Saudi Arabia was almost the last to end slavery officially in 1974 yet by nature retain all the instincts of slave-running alive


Brig Mehboob Qadir has penned an excellent article on the Arabs’ history.  Only 70 years ago  they used to wait for their food that an Indian Maharaja used to send, since they were paid keepers of Muslim sacred lands.















Saudi Arabia was almost the last to end slavery officially in 1974 yet by nature retain all the instincts of slave-running alive
Miskeen — by Mehboob Qadir
Miskeen is a spoken Saudi equal of ‘poor wretch’ used to denote mainly the Asian labour force, coloured workers and expatriates from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Philippines, Indonesia, etc. For those of African and North African origins, they have different titles. More than a word, it shows a whole Saudi racial, social and national attitude and a rancid hubris. In this context, Ummah is either a misnomer or merely a convenience for the Arab. They are Saudis, Iraqis, Egyptians, Yemenis, Kuwaitis Bahrainis, Emiratis or whatever, but brothers in the Ummah. That notion is basically a political convenience. We, in the subcontinent, are emotionally more transparent and excitable. An Arab, like his camel, is emotionally frigid except when he is slighted or his female space is threatened. Despite a strangely adversarial disposition towards females, they count them among their possessions like the black tent, camels and cattle. One realised that the Saudi men’s honour and prestige seem to be tied more to their ability to control their women by diamond necklaces and gold biscuits than any equation of a sublime human relationship. Their family canvas is a sorry mess because of institutionalised licentiousness through a flood of divorces and multiple marriages. A society short of familial affiliations and internal gravitation disintegrates sooner or later.


Saudis, and Arabs for that matter, have an obsessive love for money, matched in our part of the world by the Pathan or the Sikh somewhat, if not fully. The difference is that Pathans and Sikhs both have plenty in the lands they live in, not the Saudis. Less the oil, they have always been short of food and means of livelihood as hardly anything grew in their deserts. Their harsh unsupportive environment forced them to become highwaymen for hire, ferrying the trade goods of richer nations on the ends of the desert and beyond. Those who were not involved in running trade caravans were busy raiding the same. Their land bridge geographical location between productive Asia, Africa and Europe helped them to become exchange traders or midway transit men. Since they produced literally nothing but had to sell others’ goods, therefore they developed excellent linguistic skills, which is why Arabic is such an eloquent language.

Arabs are racial exclusivists and the Saudis, a degree more, arrogant too. However, Kuwaitis excel in both fields. This racist arrogance does not stem from any real world class achievement but their age old ability to ply one’s merchandise to the other at exorbitant rates, making the other believe that the deal was fair, employing a clever-merchant syndrome. The other reason has been the inelasticity of their bare bones social capsule, which was unable to absorb any external influence or people. Their mercantile ability was polished after the advent of Islam with a large dose of missionary zeal and truth on the pain of divine condemnation forever. However, a few centuries on, this zeal waned and skillful statecraft replaced the art of salesmanship. Both required nearly the same neuro transmissions.

I have been Director General (SPAFO) of Pakistan Armed Forces deputationists, mainly, doctors and engineers, to the Saudi Armed Forces from 1998 to 2002.This was one of the most privileged positions for a non-European/American military officer in the Kingdom. I used to sit in the Ministry of Defence sharing the floor with US, British and French military missions. Another unique privilege that I enjoyed was that I could move anywhere in the Kingdom without the indispensible written permission and saw them closely in both urban and rural landscapes. That regretfully shattered many a myth that we Muslims in the subcontinent carry almost as articles of faith, and along with that a part of my better self too. However, it was an invaluable education in reality and measurement of one’s worthiness or otherwise.

Within weeks, I realised that for a self-respecting person, it was nearly impossible to work honourably with those men. But for the call of duty to the fellow deputationists and mutuality between our two countries, I seriously considered repatriation. Hardly an occasion goes by without making an expatriate realise the tentative nature of his lower stature among these stiff-lipped, stuffy men. Our best, even a PhD in Space Sciences, weighs invariably less than a Saudi camel-herder from the Empty Quarter.

Saudi Arabia was almost the last to end slavery officially in 1974 yet by nature retain all the instincts of slave-running alive. The Iqama (work permit) is the principal instrument and is issued on behalf of the Saudi employer (Kafeel) for one year at a time. This is literally a dog collar that provides the Saudi master unlimited and rather coercive powers over the hapless expatriate. Regardless of innocence, merit, right to be heard and the number of years of hard work, one could be packed off and deported within hours. An expatriate has practically no legal stature, let alone the much talked about basic human rights. I know of a senior Pakistani banker who helped set up a renowned Saudi bank, rose to the position of vice-president and after 29 years was ordered out at a week’s notice, his invaluable service and lifetime of hard work notwithstanding. His fault? None except the sweet pleasure of his employer and the weapon, the guillotine of Iqama. Once your Iqama is withdrawn you are an immediate nonentity and must leave the country posthaste before they imprison you for an indefinite period. Moreover, one could see horrible exploitation of female expatriates by their masters, particularly that of Sri Lankans and Philippinas. Pathetic insensitivity that was.  (why you people keep coming here? reply I got from a close Saudi friend)

Peculiarly, Saudis have a cold and impersonal system of designating expatriates that they hire. Miskeen is a derisive phrase of pity and loathing that tends to massage their ego in a kind of perverted manner. It tends to be a device of superiority, distancing from the mass of toiling expatriate men and women working in the Saudi households, farms, factories, shops, hotels, offices and all places where an ordinary Saudi considers it below his dignity to work. The next lower phrase in their not so civil glossary is siddique, which very eloquently conveys: ‘You work for me but mind your place. No liberties to be taken.’ Siddique is a belittling way of directly addressing one out of innumerable expatriates already held as miskeen. 

European and American expatriates are a different and far superior category. For them notions of pity are transformed into a view of admiration and longing. They are considered and addressed as rafique, meaning ‘dear friend’. Americans top this list, followed closely by the British and other Europeans, depending upon how much they can benefit materially. There are cogent reasons for this preferential treatment. Americans and Europeans negotiate their terms of reference very carefully and hard. They are better networked, bring in more lucrative business, have better work ethics and their parent governments are unrelenting should Saudis maltreat one of their citizens.

There is a third but unspoken class who are mentioned with a smile and a wink. These are fair-skinned Central Asians, Lebanese, and blonde-haired Syrians. They are neither miskeen nor rafique but have the privilege of being the pleasure mates of a superior sort but not equals. They have half an access to the privacies of Saudi households; some even married in. Late Rafique Hariri was a kinsman of the Saudi royal family.

In all this business of labelling who was who in the shoddy Saudi esteem, they missed the forest for the trees. They know but never acknowledge that all of the Kingdom’s infrastructure, services and amenities were built by expatriates from all over the world. Saudi oil money drew the best of the foreign societies into their service but tragically, they failed to absorb them into their own society. It was because they were unfortunately blind to the power of diversification, induction of new talent and ideas. Their genetic disability had been that want and scarcity of thousands of years had made their tribal society grow inwards with no scope or space for expansion and accommodation. The net result is that not only the Saudis floundered a once in centuries chance to enrich their country and society with a mix of talented foreign men and women but also have a huge rootless foreign mass in their midst that can go out of hand any moment. The consequences could be devastating. More about this some other time.

The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army and can be reached at [email protected]

From PTT Archives: Additional Reading-Garishness of Camel Jockeys, few hundred miles from them people of Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sahel Region of Africa are starving




                                 When inadequate food supply in a region causes excessive mortality, the region is in a state of famine. Economic, political, and social forces contribute to the situation. [AP/Wide World Photos. Reproduced by permission.]
Saudi Royal Family’s Arabia starving neigbours in Sahel Region, Ethiopia and Somalia.

14 July 2010

It is 7.15pm outside Ladurée, the chichi designer macaroon café attached to the normally quieter back end of Harrods at the corner of Hans Road and Basil Street. It’s a coolish July evening but the narrow, doglegging streets around the famous Knightsbridge brownstone are rapidly hotting up.

Forget Geneva and the fuddy-duddy old Festival of Speed at Goodwood. If it’s sheer automotive flash and bestial muscle you like in your motor show, check out this central London location on any given evening from July through early August and you won’t believe your eyes.Rich in cars: Knightsbridge is the holiday spot for the wealthy

Here comes a low-riding Lamborghini Murciélago with a matt black, Batmobile-spec paint job and a garish yellow leather interior. Two boys, no older than 20, both wearing gold sunglasses, sit inside pumping the stereo and the gas pedal. The engine makes a noise like a scalded rottweiler as it is jockeyed up to its parking position, two wheels on, two wheels off the pavement. I can’t help noticing that it has no number plate on the front.

As if to upstage the Italian super-car, an even more super one rocks up — a £1 million Bugatti Veyron. Every inch of its bodywork has been gold-plated.

Three vehicles behind is another Veyron. This one is white with chromium wings. The driver gets out — he is about 25 and dressed like an off-duty Lewis Hamilton. I compliment him on his car and ask him how he got it over to London. “In my plane!” he says with a huge grin and hands the keys to a flunkey.

The live action game of Top Gear Top Trumps continues with a pearl-white, four-door Porsche Panamera. The Porsche parks in a “pay and display” bay, but its driver does neither. With a pip of his locking zapper he disappears into a Harrods side door.

Around the corner is a Rolls-Royce Phantom customised with a stainless steel bonnet. The number plate on this car is “1″. Later on, I will Google-search this vehicle and discover something quite extraordinary; a couple of years back the Dubai resident owner of this car paid out the sum of, wait for it, $14 million for the registration number alone … just to be top dog, number one in Dubai.

Now an arrogantly long Maybach limousine painted in distinct orange and matt black arrives. The letters “RRR” are picked out on the vehicle’s boot in a diamond-studded font. A handsome young man and his friend (or PA? or bodyguard?) apparently dressed for a night out at Movida — faded jeans, Hermès belt, Ralph Lauren polo shirt, pastel suede Hermès driving shoes and bronze tint aviators — roll out and head off into the dark green and brass of Harrods for some late-night shopping.

This is Crown Prince Sheikh Ammar bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, flamboyant petrolhead son of the multibillionaire HRH Sheikh Rashid Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi of Ajman. Ajman, in case you didn’t know (I certainly didn’t), is the smallest emirate in the United Arab Emirates but has grand plans to become a mini Dubai. RRR is the banner for the Crown Prince’s vast portfolio of orange and black super-cars — it stands for Rich in Real Estate Resources.

I talk to a parking warden in Basil Street who takes off his hat to reveal a sweaty forehead. How do you go about writing tickets to these guys? I ask. “It’s impossible,” he says, showing me the computerised ticket machine he wears around his neck. “This thing only has numbers and letters on it. Their number plates just ” He tails off, struggling for the right word. “Look like squiggles?” I suggest. “Yeah. There are no keys on my machine for those.”

Meanwhile, a man and his young wife walk up to the café’s reception. Laden with shopping bags he is dressed, as all these rich young Arab men seem to be, like an aspirant R&B superstar in acid wash jeans, gold-rimmed shades and one of those rococo rock ‘n’ roll T-shirts by Ed Hardy.

She has a mobile phone clamped to her face and huge Dior sunglasses picked out with diamante around the rims. I notice that there is a small Gucci logo on the arm of her floor-length burka — Prada and Chanel burkas are also available.

They join the polite café society scene underneath the eau-de-nil awnings outside and order diet Cokes, £15 club sandwiches and plates of pink macaroons. Every single table here at Ladurée, at the Café Rouge opposite and the Patisserie Valerie around the corner, is taken by people from the Gulf states and the Middle East — Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Dubai.

The groups are either well-behaved families with Mum still in her abaya headscarf and big shades, groups of giggly young girls or groups of posturing young boys all in Arab-preppy finery, two or three mobile phones each, keys to Ferraris and Lamborghinis chucked down next to their napkins.

The young women from the more liberated countries of Bahrain and Dubai are dolled up like J-Lo (they must watch an awful lot of MTV back home).The girls who choose to keep wearing their burkas — mostly Saudi Arabians, I am told — are extravagantly made up with kohl-lined eyes and red lipstick.

A subtle courtship ritual may be at play here but if it is, it is too subtle for me to detect. Indeed, there seems to be little or no interaction between the sexes. Everyone pays with cash produced in wads from croc wallets. No wonder locals call the area “Little Kuwait” during August.

For the mega-wealthy oil billionaire families of the Gulf states, summertime means central London. When temperatures at home hit 50 degrees, they flock to the capital for the cool weather, the thriving social scene and the shopping — especially at Harrods which is, rather neatly, now owned by the Qatari royal family’s investment arm.

Some keep summer houses in London — there are said to be more than 100 billionaire Saudi families with second homes in the Knightsbridge area alone — while others prefer out-of-town locations such as Bishops Avenue, Coombe Hill in Kingston and St George’s Hill in Weybridge.

They’ll go to the Derby, Royal Ascot and the Berkshire Festival of Falconry, which is sponsored by the Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Falconers’ Club and attended by His Highness Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan.

Otherwise, whole floors of hotels around Hyde Park — the Jumeirah Carlton Tower now owned by the famous Dubai group and the Four Seasons Hotel, owned by Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Al-Saud (who also owns the Savoy Hotel) — are block-booked.

During the days, the women have their drivers drop them in Hyde Park where they promenade around the Serpentine, stopping to soak up the coolness and cloudy skies on the benches or laying out on the grass in large circles with their friends. And then there’s shopping.

The men rise later, do some shopping (lots of gift-giving to do on these holidays), maybe head to the cafés of Edgware Road for quail eggs and brioche or smoke a bit of sheesha, then get into their cars for a cruise.

This influx of super-rich holidaymakers and others attracted by such wealth has not pleased everyone. Last year, the Evening Standard reported how complaints from people living in the area adjacent to Ladurée had led to summertime tension. Beggars, drug deals and road rage-generated fist-fights were mentioned.

This year police have reacted by issuing an anti-social order around the busy café that lasts from April 1 to September 30; all summer long, basically. Now anyone creating a nuisance in a zone that extends from West Yeoman’s Row, Lennox Gardens, Ovington Square, Brompton Road, Lowndes Square and Pont Street, can be removed, and rowdy, revving groups can be quickly dispersed.

But the first anti-social behaviour order in Knightsbridge history doesn’t seem to have put anyone off.

London, especially during these straitened times, does go to great lengths to court Arab business. When the people at Harvey Nics discovered that the year-on-year Arabic spend figures in the Knightsbridge area were showing a 66 per cent increase, the department store extended its hours to 9pm all week and the Fifth Floor food hall got a sheesha smoking terrace. An advertising campaign with a playful Arabic creative theme showed a picture of a single Lanvin shoe. The strapline below, written in Arabic, read “The English are known for having bad teeth, that is why they need beautiful shoes.”

But what’s the big deal about shabby old London anyway? Yes, we have nice shoes, but can’t you get those anywhere? Doesn’t our capital seem a bit old and worn compared with bandbox-new Saudi?

“Many of the visitors from the Gulf states will tell you that they come to London because, unlike in the US or France, they are made to feel welcome here,” says Hussam Baramo, a Syrian-born, London-based features editor at Al Quds newspaper.

“Many of the younger, more fashion-conscious visitors from Qatar, Dubai and Bahrain even prefer to speak English (rather than Arabic) to each other, throwing in bits of youth slang they have learned off the TV.

“They think this is more modern. You hear reports of women getting changed out of their burkas on the aeroplane so that they can feel free as soon as they land. They like London because they think it is safe and friendly.”

However, London is just a holiday, and once the temperature drops, westernised behaviour is put aside for another year. All the shopping and beautiful cars are loaded onto private planes and everyone heads home for the start, on August 11 this year, of the holy month of Ramadan.

Sahel Region Vegetation Growth Deviation from Regular Start of 2011 Season, by district (DROUGHT)


Sahel Region Vegetation Growth Deviation From Regular Start of 2011 Season (Drought)


Sahel Region Current Vegetation Growth Deviations by district, for 2011 Season (Drought)


Niger and Chad Current Vegetation Growth Deviations for 2011 Season and Livelihood Zones (Drought)

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Mauritania and Mali Current Vegetation Growth Deviations for 2011 Season and Livelihood Zones (Drought)

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Sahel Region Vegetation Growth Comparison of 2011 vs 2009 Seasons (Drought)

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Sahel Region Vegetation Growth Comparison of 2011 vs 2004 Seasons (Drought)

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