Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
One of the oddest, and yet most understandable, features of
Saudi society is the need that many of its citizens have to
escape themselves. For the clerics who are given massive
influence in the running of society beyond the key
decision-making areas of government — the preserve of the Saudi
royal family — Saudi Arabia is no less than their own private
Utopia. They are given free rein by the ruling family to
administer their version of Islamic sharia law through the
courts, the education system and the mosques. They even have a
police force all of their own in the form of the notorious
Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
But for the average citizen, this perfect world can be suffocating. Just getting into a shopping mall for a single young man is a wonder unless you happen in to be in the one of the liberalised enclaves like Jeddah or Khobar. Getting to know nembers of the opposite sex can be difficult unless you move among the affluent sectors of society or have the chance to infiltrate the world of foreigners.
Or you can get away for a weekend break.
Every Wednesday night literally thousands of Saudis clog up the narrow causeway to freedom that joins the Eastern Province to
the island state of Bahrain. The atmosphere is joyous and triumphant because once you’ve gone through the six checkpoints
of various types, it’s a quick ride into what appears, in that incredible liberating moment, to be paradise. With the social rules out the window, people make the most of it. Families head to the cinema and cafes, bars and nightclubs are heaving with unrelated men and women who actually “mix” i.e. they inhabit the same physical space in a public place.
Indeed, Saudis don’t only head to Bahrain to mix and match with women and alcohol, they also flock to Dubai, Beirut and Cairo. Those are the favourite haunts in the vicinity. If you’ve more time on your hands you head east to Malaysia or Indonesia — “you can spend only 3,000 riyals ($800) on accommodation, food, drinks and women in one month!” someone enthused the other day — or West to Morocco and the resort of Agadir, a royal favourite.
Five years after the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, Iraq is throwing open its oil sector to foreign oil firms in a way Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others in the region are reluctant to. Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani says no company will have any special privilege.
Some analysts take a different view. They reckon U.S. and British oil majors are in a strong position to help develop the world’s third-largest oil reserves. Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and BP head the queue. They have already built up a relationship with Iraq’s oil officials by negotiating short-term technical deals.
What’s with farming these days? The humble, even if slightly romantic vocation, is attracting a new breed of participants as investing in farmland and agriculture becomes the latest fad in the world of investments.
With financial markets in tumoil and commodity prices at record highs, traditional financial players such as investment banks and hedge funds, and even sovereign wealth funds of cash-rich emerging economies are increasingly looking at farm land as the next major investment avenue.
The motivations are varied — from pure financial punting to concerns about food security. Underlying all this is the belief that the rapid economic expansion of China and India could add more than a billion people between them to the ranks of consumers of meat and wheat-based products. And then there is the growing demand for land to grow crops for biofuels.
China’s surprise decision late on Thursday to slash subsidies on fuel prices has been welcomed as a sign that Beijing is intent on reducing the pace of oil demand growth in the world’s second biggest energy consumer.
That, in theory, should help contain the upward spiral in world oil prices that took crude to a high of nearly $140 a barrel last week. Nine out of 10 analysts polled by Reuters immediately after the news took that line. But there is a contrarian view.