A couple of weeks back I posted about Saudia Arabia’s mass deportation of Ethiopian migrant labourers. Now, with 7,000 migrants returning on flights back to Addis Ababa every night, their stories are starting to emerge in earnest. Humanitarian experts based here who are supporting them and the government are aghast at what they’re hearing.
It seems to be becoming clear that rape of female domestic workers in Saudi Arabia is not just frequent, but endemic. 95% of women coming back are either pregnant or lactating, according to the EU humanitarian organisation, ECHO. Some women who had children in Saudi Arabia have reportedly not been allowed to take them back to Ethiopia.
Many women are also reporting being raped multiple times by Saudi Arabian security and prison staff after being detained prior to deportation. Others held in the temporary detention camps (the FT says there are 64 of them) report that they were forced to purchase their food and water at inflated prices.
2,500 returnees and counting – about 2.5% of those returned so far – have been referred to hospital here, with high rates of both psychological trauma and sexual and gender based violence.
The Saudi authorities are reportedly confiscating many people’s money and valuables before they’re allowed to board the plane – and even their shoes, so that returnees arrive back here in the middle of the night, in temperatures as low as 5 degrees C, in bare feet. Many families are being split up and put on separate flights, including in some cases kids separated from their parents.
The Saudis (30th richest country in the world on GNP per capita) aren’t even deigning to pay for the cost of the charter flights bringing the migrants home – instead leaving it to Ethiopia (175th richest country in the world) and humanitarian agencies to pick up the tab.
Ever heard of spare capacity theory? It’s defined by Gregor Macdonald as:
the assumption among western bankers, policy makers, economists, and stock markets that OPEC producers can lift oil production at will, and, export all of that spare production to world consumers.
(See also this recent post on Global Dashboard, and this one from back in 2008.) There’s a lot of spare capacity theory doing the rounds at the moment, given what’s happening in North Africa and the Middle East. Libya normally produces 1.6 million barrels of oil a day (a little under 2% of global production). It’s estimated that about 350,000 barrels, or 22%, of that is now offline, and depending on how things pan out, it could stay offline for some time.
Now imagine what happens if it all kicks off in Algeria (a larger exporter than Libya of oil plus oil products). Or, for that matter, in Iraq, Iran, or Saudi Arabia – all of which are much more significant again. That’s what has traders and futures markets spooked, and everyone looking to Saudi Arabia: as a source quoted in the FT this morning puts it,
“It is fear of the unknown. The risks are all to the upside. Saudi Arabia needs to respond.”
Saudi Arabia, for its part, insists that it can and will increase production if needed:
“Right now, there are active talks in order to implement what is needed,” the Saudi official said. He stressed that the kingdom retains spare capacity of some 4m barrels a day – more than double Libya’s entire output, which totalled 1.58m b/d in January, according to the International Energy Agency.
Saudi Arabia has not yet decided whether to increase production. If it proved necessary to produce more, “then that will happen, there’s no problem at all”, the official said.
But what if that’s not true? Gregor Macdonald argues that the extent to which markets have climbed over the past week “suggests the market is justifiably concerned about events in Libya, and the risk of more unrest to come in oil producing regions”. His conclusion:
Given the potential magnitude of this situation, I actually think its good that we can still rely on price as a means to ration supply.
True though that may be, a new oil price spike is exactly what we didn’t need on global food prices at this point. Back at the start of the year, the fact that we weren’t in the middle of an oil spike was one of the factors I drew comfort from on the food outlook. Not now…
If you missed Turki al-Faisal’s op-ed in the FT last week, then take a look. Entitled “Saudi Arabia’s patience is running out”, the language of the former Saudi Ambassador to the UK and the US (and before that the long-time head of Saudi intelligence) is blunt. For instance:
Unless the new US administration takes forceful steps to prevent any further suffering and slaughter of Palestinians, the peace process, the US-Saudi relationship and the stability of the region are at risk. Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Saudi foreign minister, told the UN Security Council that if there was no just settlement, “we will turn our backs on you” …
America is not innocent in this calamity. Not only has the Bush administration left a sickening legacy in the region, but it has also, through an arrogant attitude about the butchery in Gaza, contributed to the slaughter of innocents. If the US wants to continue playing a leadership role in the Middle East and keep its strategic alliances intact – especially its “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia – it will have to revise drastically its policies vis a vis Israel and Palestine.
Think that’s strong? Try this:
Last week, President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad of Iran wrote a letter to King Abdullah, explicitly recognising Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Arab and Muslim worlds and calling on him to take a more confrontational role over “this obvious atrocity and killing of your own children” in Gaza. The communiqué is significant because the de facto recognition of the kingdom’s primacy from one of its most ardent foes reveals the extent that the war has united an entire region, both Shia and Sunni. Further, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s call for Saudi Arabia to lead a jihad against Israel would, if pursued, create unprecedented chaos and bloodshed. So far, the kingdom has resisted these calls, but every day this restraint becomes more difficult to maintain …
Today, every Saudi is a Gazan, and we remember well the words of our late King Faisal: “I hope you will forgive my outpouring of emotions, but when I think that our Holy Mosque in Jerusalem is being invaded and desecrated, I ask God that if I am unable to undertake Holy Jihad, then I should not live a moment more.”
The FT followed Turki’s article up with a leader yesterday, observing that:
Anyone with a stake in the stability of the wider Middle East should take very seriously the warning set forth in the Financial Times last Friday by Prince Turki al-Faisal … The Saudis have emitted a crescendo of warnings, as Arab leaders over the past decade have lost faith in American leadership and signalled they may make their own arrangements: hostile to Israel, in detente with Iran, and turning their backs on the US – unless it can restrain its Israeli ally.
Pretty sobering. Also worth checking out this analysis from a retired US foreign service officer who was twice posted to Sauid Arabia.