Courtesy Reuters

The End of Arabian Isolation

TWO THOUSAND years ago, Arab control of the overland route for caravans up the Arabian peninsula, which linked India with the west, brought great wealth to south Arabia. But after the Romans learned of the sea route to India, the old caravan road came to be used only by pilgrims on their way to Mecca; and the slackening of the western demand for the goods in which Arabia had specialized, such as frankincense from the Hadhramaut, further impoverished the country. Arabia was to give to the world the prophet Mohammed, founder of the third great monotheistic religion, and to supply the troops for the conquests of the Islamic Empire; and she has always retained her unique significance as a sanctuary for the Moslems. But her long night of material decline had begun.

It now seems, dramatically and suddenly, about to end, and with the likelihood of improved economic conditions comes the threat of changes in a way of life that has been essentially the same since time immemorial. The foundation for economic betterment was laid by Ibn Saud, when in 1901 he recaptured the ancestral kingdom from which his father had been cast out, consolidated his position until his realm reached its present wide frontiers in 1934, and brought stability to the peninsula.

King Ibn Saud's only income in the early years was from the Zakat, or poll tax on increase of flocks, crops and so on, plus a modest subsidy from Great Britain during the 1914-18 war. In January 1926, however, he was proclaimed King of the Hejaz, which he captured from the Hashimite family (who had ruled it from the time of the prophet Mohammed), and thus obtained the profit accruing from the pilgrimage to Mecca. Statistics in Arabia are meager and often unreliable, and the close identification of the privy purse with the state's income does not add clarity to an understanding of economic affairs. Calculations are now made in the new Saudi riyal, a silver coin of 11.664 grams, 916.6 fine, equivalent

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