8 Mar 2011

When oil and blood mix

When I was young Esso used to urge us to “put a tiger in your tank” when filling up with petrol. These days some are trying hard not to consider what we are putting in our tanks at all. Is it Libyan?  Saudi? Kuwaiti? From which particular oppression does it flow?

This Friday, 11 March, Saudi opposition groups have called for a “day of rage”. The kingdom has responded with what local sources describe as the biggest deployment of armed force seen since the foundation of Saudi state. Eyewitnesses describe truckloads of soldiers moving through key centres of population. The government has banned all demonstrations. The troops have orders to fire on anyone who attempts to gather in a public place.

This amount we know from the locally staffed news agencies in Saudi. But very few western journalists are present in the kingdom, fewer still are ever allowed to travel to the towns which are populated by the country’s Shiia minority.

The ingredients are set for a good deal of blood to find its way into the Saudi oil supply. These days, we journalists in the outside world are dependent for our information upon ex-patriot doctors, nurses, construction and oil workers. Inevitably they tend to be centred in the cities of Jedah and Riyadh. It is they who have told us of the clamp down on Satellite phones, the occasional shut downs of assorted internet services, and interference with t he mobile phone systems.

Read more – Oil shock: unrest in Saudi Arabia ‘worst case scenario’

This is the eerie overture to something which could prove , after Friday Prayers this week, everything or nothing. We oil consumers, we who have depended upon this and other repressive Arab regimes to prop up our systems are holding our breath.

But as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have warned, Saudi is not alone. There are many other regimes battling to contain civil rebellion.

The demonstrations in Oman have continued now for several weeks. The numbers are not large. Some four hundred in the port city of Sohar; a couple of hundred in the capital Muscat, and what observers regard as most surprising, an uprising in the Southern city of Salaleh. The army has been deployed and so far seven people are known to have been killed, dozens injured and or arrested. How, without journalists present, do I know? Oman is awash with ex-pats – not least in the armed forces. The Omani army is commanded by a British Major General – ‘on loan’ from the UK – he has a number (one sources tells me ninety) of UK army personnel with him. If Oman blows, the British will be very intimately involved.

Most of us filling our petrol tanks fret about the price of the stuff, perhaps we should be a little more concerned about what colour it is.

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