Nationalisation in Saudi Arabia

Some books are available in book shops globally and others only in local or regional markets. The Doha International Book Fair is a great place where regional publishers come together, and where the local and regional books are available. One example was "Nationalisation and Labour Market Policies in Saudi Arabia" (2023) by Abdullah Al Fozan, published by Obekan (Saudi publisher). Under 200 pages, the book is a brief summary of the nationalization efforts undertaken over the last decade. A few notes on the challenges and unique approaches:

"The failure of the Saudistation programme to reduce unemployment among Saudi nationals led the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD) to introduce the Nitaqat programme as a re-implementation policy in 2011. Nitaqat programme imposes penalties on non-compliant companies and provides incentives for those who comply to advance the Saudistation goals." (p. 21)

"One of the negative consequences of Nitaqat is "fake Saudistation" in addition to other demerits brought about by the way Nitaqat was implemented or the way it was designed along with its policy. In the same vein. The number of Nitaqat female employees exploded from 77,000 to 202,000, bringing about manipulation and phantom employment of Saudi Nationals who do not show up at the workplace where they are supposed to be. The number of student workers also skyrocketed from about 26,000 to 97,000, which also reflects its inefficiency. Furthermore, some would receive a small salary in return for keeping their names listed on the company's small payroll" (p. 82)

"The MODON Oasis located in Al Ahsa in the east of Saudi Arabia, is the first industrial city in Saudi Arabia to be entirely run by a female labour force. The Oasis operates on an area of about 500,000 square metres. Equally important, it has 80 factories operating in the service and trade sectors. Of note, the Royal Decree issued on 16 September 2017 allows women to drive cars. This means that women will be more involved in the labor force than before. Now, the Saudi women's political participation is gaining momentum, so to speak, and the female representation is a case in point." (p. 118)

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The Afghanistan File

Walking around a bookshop that largely carried children's materials, I came across an interesting (and out of place) book: "The Afghanistan File" written by Prince Turki AlFaisal Al Saud, the Director of the General Intelligence Directorate (1977-2001) in Saudi Arabia. It seems the book was dictated by Prince Turki, written by Michael Field, and published in 2021. The book is published by Arabian Publishing, so it might not have made its way around the typical networks. For those interested in Afghanistan, or Saudi, this is an interesting addition to the dialogue. A few notes:

"In spite of his reservations Brzezinski recommended 'more money as well as arms shipments to the rebels, and some technical advice'. 'It is essential that Afghanistani resistance continues,' he wrote. 'To make [this] possible we must both reassure Pakistan and encourage it to help the rebels … We should concert with Islamic countries both in a propaganda campaign and in a covert action campaign…' This memorandum led to another Presidential 'Finding' at the end of December, which permitted the CIA to send weapons secretly to the Mujahideen. The purpose was to make the Soviet intervention as costly as possible to get the USSR 'bogged down', as Brzezinski put it later, and to discourage other military interventions." (p. 9-10)

"The purchasing of weapons and ammunition was managed mainly by the CIA, and at the start it was agreed among us, the Pakistanis and the Americans that supplies would be of Warsaw Pact origin so that it would appear to the Russians that the Mujahideen had captured them or bought them from the Afghan army. Alternatively they could be of old western manufacture, the sort of material that the Mujahideen might have bought on the international arms market or in the frontier region. At all costs we wanted to avoid showing that our three countries were involved as suppliers." (p. 42)

"During the war the amounts of money going into the pipeline increased enormously. In 1980 Saudi Arabia and America together put in $300,000, though at this stage there were various other direct payments made, including the $2 million we sent in cash with Ahmad Badeeb in January that year. In 1981 the two countries put in $60 million, by 1984 the figure had reached $400 million and by the end of the Soviet occupation it was running at around $1 billion. The actual movement of the Saudi contribution was into a Swiss account of the CIA." (p. 48)

"In his book The Hidden War: A Russian Journalists Account of the Soviet War in Afghanistan, published in 1990 during the time of glasnost, Artyom Borovik wrote that the Soviet Union at the beginning was 'obsessed with our own messianic mission and blinded by arrogance… [W]e rarely stopped to think how Afghanistan would influence us… In Afghanistan we bombed not only the detachments of rebels and their caravans, but our own ideals as well… In Afghanistan the policies of the government became utterly incompatible with the inherent morality of our nation. things could not continue in the same vein.'" (p. 98) 

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The Birth of Modern Terrorism?

What were the ideological origins of Al Qaeda and ISIS? Yaroslav Trofimov argues that the answer goes back to 1979, when an uprising occurred in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. For an event that is largely undocumented officially, "The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam's Holiest Shrine and the Birth of Al Qaeda" (2007) is a fascinating historical book – and of what the author argues is the origin of modern Islamic terrorism. The book was written by a journalist, and thus academics searching for references and justification for some of the claims will be left wanting. I located a number of errors as I read through, but the book is nonetheless well worth reading.

Why the author believes this event is so important – and the ideology that drove it - is because Trofimov argues these were the origins of nearly all contemporary extremist movements. The author also outlines that the ideology driving these extremists did not only spread after 1979 naturally - it was actively supported "on the Cold War battlefronts. Instead of being suppressed, Juhayman's brutal brand of Islam was encouraged and nurtured as it metastasized across the planet since 1979" (p. 7). The most well-known instance of this was American support of jihadist movements in Afghanistan, of which Osama bin Laden was a part. The book is also fascinating in that it shows how this event has global impacts - from North Africa to Asia - about which the author includes chapters on.

The book also demonstrates the role of torture and brutal tactics in creating extremists and fostering extremist ideologies: "Like many members of the new movement, Mohammed Abdullah had reasons to dislike the Saudi state. By one account, prior to enrolling in university he was employed as an administrative worker in a Riyadh hospital. Suspicion fell on Mohammed Abdullah when money disappeared from the hospital safe. Saudi police, whose main investigating technique tends to be torture, pulled the young man's fingernails until he confessed to the crime. He was cleared and released from jail only after the real culprit was accidently caught with stolen cash later" (p. 38). Torture resulted in bad intelligence and pushed people into extremism. The person the quote is speaking about, Mohammed Abdullah, went on to become one of the leading members of the group of the 1979 uprising.

A note for the critical reader: the book perpetuates a range of stereotypes about the "Arabs" that are well suited to be examples for an updated version of Edward Said's Orientalism (1979). Even "seemingly reasonable Muslim intellectuals" are irrational (p. 107), are not trustable and do not trust each other (p. 136, 177), while they also have secret, mutually understood bonds between them. The result is that Arabs are portrayed, contradictorily, as idiotic and cunning; untrustworthy and trustworthy; highly skilled and untrained. Tropes of 'the other' that – consciously or not – have long been used as means to uphold one's own supposed superiority.

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