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A Saudi Gas Guzzler?

Al Qaeda threatens princes and Christians. An oil honcho warns Saudis to reduce energy use. Halliburton makes a former Saudi oil exec a director. And scientists map camel genes.

Top news: The Yemen-based Al Qaeda franchise appealed to followers in Saudi Arabia to kidnap Saudi princes and Christian residents of the kingdom in retaliation for the arrest of a top female Al Qaeda militant. The leader of the group, Saudi-born Sa’id Al Shihri, issued the appeal  in an audiotape aired June 3 by the Saudi-owned television channel Al Arabiya. With thousands of Saudi princes and 50,000 Americans and 30,000 Brits living in the kingdom, the terrorist group has plenty of potential targets.

But all signs point to a very weakened Al Qaeda presence in the kingdom these days, though remnants remain active. For example, before her arrest in March, Haylah Al Qusayir allegedly sent around $293,000 to Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen and elsewhere. Saudis have been fascinated by the discovery that Al Qaeda’s top ranks have included women. Security officials say extremism is not a widespread problem among Saudi women but they nevertheless, have ordered up some studies of the phenomenon. 

Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, meanwhile announced that since 2003, his security forces have foiled 220 plots by extremists.  

The US State Department’s annual report on global human trafficking, aka slavery, named Saudi Arabia as one of the 13 worst offenders mainly because of its out-date sponsorship system for foreign workers. Under this so-called kafala system, migrant laborers are widely exploited by employers who often do not pay them, or give them decent living conditions. For the most part, the Saudi government turns a blind eye to these violations.

King Abdulllah bin Abdul Aziz went to Canada, where he attended the G20 gathering of major economic players. His next scheduled stop was Washington, where his talks with President Obama  are expected to focus on Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The king is also expected to visit France, where he will be guest of honor at the July 14 Bastille Day celebrations.

As a desert kingdom, Saudi Arabia is used to heat. But June saw an extraordinary heat wave, with record high temperatures, sometimes reaching 125 degrees Fahrenheit. But foreign laborers didn’t get a break from outside work under the scorching sun. The Ministry of Labor gave firms a whole year to implement new rules regulating work in the sun.

Money: The head of Saudi Aramco addressed one of the biggest economic challenges facing the world’s largest oil producer in a recent speech that, belatedly, is creating a buzz. Speaking to MIT alumni in Riyadh last April, the oil giant’s CEO Khalid A. Al Falih warned that rising domestic energy consumption will force drastic cuts in oil exports (and thus, crucial revenue) unless the country increases efficiency and finds alternative energy sources.Without such measures, “the total domestic energy demand is expected to rise from about 3.4 million barrels per day…to approximately 8.3 million ….a growth of almost 250 percent,” Al Falih said. That would mean, he added, that the amount of oil available for export “is likely to decline to less than 7 million barrels per day by 2028, a fall of 3 million barrels per day.”

In other Aramco-related news, Al Falih’s predecessosr, Abdallah S. Jum’ah, was  named to the board of directors of the oil services company Halliburton, effective July 14th.

Saudi Arabia’s nervousness about efforts to stem climate warming — which fossil fuels like oil are contributing to — have made it bullish in recent global gatherings on the subject. Its actions are not winning it friends. For example, it effectively blocked a call by vulnerable island states at a recent meeting in Bonn of the 194-nation UN Framework Convention on Climate Change for a study on the consequences of going beyond a 1.5 degree (Fahrenheit) rise in global warming. The incident is a harbinger of what’s likely to be a continued tough Saudi stand against steps that might reduce oil consumption. It produced a childish backlash in form of someone putting the Saudi delegate’s nameplate in a toilet.

Elsewhere: King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz presided at the debut presentation in the kingdom of the first Saudi-designed automobile, named Ghazal 1, after a desert deer known for its speed. The model was produced by students at King Saud University's industrial engineering department. It was first unveiled in March at the 80th Geneva International Motor Show. Officials said they are seeking investors to start up what would be the first car assembly line in Saudi Arabia. The Ghazal 1 was described as a Mercedes-Benz G class-based SUV, and was developed with the help of two Italian automotive firms. No word about how many kilometers it gets to the litre.

Saudi and Chinese scientists announced at a joint press conference in Riyadh that they have successfully mapped the genome of the Arabian camel, an event that could lead to greater understanding of the kingdom’s much-beloved animal is able to go so long without water. “The Arabian camel today enters a highly exclusive club of selected few mammals which have had their full genome sequenced and analyzed,” the scientists said. Camels are one of Saudi Arabia’s most prized assets. A court recently ordered Saudi Aramco to pay a man $266,000 in compensation after his prized camel fell into a hole dug by the oil company. Aramco said it would appeal the verdict.