Thursday, June 15, 2006

Shed no tears over Saudis' bonus

Saudi Arabia 2 - Tunisia 2

Both Arab, both oil producers, and both scoring late in the Cup's first score draw. So why is Tunisia flying high at 2nd in the whoshouldicheerfor.com supportability rankings, while Saudi are one place off dead last?

A cursory glance at the only Arab countries at the World Cup reveales that they are actually very different. Although the average Saudi is probably poorer than most Westerners might think, at £7,010 per year they still make nearly twice the average Tunisian wage.

The United Nations Development Programme doesn't hold data in income inequalities in Saudi, but it's no great secret that with a handful of petrocrats with their hands on the loot, most Saudis would be grateful for that 'average wage'. Workers in the country's oil fields can console themselves with the knowledge that the profits withheld from their pay packets are going to a worthy cause, though - more than one dollar in 12 produced by the whole Saudi economy ends up in the military - 8.7%. S.A. leaves its World Cup competitors for dead on this score - even just out of civil wars, Serbia and Montenegro and Angola only shell out 4.8% and 4.7% respectively on shells. Tunisia, by comparison, spends 1.6% of its economy on the military - less than the European average.

But the single thing that made Radhi Jaidi's injury-time equaliser so sweet for those of us picking sides on the relative objectionability of the nations concerned, was Saudi Arabia's human rights rapsheet, a record that makes any right-thinking person's blood boil. That this consummate state terrorist is our ally in the 'war on terror' just rubs salt in the lash wounds.

While the Saudi players were making their Germany '06 debut, their country's masters were breathing a sigh of ill-deserved relief as the House of Lords ruled four British men would not be allowed to sue the Kingdom or its officials in a British court, as the country and its agents enjoy state immunity from civil actions.

The four, Bill Sampson, Les Walker, Ron Jones and Scottish doctor Sandy Mitchell, were arrested on suspicion of planting bombs in an alcohol-supply turf war among ex-pats. Jones, himself a victim of one of the bombs, was tortured and held for over two months. The other three men spent two years in prison, during which time they made televised show-confessions, which they report were beaten out of them. In a decision that paints Saudi Arabia, possibly quite rightly, as a caricature of an evil empire, Sampson and Walker were sentenced to death by 'partial beheading and crucifixion'. The three were released to Britian without explanation in 2003.

The Saudi team are, of course, not to be blamed for their masters' actions. But it was hard to have sympathy with a team whose reported £86,000 per player bonus fund represents the conspicuous wealth derived from cruelty, exploitation and tyranny. The only drawback is that you can bet that the £14,000 each of the players lost out on in the 93rd minute last night isn't going to end up in hospitals or schools - it's more likely to find its way into the wallets of Western arms dealers.

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