The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Something to cheer you all up.... 

Thanks to several correspondents who have written to me about this. I know that a lot of you in the States and the West are getting very concerned about gas prices rocketing up. Whereas in Saudi Arabia, we have the cheapest gas on the planet. 90 halalas per liter. That's about 87 US cents a gallon. So while you in the States are paying $3 a gallon or more, and in the UK are now paying up to 1 Pound Sterling for just a liter, we've been syphoning the stuff at source at a price that hardly makes it worth the cost of selling it. Why not just drive up to a pump and help ourselves? Except that pumping gas does provide subsistence employment for Indians, who are always remarkably cheerful in spite of their lowly status. I always tip them quite generously - some of my fellow-countrymen say that "You shouldn't spoil them!" - but it's an inexpensive way of making someone's day and whenever I drive onto my regular forecourt there's a swarm of guys who make a beeline for me. First there pumps the gas, one or two others give the car a quick wash, they all get tipped, my feelings of guilt disappear for a few hours.

Anyway, I've got some news to cheer you all up, because you'll be pleased to hear that gas prices are also on the move in Saudi Arabia. There's the guy, changing the dials.

Oh, did I mention that they are on the move, downwards?

Drivers Across The Country Rejoice As Fuel Prices Are Slashed By A Third

IT’S fuel-ling up time across the nation as King Abdullah decided to slash petrol prices by almost a third from around 90 halalas per liter down to 60....
“This is fantastic, already oil is so much cheaper here than my own country and now it’s even cheaper, I don’t even have to think about the cost of filling up anymore,” said British expatriate Rashid Hussain, who would be paying nearly SR7 (90 - 98pence) per liter in his native England - nearly 11 times the new prices announced for Saudi Arabia.
“I have a big car and sometimes it can cost quite a few riyals to fill it up, but now with a third off, I don’t have to worry about that,” said Michael Ilyani, from the USA, who drives a Chevrolet GMC.

There, I knew the rest of you would be pleased to hear about that! I can see you all smiling! It's always nice to share in other peoples' good fortune, isn't it? Because, share in it, you did. If it weren't for the extra money that you good people are all paying for your gas, King Abdullah wouldn't be able to give it away!

Meanwhile, he's giving our economists a bit of a headache, trying to explain the decision. A King can never be wrong, of course, but sometimes it's hard to figure out exactly why he is right. Because a sensible government might use a windfall in oil revenues to renew its infrastructure, or invest in new industry for the time when the oil runs out. In contrast our King is looking a bit like that shallow and vacuous Prince in "Syriana". So come on, economists, save his reputation.

“This decision will see a huge jump in the transportation and agriculture sectors,” Said Dr. Essam Habis, an economist from King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah.

Duh! No it won't. For a start, transportation uses trucks and trucks use diesel, not gas. Now diesel will also come down, but the cost of diesel is not holding any part of the economy back, because most of our economy is transported thru big pipes onto tankers. We're not shunting raw materials and finished goods around the country. Most of the lorries we see are heading for Ikea or the car showrooms with imported goods, which doesn't do anything for our economy. Meanwhile, making gas cheaper won't do anything for the economy either, it'll just make regular driving cheaper. (And encourage carbon emissions, but we're all in favor of those. For us, Global Warming is Cool).

So it'll be cheaper to drive around aimlessly. Which is precisely what a lot of Saudi men do in the evening. Starved of regular entertainment, and perhaps to escape a (or even several!) loveless marriages, they go out in their gas-guzzling leviathans and drive around for an hour or two. It is, for example, possible to circumnavigate Riyadh, on its Ring Road, without hitting a traffic light. Then, for a bit of variety, you can traverse the city center, north-south then east-west, using the two freeways that cut across like diameters. Then a combination, like a figure-of-eight. I tell you, we know how to live life in the fast lane!

However, let's wheel in another economist, who perhaps has a better idea....

Dr. Ali Al Tawati, another economist at the KAAU, claimed the government was simply pre-empting a move away from the current environmentally unfriendly strand of petrol to a new cleaner version and that the move would soon become irrelevant.
“I think that reducing the gas prices is only a temporary thing in a transitional period before the 95 nicotine free gas enters the market,” he told Saudi Gazette. Tawati also said he believed this had nothing to do with entry into the World Trade Organization, as some had begun to claim.

What is this guy on? OK, the translator had a bit of fun with his "nicotine", but he's still talking complete gibberish, I can't make sense of it. And of course it's nothing to do with the WTO. Or the International Guild of Toastmasters. Or the Girl Guides.

I think it's quite simple. As any medieval King knew:

Expensive bread = Unhappy peasants

Cheap bread = Happy peasants

Because it's as simple as that. First King Abdullah gave all government employees a 15% pay rise. Now he's dropped the price of gas. The peasants are happier, for the moment, and you lot paid for it. And that's about the extent of what he's achieved since he came to power. He's a nice enough guy considering his family, but let's face it, you don't get to be King thru passing an IQ test and intensive recruitment interviews. And he just doesn't have what it takes to steer a resource-rich but expertise-poor country into the twenty-first century. Added to that is his age. I'm not ageist, but I'd like to think that if, God willing, I reach my eighties, I'll be surrounded by dutiful children and their adoring spouses and hordes of affectionate and extremely well-behaved grand- and great-grand-children. Bugger working for a living, let the youngsters do that. Whereas if you're in our royal family, and succession passes sideways rather than downwards, by the time it's your turn, it's way past your bed-time, you just want a quiet life and happy peasants.

Anyway, (Thanks, "xtmprszntwlfd", but for Heaven's sake please change your name!), talking about aimless driving....

Four Wounded as Car Crashes Into Grand Mosque Yard

A drunken driver crashed through a traffic-control barricade and entered the courtyard of the Grand Mosque on Sunday, injuring four worshippers.
The four victims, who suffered injuries and fractures, were rushed to hospital.
Security forces immediately surrounded the car following the accident and arrested its driver who had tried to flee.
Test results conducted on the driver revealed that he was driving under the influence of alcohol.

Now al_jack, who frequents our Comments section, has a favorite phrase "All in this story is not as it seems". On this occasion, that may well be true. Because I don't care how drunk you are, you are not going to crash by mistake thru into the inside of the most important and iconic building in the Muslim world. Even the guy in the remotest sandy corner of Mauritania knows exactly what the Grand Mosque at Makkah looks like. So it's very unlikely this happened by accident, and it's possible that the drunkenness story is just a blind. The account going round, related to me by a couple of relatives back home, but obviously a long way removed from first-hand, is that it was in fact some sort of juvenile stunt. The Ultimate Rush, like a hi-speed Hajj. Choose a quiet time, seven times round the Kaaba, counter-clockwise, handbrake turns on the lovely smooth marble surface, dodge any worshippers, then out before the cops get you. Except in this case, they did get them. As I say, I cannot vouch for it being true, but I can see all sorts of reason why that story would get suppressed. After all, if our King, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, can't even stop joyriders getting near the big black rock, what use is he? Not that we worship big black rocks, of course.

But I may have spotted the Next Big Thing in computer games.

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