Saudi Arabia – Oil Power in Crisis

Arte, 2017, 52 min

“Saudi Arabia has been dependent on oil for far too long. This has got to change, very soon!”– Ahmed El Ohal, chairman of the board of the petrochemical company SIPCHEM is very clear: “I consider the falling price of oil to be a warning shot for us.” – Particularly young people, who are much too pampered, need to understand that the golden age of the oil boom is over.

Many people in Saudi Arabia sense that something needs to change. For decades, the conservative monarchy on the Gulf of Persia has kept its people imprisoned in a golden cage, working together closely with the Wahhabi clerics who represent an extremely reactionary version of Islam. Islamic sharia law applies, which imposes draconian punishments for the slightest offenses.

Yet the country is undergoing change. Two thirds of its population are younger than thirty, and hundreds of thousands of young citizens have studied in the US or Europe and are no longer prepared to play by the rules laid down by the imams. Also, the price of oil is disintegrating and with it the guarantee of a carefree life which the Saudi government has hitherto been able to offer its citizens.

When it comes to foreign policy, the kingdom, in which the aged King Salman has now largely handed over government affairs to his son, Crown Prince Mohammed, has become entangled in a bloody and as yet unsuccessful war in Yemen. The country feels surrounded by its arch enemy Iran and its allies. So it was with a sense of relief that the Saudis welcomed Donald Trump’s election as President of the US, hoping that he would turn his back on the pro-Iranian policies of Barack Obama.

The West takes an ambivalent attitude to the kingdom: on the one hand, Saudi Arabia is one of the few remaining stable nations in the region, on the other hand massive human rights violations occur here every day. Women’s rights are trampled underfoot. And the links between Saudi citizens and terrorist organisations such as so-called Islamic State remain obscure.

After months of tough negotiations, an ARTE team headed by the filmmaker and screenwriter Michael Richter managed to travel around the kingdom. During their trip, the crew met veiled women ambitiously pursuing their own careers, rappers who are dreaming of the first official hip hop concert in their city, and business leaders who are calling for a radical restructuring of the Saudi economy. Saudi society is extremely dynamic and the royal family must find a way to not only pacify the clerics but also to offer a perspective to the reformers.

Screenwriter: Michael Richter
Content editor: Kathrin Bronnert
Producer: Nadja Frenz
Executive producer: Sandra Maischberger
Production company: Vincent TV