Practicing tolerance to ambiguity: this is how
“Twelve week at Riad” that is the name of the book written by the German journalist Susanne Koebl. The subheading could go like: “Why the West believes more in lucrative orders than human rights”. Instead it is as follows: “Saudi-Arabia between dictatorship and breakup”. Is this really a question of either … or? Thinking of China I seems that both can exist at a time. In face of a flight of 100 business people from Germany to the Kingdom in August this year despite severe entry regulations due to Corona you can put it bluntly: “What is more worth? The improvement of human rights in the kingdom or the lucrative infrastructure orders to the amount of at least 60 billion Euros? We are talking about a country here, which is slowly but surely running out ouf oil; not to mention the already smaller earnings caused by massive fluctuation of oil prices this year. Is this a case of “Honni soit qui mal y pense”, evil to whom who thinks evil?
Between genius and insanity?
Let’s go back to Koebl’s book. At least since the spectacular and disgusting murder of saudi-arabian journalist Jamal Kashoggi the new secret ruler of the Kingdom should be well known among Germans as well: Mohammed bin Salman his name aka: MbS. This guy known as extremely ambitious get into the news by reforms such as driver’s licence for women on the one hand; on the other hand there were events such as international pop-concerts with Western show stars such as Mariah Carey. Just some time later he destroys this positive and progressive impression when he arrests about 300 influential personalities on November 4th, 2017 and put them into the luxury jail of “Ritz Carlton”. Again, this action is a once-in-a-lifetime story.
Many things Koebl talks about in her work is already known or has been already written down elsewhere: oppression of human rights, supression of women’s rights, the endless arguments with Iran about the domination within the Near East, the dispute with Qatar and the never-ending war in Yemen. It is also about the agonies of arranged marriages or the bad treatment of guest workers. But one again, this behaviour does not differ to much from ours in the West: Wifes are beatened here as well and guest workers work under bad conditions as recently discussed within the meat and construction industry.
But beyond this well-known stories which might be a “must” for the sake of completeness in books on Saudi-Arabia, there are also new perspectives on the Kingdom and individual stories. The latter makes Koebl’s book interesting.
Personal stories as access to society
It is the personal perspective that Koebl talks about which gives the reader an access to the Saudi-Arabian society: to the hopes of the young people and the hopelessness of marginal groups such as the Schammar or the Shiites.
Still religion is not only the glue that keeps society together by bans, it is also the authority which helps you with words and deeds, i.e. on Fatwa TV. The young generation acts partly overconfident and believes in changes: “We will have a real parlament one day” or: “Someday we will have bars”. Nobody knows when this “some day” will be, but “sometime” sounds much better than “never”. Overall and that could be the conclusion of Koebl’s book, there is an indication for a change within the Kingdom for a paradigm shift which is mostly determined by economic contraints: there is less luxury, cars are smaller, women are more influential, treasury is more empty and oil prices are low.
Holidays at Saudi-Arabia?
Necessity is the mother of invention. Right now this might no be an issue as international flights are seized up for the time being. But: Since summer 2019 the Kingdom slowly but surely opens its gates for tourism. Travellers from Europe should be able to get a visa upon their entry or before online. Saudi-Arabia owns some places that belong to the World Heritage. If that is enough to attract people from all over the world is doubtful. Moreover there might be a dresscode for tourists as well and the extreme weather conditions are not unbiased as well.
Still: It gets moving, some concessions are voluntarily made others are due to economic pressure.