Friday 23 April 2004

Sabahism, not Wahabbism (UPI)

M.D. Nalapat

MANIPAL, India, April 23 (UPI) -- Kuwait is a tiny sliver of land sandwiched between the three regional giants of Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Unlike the three, the country is free from extremism and is showcasing economic rather than religious or ethnic issues to underline its identity. Local women go about the shopping malls in denims, although the emir of Kuwait has not been able to persuade Parliament to give voting rights to this better half of the Kuwaiti population.  But it is to be hoped that the next elections will witness both women candidates as well as voters.

The ruling family in Kuwait, the Al-Sabah, are close friends of their Saudi cousins, the Al-Saud. However, the two dynasties have followed entirely different paths in managing their respective countries. For one, the Al-Sauds have been much more proliferant, now numbering an estimated 27,000 -- not counting more distant relatives. They have also taken seriously the message implicit in the very naming of their country after themselves, helping themselves to 36 percent of the total wealth of the kingdom, leaving the rest mostly to the families close to the court.
Many Saudi citizens -- especially in the Shiite east -- enjoy neither running water nor electricity. In contrast, Prince Abdel Aziz Al-Saud, the favorite son of King Fahd, has just done his bit for reducing unemployment in the kingdom by building a new palace in Riyadh at a reported cost of $670 million. No 30-year-old can be content with just a single home, so the austere Saudi royal is building another palace in Jeddah, although this will cost a mere $540 million.
The skies over Europe are filled with private aircraft ferrying the Al-Sauds from one hotspot to the other, and the boutique stores in Paris and London would close down but for free-spending Saudi princes and princesses. Sadly for the Saudi people, such largesse does not extend to home.