Our Deputy Sheriffs in the Middle East

Malise Ruthven

  • 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.

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