Our Deputy Sheriffs in the Middle East
- A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite by Said Aburish
Gollancz, 414 pp, £20.00, July 1997, ISBN 0 575 06275 4
Last month saw the massacre of two hundred innocents in the Algiers suburb of Bentalha, but British newspaper headlines were taken up with more exotic matters: the sentences facing two British nurses apparently convicted of murdering a third at a hospital complex in Saudi Arabia. Executions and floggings are routine in the wealthy desert kingdom: a version, Aziz al-Azmeh suggests in one of the best essays yet written on Saudi Arabia, of the ‘bread and circuses’ principle favoured by the Romans. Until now, however, the victims of these popular spectacles have either been Saudi nationals or expatriate workers from poor countries such as Sri Lanka or the Philippines. The much more menacing situation in Algeria would have barely merited a mention had it not been for the fact that the latest massacre – the third in as many weeks – took place near the centre of Algiers, too close to the international communications networks to be ignored.
Vol. 19 No. 23 · 27 November 1997
I want to take issue with Malise Ruthven’s suggestion in his review of Said Aburish’s A Brutal Friendship (LRB, 16 October) that the West has an appetite for cheap petroleum. I remember reading in a biography of Nubar Sarkis Gulbenkian that his father, Calouste Gulbenkian, or Mr Five Per Cent, predicted in the Twenties that sooner or later it would be in the West’s interests to reduce the flow of oil from the Middle East by cutting off supplies from either Iraq or Saudi Arabia. American policy is to ensure high prices for oil by limiting the sources of supply. The United States chose Saudi Arabia to be its deputy sheriff in the Middle East partly for historical reasons but partly because of the gullibility of its rulers, who seem not to have realised that they are being duped into wasting their petrodollars to pay for American-made arms, which are of no use or economic advantage to them. By the alchemy of an astute foreign policy Saudi petrodollars become US dollars. To this end it is essential for the United States to maintain a near war footing in the Middle East. That is why Israel is another deputy sheriff. At the time of the Gulf War there was some suggestion that a US envoy had hinted to Saddam Hussein that the United States would not take too serious a view of the overthrow of the Kuwaiti regime. It must equally be part of US policy to keep Saddam Hussein in power so as to justify the continued economic embargo of Iraq; just as the sheltering of terrorists justifies embargoes on Libya and on Somalia.
Coolum Beach, Queensland