French commentator, Alain Duhamel, observes sadly that the French vote on Sunday could mark the birth of "l'Europe anglaise". (Or rather écossaise, in the case of Gordon Brown; but the French, like most continental Europeans, still elide the British with the English.) France, according to Duhamel, has abdicated its position of leadership in Europe. The Franco-German axis is no longer the motor of the union - to recall the dominant mixed metaphor of the last 40 years. Chirac is enfeebled and Schröder on the skids. Who's left? Blair and a British Europe.
I note with alarm that this analysis is shared by some in London, not a million miles from Downing Street. Visions are invoked of Blair and Britain riding to the rescue of the European project, during our presidency of the union in the second half of this year, with a galvanising insistence that what Europe needs now, more than ever, is British-style economic and social reform. Only thus can we face up to the dragons of globalisation. The hour of London has come. Cry God for England, Tony and St George!
This analysis is both completely right and absolutely wrong. It's completely right to say that more reform is the only way the more developed countries in Europe will prevent jobs continuing to leach away, both to central and east European countries with cheap skilled labour and, on a larger scale, to Asia. With all its faults, Blairism - more accurately, Blair-Brown-ism - is the closest any European country has come to combining American-style enterprise with European-style solidarity. That's one big reason New Labour just won a historic third term. It is this relative success which - before the Iraq war - made many on the continental centre-left and centre-right aficionados of what the Italians called Blairismo .
At the same time, the analysis is absolutely wrong. For the surest way to ensure that Europe does not adopt this necessary programme is for the British prime minister to advocate it, in missionary mode, at this particular juncture. The French, and now also the Dutch, have just delivered a resounding no, both to the treaty and to what they see as a British Europe. The perfect moment, then, for a British prime minister to say: "So, mes amis, you have spoken, and I conclude that what you really need is a British Europe!"
Moreover, while British government sources - and especially the foreign secretary, Jack Straw - are letting it be privately understood that we almost certainly won't have a British referendum, the government of every other referendum country is saying that they are going ahead. That has, so far, also been the clear position of the Luxembourg presidency, which chairs this month's summit of EU leaders, and of the European commission.
There are formal, political and democratic arguments for this otherwise slightly surreal commitment to go on riding a dead horse. The formal one is that the treaty provides for everyone to go ahead and ratify. If 20 out of the 25 member states have done so, but up to five have not, it then goes back to EU leaders next autumn, and the European council must decide how to proceed. The political one is that we don't want a Europe where all countries are equal but some are more equal than others. If Denmark says no, that's a problem for Denmark, but if France says no, that's a problem for Europe. Small countries must have their say as well. The democratic argument is that these ratification debates have finally got the peoples of Europe to re-engage with the European project. This was, of course, one original purpose of the whole constitutional process. In this sense, its failure is testament to its success. No one can say the French did not have a serious popular debate about Europe.
At some point it will be clear to all that the horse of the constitutional treaty is really dead. However, reaching that point may take all of the British presidency, if not beyond. Whatever the political pressures on him, Blair would be ill-advised to be the first to say he definitely won't have a referendum, thus furnishing a convenient scapegoat for Jacques Chirac and others. There are enough difficult arguments to be had as it is, where Britain and France will find themselves on different sides: about the EU budget and the British rebate, the working-time directive, the services directive. It would be folly to add to these a grand confrontation between British and French models of socio-economic reform. Chirac's disastrous new choice of prime minister, the Napoleonic poet manqué Dominique de Villepin, would like nothing better than to fight another battle of Austerlitz - even if it ended in another Waterloo.
No, the wise course for the British presidency is to behave in quite un-Blair-like fashion, in order to achieve the final, strategic triumph of Blairism. No missionary preaching. No headline-grabbing prime-ministerial initiatives. Instead: quiet, patient behind-the-scenes diplomacy and European-style consensus-building. The British presidency should aspire not to be the relaunch of the European project but to prepare the ground for that relaunch. Given time, the ratification process will play itself out, and the allies for substantive Blairism will grow. In the German elections this autumn, the Christian Democrats' Angela Merkel is likely to win. If de Villepin fails, Chirac may finally be compelled to call on his arch-rival Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy gave a fascinating response to the referendum result in which, while speaking the language of social Europe, he effectively called for radical reform. "We must," he said, "give to our social model the reality which it has lost."
Substantive Blairism, which is what Europe needs in its socio-economic model, only has a chance of being accepted if Blair's Britain is not seen to be its main missionary. As it was only the anti-communist Richard Nixon who could afford to open relations with communist China, and the rightwing nationalist Margaret Thatcher who could give away Rhodesia, so it's only Sarkozy and Merkel who can sell Blairism to the European mainstream. Blair's objective should be that, under next year's Austrian presidency, the EU comes up with proposals which bear a strong resemblance, in substance though not in rhetoric, to his own. Then he should graciously welcome this magnificent new Franco-German initiative.