All we want to know about Saudi Arabia

Ellen R. Wald’s book “Saudi, Inc.” about the Arabian kingdom’s pursuit of profit and power has been justly praised as “crucial reading for understanding Saudi Arabia” by Steve Forbes, and as “Masterful” by James B. Smith, American Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2009-2013. He also called it “mandatory reading.” They are right. The book is full of fascinating information written clearly, in an interest-holding manner. Saudi Arabia is in the news at least weekly, but too many people do not know enough about it. Ellen R. Wald fills this void and does it very well.

The origin of this kingdom began in 1902 with theft and murder, which continued as the kingdom expanded. Abdul Aziz ibn Saud (1875-1953), a refugee from Kuwait, and two hundred of his cousins, fellow tribesmen, and sympathetic Bedouins invaded Riyadh, which was then an unimpressive city, during the fast days of Ramadan. By 1925, he had conquered Mecca. By 1928, he controlled most of the Arabian Peninsula. In 1932, he proclaimed himself king of the country he named for his family, Saudi Arabia. It took him thirty years of constant warfare and murder to gain control. Saudi Arabia is now the fifth largest state in Asia and the richest. Ibn Saud’s sons enjoyed immense wealth, and they controlled the most profitable company in the world, Saudi Aramco.

The very next year after he consolidated power, in 1933, after discovering oil in the nearby island of Bahrain, American oilmen suspecting that oil lay beneath the sands of Saudi Arabia, came and negotiated a partnership with the newly crowned king. Ibn Saud was convinced there was no oil under Saudi Arabia but saw no reason to refuse money when he had nothing arduous to do with the project, and there were five years of unsuccessful drilling. The relationship between the Arabs and Americans was rocky for years, and Wald details the sometimes sordid schemes and intrigues, including whether the US support for Israel would interfere with the oil deal.

All of the six kings after ibn Saud to the present time have been the sons of ibn Saud. Ibn Saud bragged that he married no less than 150 virgins. He had 42 sons and 55 daughters. After he died in 1953, one of his sons was appointed king. With his death, his brother rose to be king. Since no son is now left other than the present king, Salman, who is 82-years-old, the next king is expected to be his son Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who was born in 1985 and is 32 years old. Wald tells us about the often strange lives of all the Saudi kings.

Among much else, Wald tells us about conditions in Saudi Arabia, physical and religious. For example, the basic law of Saudi Arabia has been accused by “Human Rights Watch” of egregious violations of human rights. The law requires all citizens in Saudi Arabia to be Muslim. The religion of the country is Wahhabism, which is ultraconservative, very austere; when it was introduced into the country its goal was to bring “pure monotheism” to primitive Arabs. Women are mistreated. The country is ranked 141 out of 144 for gender parity. Most Saudi homes and public places have a separate entrance for men and women. Women cannot drive cars. They must draw garments around them when they go outside their homes.

There is much more in Wald’s excellent book. For example, the US did not dispatch an official ambassador to Saudi Arabia until 1946, and the king made unusual demands upon the ambassador about his clothing and how he should enter to see the king and leave him; never show the king your back. The rules about drinking alcohol and the tale of the king’s son who violated the rule. About Osama bin Laden. The huge spending by the kings and their debts; in 1958 the country was in a serious financial crisis. Taxing the oil in the US. Modernizing the country. What is OPEC, how does it work, what is the Saudi relationship to it, and setting prices. The deposing of one of the kings, why, and how it was done. The role of the Crown Prince. Clerics having complete control over the religion.

In short, Ellen R. Wald’s book offers its readers a wealth of information about a country that has enormous influence upon the rest of the world.

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