Wednesday, 22 August 2007
By Sabria S Jawhar
I had a frightening vision the other day.
About 1.5 million Indians, 85 percent of whom are blue-collar workers will be deported from Saudi Arabia in a reaction to the unexpected increase in rice prices in the Saudi market. "We received hundreds of thousands of deportation requests from Saudis who would like to get rid of their Indian domestic workers," an official at the passport office announced.
The same officials said that thousands of Saudi families have decided to replace their Indian help with Eastern European help, since every time they looked at their Indian workers, they couldn't help but be reminded of who was behind the rice price crisis.
In response, India has recalled its ambassador, suspending high-level Indian-Saudi meetings on energy-related issues. As a Muslim country and a close ally of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan declared that it would suspend negotiations with India and boycott its products. Inspectors expect the two countries to go as far as using nuclear weapons against each other if the UN does not intervene and find a quick solution to the rice crisis.
Al-Qaeda in Eastern Asia posted a letter on their website in which they declared Jihad (holy war) against India, accusing it of waging an anti-Islamic war by depriving the country of the Two Holy Mosques of rice.
The United States, as well as some other friendly European countries, expressed their concern about the deterioration in the relation between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, on one hand, and India, on the other. Meanwhile, the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told reporters that Israel would support India in whatever decision it takes against the two Muslim countries, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Minister of Commerce addressed the public via the government- owned TV channel, one asking Saudis to calm down as the crises has been brought before the Security Council in an attempt to find a quick resolution to the rice shortage in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the minister said we should look for alternatives.
This was the scenario that came to mind while I was watching the televised interview with the Minister of Commerce, Hashim Yamani. The interview was devoted to the unprecedented increase in prices, in particular, the price of rice. He attributed the rise in price to several factors, none of which has anything to do with the failure of his ministry to have any effect on it by carrying out studies and offering alternatives. For instance, he attributed the increase in rice prices to price rises in India, the Kingdom's main rice supplier.
The minister sounded deadly serious as he attempted to convince the audience with his point of view and to place the blame on international factors such as the Indian economy and oil prices. He used very strong and flashy economic terms, such as supply and demand, that made his answers sound very realistic.
However, he failed to offer even one practical solution to the present situation.
The minister raised the ire of his audience when he started defending his own ministry, adding that the price increase is out of the ministry's hands. He added salt to the audience's wounds when he said that there are 200 inspectors around the Kingdom whose responsibility it is to observe prices. To be honest, I was also among those who were disappointed with that number as it clearly seemed to be intended to justify the price hikes, especially at places that are off-the-beaten track. It also raises questions concerning the honesty of those inspectors and their ability to grasp the commercial boom that the country is experiencing. After all, new shopping centers or mega malls are popping up on every corner of the Kingdom's big cities. In Jeddah, the shopping havens grow faster than the speed that the ministry takes to process one single paper.
Following the interview, though, I felt very sad for Saudi society. It has not completely recovered from the shock of the stock market crash that has left more than three million Saudis, mainly from the middle class, in debt and in a deep state of depression.
But, you know, as Saudis, lets look at the bright side. At least, our Minister of Commerce did not suggest us barley as an alternative. According to cattle dealers, it has also increased by 50 percent.