- The Media Line - https://themedialine.org -

Saudi Takes Lead On Drug Trafficking

Representatives from 26 countries gather in Saudi Arabia for pioneering anti-drug conference.

An international conference to combat drug trafficking began in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, a week after Riyadh announced one of its biggest drug busts in history.

Bringing together more than 480 experts from 26 countries, the conference is the first of its kind for Saudi Arabia and will focus on combating drug abuse through joint security training, prevention programs and information sharing.
Saudi officials say the drug trade is often linked with security problems and the government has become increasingly focused in its fight against drug trafficking, culminating in one of the kingdom’s largest ever drug busts announced by the Interior Ministry last week.

According to the United Nations Office On Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Saudi Arabia led the charts in seizures of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) in the years 1998-2007, accounting for 27% of all seizures.

“There is an increased realization both at the governmental and social level that drugs are becoming a serious issue for Saudi Arabia,” Gerd Nonneman, director of the Centre for Gulf Studies and a professor of Middle East politics at Exeter University, told The Media Line. “It’s one that needs to be dealt with from all angles: pre-emption and treatment as well as policing.”

Professor Nonneman said that Saudi Arabia’s porous borders with both Yemen and the United Arab Emirates have allowed for growing levels of domestic drug abuse with regional and international ramifications.

“It is not surprising that they are now getting their act together and drawing regional countries into it,” he said.

A spokesman for the Saudi Interior Minister Ahmad A-Salem told the London-based Al-Hayyat that the conference, sponsored by Saudi Prince Nayif Bin ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz, shows the kingdom is keen to tackle drug smuggling and eradicate drug use.
Drug trafficking is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, regardless of the quantity being trafficked. The knock-on effect is that if drug traffickers take the risk of doing business in the Saudi kingdom, to make it worthwhile they will usually traffic huge volumes of drugs with large profit margins.

Thomas Pietschmann, a research officer at the UNODC’s Research and Analysis section, said drug abuse is an emerging problem in Saudi Arabia and has become more severe over the last few years due to the kingdom’s growth in oil wealth and the vast connections the country has developed with other countries through its extensive foreign workforce.

“For many years, the impression was that the problem was being denied,” Pietschmann told The Media Line. “Acknowledging the problem is the first step to solving it. The next step forward is to be more transparent with information. It’s not just in Saudi Arabia but all the surrounding countries have the same problem.”

Annemarie Profanter, an Italian professor at the Free University of Bozen who has researched drug trafficking in the Gulf with a focus on Saudi Arabia, said drug use among Saudi youth is on the rise

“In my studies, I have shown that the Saudi youth makes increasing use of non-traditional, maladaptive tools for societal integration including misuse of mind or mood altering substance such as street drugs (cocaine, heroine, cannabis etc.), alcohol, and prescription drugs (ridlin, oxyconton, seconal, etc.), which are haram, or forbidden,” she told The Media Line. “The increasing rate of runaways, both men and women, who escape to other countries to avoid perceived repression and may or may not return, and of drug misuse, show that these maladaptive coping mechanisms and escape routes need to be tackled by the government.”

“The Security and Drug Control Department of the [Saudi] Ministry of Interior has put this item on the agenda because what was often denied or hidden is now surfacing at an alarming rate,” Prof. Profanter added.

Saudi officials note a clear link between drug trafficking in the Saudi kingdom and the security situation.

The Saudi Interior Ministry announced last week that drug enforcement officials had completed one of the largest drug busts in its history, arresting 195 individuals over four months on charges of drugs smuggling. Authorities also seized eight million tablets of the antidepressant Captagon, two tons of hashish, and more than 20 kilograms of pure heroin.

Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour A-Turki said it was likely there was a link between the drug smugglers and Al-Qa’ida, as the international terror organization uses drug trafficking to finance its operations.

The countries participating in the conference include Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, the UK, the U.S., Canada, Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Romania, Belgium, Australia, France, Qatar, Oman, the UAE, Germany, Austria, Russia and Iran.