Former Member of IFSB on Islamic Money Market, Former Head of FSCD SBP, Former Head of Research ArifHabib Investments, Member visiting Faculty/ KASBIT/BIZTEK/Sheikh Zayed Institute University of Karachi/PAF KIET/MAJU
Like other persons I entered in to Saudi Arabia on April 20 and left on May 17. Within stay I performed 4 Umrrahs and stayed in Medina for two days. When any person specifically Muslims from other countries enter in to Saudi Arabia he or she found himself or herself under some surveillance right or wrong. People normally avoids this perception as they are more attached with this land where their sacred places Khana-Kaaba,Hajre Aswad ,Maqame Ibrahim and two holly mosques one in Makka and other in Medina are situated. Normally any outsider is considered an alien to Arabs living on this holly land. No outsider in Saudi Arabia can get nationality. People coming from Pakistan are mostly low trodden laborers whose interest lies with a clique connected in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to exploit them financially and keep the right to send them home at any time. Only 15% Pakistanis with some education enjoy some better life still with no protection. This trend we also see in Pakistan where different religious parties arrange rallies in favor of defending sacred places but their real purpose is to get some funding from Saudi Arabia. I saw many Imams with long beards and limousines arrived in Saudi Arabia to serve Islam but now most of their children are studying in USA or EU and not in any Madressah. In Surah Baqarah, Allah has laid down principles for those who would not be sent to hell. They are belief in Allah and his prophet (PBU), Selah (Namaz) and Zakah and finally he should not be “corrupt” The word corrupt has been used for all types of corruption. It is not going like accounting method that if you do this then you are going to get this much marks and if you do otherwise your marks would be subtracted. As a whole we have to go under above obligations otherwise we all would have to become part of hell.
On final day of our Umrrah on May 11 my wife wanted to kiss Hajre Aswad but it was looking like a place of war. Every strong man was throwing away women and weak men out of their way. Two bodily weak Indians standing there were also calling this a misfortune where wrestlers in a society have the upper hold. This shows that how unfortunate we have gone in becoming undisciplined totally against teachings of Allah and his prophet (PBU) who always advocated to stand with weak and particularly women and children. Second thing that amazed me was written abusive names of some Muslim leaders’ of different sects in washrooms located outside the Al-Masjid al-Haram Mosque but within its boundary. When we can do this in Khaana Khudda than why we cannot do this in Yemen, Iraq, Tunisia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria with lot of blood of Muslims on our hands and killing others with use of Chlorine gas.
However to move forward with some logic we have to go in to history, economy and state structure of Saudi Arabia in brief.
Saudi Arabia is officially known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, The area of modern-day Saudi Arabia formerly consisted of four distinct regions: Hejaz, Najd, and parts of Eastern Arabia (Al-Ahsa) and Southern Arabia (‘Asir). The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 by Ibn Saud. Before that we see time of Hazrat Muhammad (PBU) and his four caliphates (RU) administering from Media as its capital. Thereafter under Banu Umayyad the capital shifted to Damascus and in Banu Abbas to Baghdad. Thereafter we see rule of Ottoman Empire and west (indirectly) for many hundred years. However in 1932 it got in to present shape. Ibn Saud. United the four regions into a single state through a series of conquests beginning in 1902 with the capture of Riyadh, the ancestral home of his family, the House of Saud. The country has since been an absolute monarchy governed along Islamic lines. Wahhabi Islam has been called “the predominant feature of Saudi culture”. Saudi Arabia is sometimes called “the Land of the Two Holy Mosques” in reference to Al-Masjid al-Haram (in Makka), and Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (in Medina), the two holiest places in Islam. The Kingdom has a total population of 28.7 million, of which 20 million are Saudi nationals and 8 million are foreigners.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s second largest oil producer and largest exporter, and controls the world’s second largest hydrocarbon reserves. Apart from this Saudi Arabia gets SR 52 billion ($13.86) billion through pilgrim services abut expects to reach it to SR 239 billion ($63.73) by 2019.Out of Saudi Budget for 2014,oil that uses to fetch 90% of revenue in the past have declined and received only $ 1,014 billion. However oil analysts predict that by mid-2016 oil prices would again jump.
In pre-Islamic times, apart from a small number of urban trading settlements (such as Makka and Medina), most of what was to become Saudi Arabia was populated by nomadic tribal societies in the inhospitable desert.
The new kingdom was one of the poorest countries in the world, reliant on limited agriculture and pilgrimage revenues. However, in 1938, vast reserves of oil were discovered in the Al-Ahsa region along the coast of the Persian Gulf, and full-scale development of the oil fields began in 1941 under the US-controlled Aramco (Arabian American Oil Company). Oil provided Saudi Arabia with economic prosperity and substantial political leverage internationally. Cultural life rapidly developed, primarily in the Hejaz, which was the center for newspapers and radio. However, the large influx of foreigners to work in the oil industry increased the pre-existing propensity for xenophobia. At the same time, the government became increasingly wasteful and extravagant. By the 1950s this had led to large governmental deficits and excessive foreign borrowing. Now situation has reversed and Saudi Arabia owns around $ 700 billion third after China and Japan as Fx reserves. Pakistan only owns hardly $ 15 billion.
By 1976 Saudi Arabia had become the largest oil producer in the world. Khalid’s reign saw economic and social development progress at an extremely rapid rate, transforming the infrastructure and educational system of the country; in foreign policy, close ties with the US were developed. In 1979, two events occurred which greatly concerned the government, and had a long-term influence on Saudi foreign and domestic policy. The first was the Iranian Islamic Revolution. It was feared that the country’s Shi’ite minority in the Eastern Province (which is also the location of the oil fields) might rebel under the influence of their Iranian co-religionists. In fact, there were several anti-government uprisings in the region in 1979 and 1980. The second event was the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Makka by Islamist extremists. The militants involved were in part angered by what they considered to be the corruption and un-Islamic nature of the Saudi government. The government regained control of the mosque after 10 days and those captured were executed. Part of the response of the royal family was to enforce a much stricter observance of traditional religious and social norms in the country (for example, the closure of cinemas) and to give the Ulema a greater role in government. Neither entirely succeeded as Islamism continued to grow in strength. Further now in place of cinemas every home has become a cinema through new technology.
Islamism is not the only source of hostility to the government. Extremely wealthy, Saudi Arabia’s economy is now near toits stagnant form. High taxes and a growth in unemployment have contributed to discontent, and have been reflected in a rise in civil unrest, and discontent with the royal family. In response, a number of limited “reforms” were initiated by King Fahd. In March 1992, he introduced the “Basic Law“, which emphasized the duties and responsibilities of a ruler. In December 1993, the Consultative Council was inaugurated. It is composed of a chairman and 60 members—all chosen by the King. The King’s intent was to respond to dissent while making as few actual changes in the status quo as possible. Fahd made it clear that he did not have democracy in mind:. “A system based on elections is not consistent with our Islamic creed, which [approves of] government by consultation [shūrā].”
In February–April 2005, the first-ever nationwide municipal elections were held in Saudi Arabia. Women were not allowed to take part in the poll.
In 2005, King Fahd died and was succeeded by Abdullah, who continued the policy of minimum reform and clamping down on protests. The king introduced a number of economic reforms like series of governmental changes to the judiciary, armed forces, and various ministries to modernize these institutions including the replacement of senior appointees in the judiciary and the Mutaween (religious police) with more moderate individuals and the appointment of the country’s first female deputy minister.
On 29 January 2011, hundreds of protesters gathered in the city of Jeddah in a rare display of criticism against the city’s poor infrastructure after deadly floods swept through the city, killing eleven people. The city has no water and 90% of it has no sewerage system. Police stopped the demonstration after about 15 minutes and arrested 30 to 50 people.
Since 2011, Saudi Arabia has been affected by its own Arab Spring protests. In response, King Abdullah announced on 22 February 2011 a series of benefits for citizens amounting to $36 billion, of which $10.7 billion was earmarked for housing. No political reforms were announced as part of the package, though some prisoners indicted for financial crimes were pardoned. On 18 March the same year, King Abdullah announced a package of $93 billion, which included 500,000 new homes to a cost of $67 billion, in addition to creating 60,000 new security jobs.
Although male-only municipal elections were held on 29 September 2011,Abdullah announced that women will be able to vote and be elected in the 2015 municipal elections, and also to be nominated to the Shura Council. Now under King Salman and new crown prince it has to be seen how they go implemented.
In the absence of national elections and political parties, politics in Saudi Arabia takes place in two distinct arenas: within the royal family, the Al Saud, and between the royal family and the rest of Saudi society. Outside of the Al-Saud, participation in the political process is limited to a relatively small segment of the population and takes the form of the royal family consulting with the Ulema, tribal sheikhs and members of important commercial families on major decisions. This process is not reported by the Saudi media nor are they allowed to do so.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving. The king combines legislative, executive, and judicial functions and royal decrees form the basis of the country’s legislation. The king is also the prime minister, and presides over the Council of Ministers (Majlis al-Wuzarāʾ), which comprises the first and second deputy prime ministers and other ministers.
Saudi Arabia is almost unique in giving the Ulema (the body of Islamic religious leaders and jurists) a direct role in government, the only other example being Iran. TheUlema have also been a key influence in major government decisions, for example the imposition of the oil embargo in 1973 and the invitation to foreign troops to Saudi Arabia in 1990. In addition, they have had a major role in the judicial and education systems and a monopoly of authority in the sphere of religious and social morals.
The kingdom has a long-standing military relationship with Pakistan, it has long been speculated that Saudi Arabia secretly funded Pakistan’s atomic bomb programme and seeks to purchase atomic weapons from Pakistan, in near future. Pakistan and Saudis both deny this.
Saudi Arabia is strongly dependent on foreign workers with about 80% of those employed in the private sector being non-Saudi. Among the challenges to Saudi economy include halting or reversing the decline in per capita income, improving education to prepare youth for the workforce and providing them with employment, diversifying the economy, stimulating the private sector and housing construction, diminishing corruption and inequality.
In addition to petroleum and gas, Saudi also has a small gold mining sector in the MahdadhDhahab region and other mineral industries, an agricultural sector (especially in the southwest) based on dates and livestock, and large number of temporary jobs created by the roughly two million annual hajj pilgrims.
Statistics on poverty in the kingdom are not available but the claims are that 22% of Saudis may be considered poor (2009). Observers researching the issue prefer to stay anonymous because of the risk of being arrested. Everyone had a say on this issue, yet no one was able to propose a solution to uproot it. So far, no one has acknowledged the fact that the crisis is snowballing and that poverty is affecting the healthy environment that the kingdom wants to secure for its citizens. According to this year’s statistics, the government announced that the social security services have benefited around 800,000 cases. A case is a unit indicating one Saudi family, with the average family size in Saudi Arabia being between six to eight people. The Ministry of Social Affairs announced later on that its services would include families of up to 15 persons. Hence, according to calculations based on the aforementioned data, the number of poor people in Saudi Arabia exceeds 6 million out of 20 million, which is the estimated population of Saudi Arabia. The increase in the number of beneficiaries from social security services indicates a decrease in the size of the middle class, thus turning the latter into lower class.
Crime has not been a significant problem here. On the other hand, juvenile delinquency in practices such as Tafheet (illegal racing), drug-use and excessive use of alcohol are getting worse. High unemployment and a generation of young males filled with contempt toward the Royal Family is a significant threat to Saudi social stability. Some Saudis feel they are entitled to well-paid government jobs, and the failure of the government to satisfy this sense of entitlement has led to considerable dissatisfaction.
Marriage between first or second cousins in Saudi Arabia is among the highest rate in the world. Traditionally considered a means of “securing relationships between tribes and preserving family wealth”, The practice has been cited as a factor in higher rates of severe genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis or thalassemia, a blood disorder, Type 2 diabetes, (which affects about 32% of adult Saudis), hypertension, (which affects 33%), thalassemia, sickle cell anemia, spinal muscular atrophy, deafness and muteness. “This has lead recently to Wahhabi clerics gingerly counseling young men to ‘choose a wife carefully with an eye to health.’”
Under Saudi law, every adult female must have a male relative as her “guardian”, whose permission she is required to have in order to travel, study, or work.
Women face discrimination in the courts, where the testimony of one man equals that of two women in family and inheritance law.Polygamy is permitted for men, and men have a unilateral right to divorce their wives (talaq) without needing any legal justification. A woman can only obtain a divorce with the consent of her husband or judicially if her husband has harmed her. In practice, it is very difficult for a Saudi woman to obtain a judicial divorce. With regard to the law of inheritance, the Quran specifies that fixed portions of the deceased’s estate must be left to the Qu’ranic heirs and generally, female heirs receive half the portion of male heirs.
However, a number of Saudi women have risen to the top of some professions like Dr. Salwa Al-Hazzaa is head of the ophthalmology department at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh. She was the late King Fahad’s personal ophthalmologist.
Education is free at all levels. The school system is composed of elementary, intermediate, and secondary schools. A large part of the curriculum at all levels is devoted to Islam, and, at the secondary level, students are able to follow either a religious or a technical track. The rate of literacy is 90.4% among males and is about 81.3% among females. Classes are segregated by gender. Higher education has expanded rapidly, with large numbers of Universities and colleges being founded particularly since 2000. Institutions of higher education include the country’s first university, King Saud University founded in 1957, the Islamic University at Medina founded in 1961, and the King Abdul-Aziz University in Jeddah founded in 1967. Other colleges and universities emphasize curricula in sciences and technology, military studies, religion, and medicine. Institutes devoted to Islamic studies, in particular, abound. Women typically receive college instruction in segregated institutions.
The government is trying to “Saudi zing” the economy, replacing foreign workers with Saudi nationals with limited success.
Foreign workers in Saudi Arabia estimated to number about 9 million. The migrating to the country started after oil was discovered in the late 1930s. Initially, the main influx was composed of Arab and Western technical, professional and administrative personnel, but subsequently substantial numbers came from Southeast Asia. Saudi Arabia has become increasingly dependent on foreign labor, and although foreign workers remain present in technical positions, most are now employed in the agriculture, cleaning and domestic service industries. The hierarchy of foreign workers is often dependent on their country of origin; workers from Arab and Western countries generally hold the highest positions not held by Saudis, and the lower positions are occupied by persons from Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and Southeast Asia. The Saudi government has faced criticism from legal bodies and employers over the treatment of foreign workers.
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Saudi Arabia has a banking industry with 13 commercial banks. Saudi banks provide retail and corporate banking, investment services, brokerage facilities, and derivative transactions in addition to credit cards, ATMs and point-of-sale transactions.
There are also banks in the Kingdom that provide Islamic banking services. So parallel banking is in vogue in Saudi Arabia.
There are great dreams of every Muslim about Saudi Arabia. They don’t want sectarian divide in form of Iran and Saudi Arabia suitable to some Ulemas. They want to see Medina back as capital city and Makka and Medina free for all Muslims in the world. Whether that can be realized or not but at this point of time it is a dream.