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One does not need to be a feminist in the activist sense to recognise that the position and problems of women in the Arab world are in need of reform. Indeed to many outside observers they are a repulsive aspect of Arabian society. Charles Doughty, the doyen of Arabian travellers, was told by a religious shaikh in Khaybar (now Saudi Arabia) nearly 150 years ago that “a woman must be kept in subjection, for else they will begin to despise their husbands.” According to the landmark “Arab human development report” …

Saudi Arabia and Iran

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The competition between Saudi Arabia Iran for regional preeminence has a sectarian element: each claims to be the leader of one of the main tendencies in Islam. But the competition has other elements too. We thank Conflicts Forum for the two articles below published on successive days in the Dubai-based Gulf News in which President Hassan Rouhani …

Labour in Saudi Arabia

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Since the arrival of oil money some two generations ago Saudi Arabia has attracted a large foreign workforce, initially from neighbouring countries but more recently from the Indian subcontinent and further afield. The phenomenon and the associated problems are similar to those in other oil-rich states but on a larger scale. Foreign workers are attracted by …

The Gulf states, the GCC and America

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We have described in earlier postings the near-crisis in US/Saudi relations over disagreements on the Arab spring, Egypt, Syria and Iran, and the reaction of other Gulf states to Iran in particular. One Emirati commentator Mish’al al-Gergawi wrote in the Dubai-based Gulf news on 4 December of a sense of betrayal across the Arabian gulf; “A new generation is taking the helm in many Arab Gulf states. Questions abound over where it will direct their interests and capacities and address the region’s …

Saudi Arabia: twitter and dissent

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Human rights and political dissent in Saudi Arabia are constantly examined by NGOs and the media. Like all nations they are also routinely reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council; at the last review in October according to a Reuters report Britain, the US and Germany raised issues including the abolition of male guardianship …

Saudi positions: policy and paranoia

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The impact on Saudi Arabia of developments over Syria and Iran, and Saudi reactions to them, continue to generate heated debate. The Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrallah has told Lebanese TV that the suicide bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut last month which killed 25 people, and was claimed by a Lebanese Sunni group, was linked …

Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf: Labour conditions

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Since our posting of 28 September working conditions of foreign labour in Qatar have continued to attract criticism, kept in the headlines by reports of preparations for the football World Cup in 2022 and more recently by visits by an international labour delegation and by François Crépeau, the UN Special Rapporteur on the …


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For some years now it has been common talk that the impact of unconventional gas (shale gas, tight gas) becoming available in enormous quantities will have a dramatic effect on world energy prices, so dramatic that it will fundamentally change the relationship between the oil exporting Middle East and the oil importers, above all America which is seen as a leader in unconventional gas; on 1 November the first major natural gas pipeline in America in 40 years is to go on stream bringing gas from Pennsylvania into Manhattan. Yet …

Saudi Arabia: rebooting?

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Statements by the Saudi head of intelligence Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former head of intelligence Prince Turki bin Faisal and the Saudi ambassador to the UN Abdullah bin al-Mu’allimi following the Saudi decision not to take up its seat on the Security Council emphasise disappointment with American policy over Palestine, Egypt, Syria and Iran. A long