2003 June 27 Friday
Saudi Arabia Suspends 1000 Clerics To Retrain In Moderation

The Saudi Arabian government is sending some of their clerics for training in more moderate and tolerant ways of thinking.

Three prominent clerics who preached intolerance were arrested, hundreds have been removed from their positions, and more than 1,000 have been suspended, Al-Jubeir said.

In a bold move by Saudi standards the Saudi princess are going to get some of their clerics to say that the 9/11 attacks were a bad thing.

Abdul-Rahman al-Matroudi, deputy minister at Saudi Arabia's Religious Affairs ministry, said clerics would be instructed to tell worshippers the September 11, 2001, attacks -- which was believed to be carried out mainly by Saudi hijackers -- violated Islamic teachings.

Gee whiz, what a radical step for the Saudis to take almost 2 years after a mostly Saudi group of terrorists killed a few thousand Americans.

There are 80,000 Muslim clerics (my guess is that they do not allow any other religions to have clerics inside their borders) in Saudi Arabia distributed across 50,000 mosques.

"They have been told what happened on September 11 and (attacks) in other places are against Islam and they have to tell the people that this is the stand which Muslims should take," Matroudi said.

Saudi Arabia has more than 50,000 mosques, each with a prayer leader or preacher.

The Saudis would like us to believe that this latest move is not in response to terrorist attacks or American pressure.

Despite the fact that the Saudi governmental official who announced this step stressed it was not linked to the American pressures on the Kingdom, nor the explosions which targeted houses complexes in Riyadh, nor clashes in Mecca, however, stopping those preachers and advocates from work can be listed in the context of several stances announced towards controlling extremism and monitoring the flow of assets and talks on amending certain educational curricula.

Does this latest move mean anything? These clerics are not going to change their minds as a result of some quick retraining. Their attitudes took years to shape and the Koran has plenty of verses in it that they can cite in justification for their hostility toward non-Muslims. Also, only a small portion of the Saudi clerics are going for retraining and yet surely many more clerics and, importantly, members of the broader Saudi population share their opinions. One indicator to watch is whether the other clerics stop teaching ideas that encourage hostile actions toward non-believers.

In the long run, what is more telling is whether other clerics will tone down their rhetoric.

'We have to wait and see whether it will change the behaviour of the other clerics,' said Mr Ahmad Lutfi, a Middle East expert at the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS).

If the Saudi ruling princes find the will to implement reforms we still do not know whether they have the capability to reign in the Wahhabi mullahs and purge the most radical members of the elite from power. But suppose all that could be done. Overnight miracles are just not in the cards. Even if the mullahs stopped preaching hostile messages and the Saudi school textbooks and other aspects of their cirriculums were changed to take out the messages that help encourage hostility to the West we'd still have to contend with the influence of previous generations on new generations as well as the influence of what is in the Koran itself. We are also still going to have to deal with the effects of generations of Saudis who have already been raised to believe things that make them fertile recruiting ground. Also, the biggest influences on new generations are the parents who are the members of existing generations whose attitudes have already been shaped.

In response to previous attacks the Saudis have made token gestures to change their religious and political culture and to crack down on the most extreme elements of their society. Many commentators are understandably skeptical that current Saudi government reform noises will accomplish anything that is more than skin-deep.

Far from being a transformative event, the Riyadh bombings elicited the standard Saudi response to such unpleasant developments. Every few months, the Saudis announce new restrictions on charities or launch another PR campaign in the United States--but they change their behavior only in response to insistent demands from outside.

There are reasons to think that the Saudis will do more this time around than they did in response to the Khobar Towers bombing and other terrorist activity in the past. They realize that the US government is quite unhappy with them and now sees a large number of Saudi nationals as a long-term threat to US security. They also realize that the terrorists are more likely to strike in Saudi Arabia as long as the US is making it much harder for terrorists to get into the US. At the same time, the US conquest of Iraq puts the US in a position of having less need for Saudi Arabia and hence strengthens the US government's ability to apply pressure on the Saudis to reform. Increasing Iraqi oil production will gradually further strengthen the US ability to pressure the Saudis.

In the longer run the vulnerability of the Saudis to US pressure will depend in part on the size of Iraqi oil reserves. Current known Iraqi oil reserves are less than half of official Saudi reserves (though there is not enough transparency in published Saudi estimates to know how accurate they are). But Iraq is less well explored and may turn out to have more oil than Saudi Arabia.

Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world with some 112 billion barrels of proven reserves after Saudi Arabia’s 259 billion barrels. But Iraq has yet to be fully explored and some studies place oil reserve figures closer to 432 billion barrels.

Another factor is the production of oil from the Alberta Canada oil sand reserves.

Alberta's oil sands are a vast resource for Canada and North America, with an estimated 2.5 trillion barrels of bitumen in the ground, of which 315 billion barrels is recoverable with current technology and economic conditions.

One problem with the Albertan reserves is that their production cost is several times that of Saudi Arabia or Iraq. Iraq's oil is so accessible that it costs only about $1/barrel on average to drill whereas Saudi reserves cost about $2.50/barrel. But Alberta oil sands now cost $12 per barrel for mining, drilling, and processing costs to convert into a useful barrel of oil.

Undaunted, energy companies have ploughed billions of dollars into bringing down the cost of producing oil from tar sands. This has dropped from about $30 a barrel three decades ago to less than $12 a barrel at the latest facility, which was officially opened by Royal Dutch/Shell and its partners on June 19th, and joins plants run by Suncor and Syncrude, two Canadian firms whose businesses are built around the tar sands. An article in Oil & Gas Journal declared recently that some 180 billion barrels of oil trapped in those tar sands should now be considered economically viable, and so classified as “conventional” oil.

The problem is that the higher production cost for Alberta oil includes a large up-front capital investment cost. The risk that oil prices could plummet serves as a disincentive against making much larger capital investments to build up oil production of the Alberta oil sands. Therefore while Saudi Arabia currently makes 8 million barrels of oil per day only 200,000 barrels per day are made from the Alberta tar oil sands. While there are plans to double Alberta oil sands production it seems unlikely that Alberta production will rise to be as high as that in some of the Middle Eastern states. If efforts were made to produce a great deal of oil from oil sands the Saudis and other Middle Eastern producers might briefly boost production far enough to drive down world oil prices enough to scare off potential investors. While we can probably expect some increase in Alberta production unless production costs can be brought down much further it does not seem likely that oil sands will play a major role in cutting the amount of money flowing into hostile Muslim societies, feeding the spread of a dangerous religious belief system, and funding terrorism.

The long term trend in world oil consumption is upward (likely a one third increase in the rate of consumption in the next 20 years) while at the same time oil reserves are being depleted in many parts of the world. Therefore even greatly increased Iraqi oil production will not keep down oil prices indefinitely. We are still faced with the prospect that Saudi Arabia will continue to receive a great deal of money from oil sales and that a large portion of the Saudi population will continue to embrace a rather austere and intolerant version of an already generally problematic religion.

What we really need in the long term are technological advances that will enable new methods of generating energy that are lower in cost and capable of displacing fossil fuels as sources of energy.

Update: See my previous post Energy Policy, Islamic Terrorism, And Grand Strategy for more on the argument that energy policy is crucial in the longer term battle against the Islamists.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 June 27 09:50 PM  Politics Grand Strategy

Wehid Iqbal said at August 22, 2003 6:51 AM:

Do you perhaps think that if the American Government along with its New World Order Policy, stopped for a minute and considered the moral implications of its foreign polices we would perhaps not have the problem in Saudi Arabia or in Iraq for that matter with so called "terrorism". You come from a country which has little or no religious or moral backdrop more a "democracy" where people are given a choice and no distinction between what is right and what is considered wrong (e.g gay bishops -this is not wrong even though the bible says it is. It’s more a matter of choice god loves me anyway!!!!!!), this is a culture clash with the people and country who your are using for your own national interests OIL. This much is blatantly obvious from your report, what I don’t get is your inability to understand why not just Saudi people but Islam on the whole does not like you. They don’t like your way of life or the path you are trying to force them down!!! our ways of life are different from yours. I would suggest that you carry on with your Alberta Oil Sands project and get your immoral sin ridden hands out of Islamic countries. This will ensure mo more attacks on American interests and the so-called "terrorists" have nothing to be mad about – problem solved.

Kind Regards,

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