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Saudi Arabia: crying out for reform


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A look at Saudi Arabia\'s current political and economic situation and its propensity for revolution. …

A look at Saudi Arabia\'s current political and economic situation and its propensity for revolution.

(Presented on 3/8/2011 at Fuh Hwa Security Investment Trust, Taipei, Taiwan)

Published in: Travel, Business

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  • In this report, I speculate whether the Middle East revolts will spread to Saudi Arabia. I do this by examining the culture, government, and economy of the nation and then using these factors to try to gauge the overall sentiment in that region. Photos highlight the economic disparities btwn ruling class (royal family) and citizens living under the poverty line. People have been speculating for decades as to how royal family allocates their wealth; but I think it is pretty apparent that they keep a good chunk of it for themselves. For example… Photo 1: Saudi prince’s palace (in Morocco) Photo 2: Saudi prince’s vehicle Photo 3: Girls’ school in Riyadh Photo 4: Saudi child This is one of the reasons why some people argue that corruption exists within Saudi’s ruling family (speculated to be about 5,000-7,000 members).
  • 2005- at 87 years of age, Abdullah still reigns today He was away from the country for several months (NYC getting surgery, Morocco to recover) but returned to Saudi Arabia a few weeks ago, not long after the protests spread to neighboring country Bahrain, to announce $36 bil. in new funding for social, unemployment and housing benefits
  • It is important to note that the issue of unemployment in Saudi Arabia is not merely an economic one; it is too simple to assume that the $36b Abdullah handed out in part to bolster employment opportunities for Saudi citizens is sufficient to solve the unemployment problem Rather, the issue of unemployment is one of social and cultural tradition and educational policy
  • Citizens vs. Royals: In 2008, the minister of Social Affairs released a statement that 1.5 million Saudis live under the poverty line. Meanwhile, it is estimated that the royal family allocates up to $10 billion/yr to personal expenses. Story from Dec. 2010 stating that Wikileaks cables from Nov. 1996 by Jeddah officials detailing extravagant parties thrown by royal family members involving liquor and prostitution. Important to note that drinking in public is prohibited by Sharia. Nationals vs. Non-Nationals: Harder to fire Saudi nationals bc of certain rights they are entitled to, also Saudis demand higher wages to support their families, whereas nationals will live in small rooms near the company provided by the owner Recently, royal family proposed a plan that will limit private sector companies in their hiring of foreign workers, but will take at least 3 years for the plan to fully go into effect. Men vs. Women: 55% of college grads are women, but only 5% of these are in the workforce -Possibly because many women cannot afford to hire a driver to take her to work everyday. -Also, private sector companies more inclined to not hire women because segregation laws would require them to build two offices: one for men, and another for women. -Hospital and other jobs that involve working in mixed gender environments get in the way of a woman’s marriage prospects; forbidden by many families. -Important to also note that there are more women than men graduating from universities in Saudi Arabia and the nation is ranked 25 in the world for female participation in education system.
  • Something to ponder: Divorce legalized and very easy for a man to get a divorce (once he decides to do it, he can go to the court, obtain a document stating his decision and give a copy to his ex-wife) When wife wants divorce, it’s called khula (taking off clothes/jewelry). Women must prove her husband harmed her in some way, but even sometimes, with medical documents, the judges will not grant her request for divorce. The best arguments are to prove that husband has AIDS or is a drug addict. News article from 2007 in Jeddeh- Divorce rate soared to 60% in the western region. Also, genders are not allowed to mix in public – segregation highly enforced (i.e. nightclubs and bars prohibited, though there are reports of underground clubs; only one shopping mall in the city’s capital that allows single male and females to enter together), not uncommon for parents to arrange marriages
  • Group now at 9,170 (as of 3/7/11). Issues with the group: organizer is anonymous, demands are too vague/open-ended, the name “day of rage” connotes extreme anger (which many Saudis don’t seem to feel), uncertainty about whether this is a good representation of the Saudi population or just a small minority Reasons for concern: rapidly growing membership (only Saudis can join, and must be pre-approved), may be privately organizing gatherings Main theme: “Man cannot live by bread alone”
  • Petitions are a legal way to express discontent – they’ve become a tradition. However, today the Internet has enabled citizens to connect with others who also share in their views and bridged the gap among liberals, conservatives, Islamists, Sunnis and Shiites. This is a big deal in Saudi Arabia, where open proclamations of discontent w/ governmental authority are often looked down upon and even borderline unlawful. -Website is entirely in Arabic. On its second day, it received over 1,000 visitors and about 180 complaints. The site’s hope is to cooperate with officials to develop the Kingdom. Some complaints included those against the Ministry of Law relating to low salaries, unemployment and discrimination btwn private and public sectors. Sign that citizens are seeking to be heard by government.
  • Unrest index: scale of 0-100, 100 = most unstable Corruption (government): out of 178, 178 = most corrupt Age = median (average) age of citizens, 50.8% under age 25 Literacy in SA = 71-78% females, 85% males
  • Source: 19th richest man in the world acc. to Forbes, "Arabian Warren Buffett" by Time
  • Saudi Woman: Eman Al Nafjan, mother of 3, graduate student at a university in Riyadh -Thinks revolution is on the brink -People are unhappy Saudi officials sent 10,000 troops to the northeastern region of Qatar, where many Shias reside. Government seems to be more set on asserting its authority than hearing out their citizens’ concerns, On Saturday, March 5, Saudi interior ministry banned protests, calling them a violation of the Islamic law.
  • If you examine the history of revolutions, important to note that people don’t revolt simply bc they can’t find jobs; they do so because they feel powerless and voiceless and want recognition. Important to note that the issue of power transfer (i.e. who the next monarch is) is crucial and a look at Saudi’s growing youth population is noteworthy as well. Main points to consider: Who is in power? What is the overall sentiment in the nation, particularly among youth and women? However, the chances of the opposition actually overturning the regime seems hard to measure; dependent on the # of people that revolt and their determination. -the Saudi gov. spends 10% of its GDP on military, which is over twice what the U.S. spends -they control the Saudi Arabian National Guard, which has about 125,000 soldiers Some people say Saudis won’t revolt bc they are ultra-conservative, religious and prefer constructive talk over protest. However, at the same time, I don’t think anyone really expected the revolution in Egypt to garner so much support and for the regime to actually be overthrown.,0
  • To view direct sources for this report, visit: (for Saudi Arabia information), and (for Middle East information)
  • To view direct sources for this report, visit: (for Saudi Arabia information), and (for Middle East information)
  • Sources pertaining to education/unemployment in Saudi Arabia: 1. 2. 3. To view direct sources for this report, visit: (for Saudi Arabia information), and (for Middle East information)
  • Source: To view direct sources for this report, visit: (for Saudi Arabia information), and (for Middle East information)
  • To view direct sources for this report, visit: (for Saudi Arabia information), and (for Middle East information)
  • To view direct sources for this report, visit: (for Saudi Arabia information), and (for Middle East information)
  • To view direct sources for this report, visit: (for Saudi Arabia information), and (for Middle East information)
  • To view direct sources for this report, visit: (for Saudi Arabia information), and (for Middle East information)
  • To view direct sources for this report, visit: (for Saudi Arabia information), and (for Middle East information)
  • Transcript

    • 1. Emma 日期: 2011/03/08 Crying out for reform Saudi Arabia
    • 2. Abdul-Aziz bin Saud founded Saudi Arabia, leaving subsequent heirs in charge Historical Overview Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz crowned king
    • 3. Abdullah is aging; his successors seem less-than-promising Royal Family People kind of like me! But I’m slow to carry out reform and cancer-ridden… who’s next in line to rule the nation? I’ll do it, half-brother! But I think I might have dementia… I’m also greedy. Oh, and I can’t remember my own age. Well, I guess I’m next. But don’t expect to see much reform while I’m in power. I hate change. King Abdullah, “king of the people” (age 87) Crown Prince Sultan, defense minister (age 83-86) Prince Navef, Minister of Interior (age 77)
    • 4. In contrast to the aging regime, a growing number of the Saudi population are young, educated, globally aware… and unemployed Demographics Total Saudi Arabian population: 27.1 million 70% of which are under age 30 Unemployment Rate: 10.8% (almost 3 million people) … for women ages 25-29: 45.5% Governmental funds for education in 2011 : SR150 billion (US$40 billion) 26% of the country’s budget
    • 5. Demographics Great divide exists among demographic groups in terms of employment opportunities and wages Average monthly salary of Saudi youth: 3,000 riyals (US $830 , NT $24,348 ) … meanwhile, princes’ salaries are in the hundreds of thousands. Citizens vs. Royal Family Men vs. Women Nationals vs. Non-Nationals
    • 6. Highly religious, traditional Saudi regime’s policies leave very little room for self-expression Policies According to the Shari’a…
    • 7. Disenchanted Saudis use Facebook as a vehicle to gather like-minded citizens, publicize their demands, and push for change Social Media If the government fails to respond to and address these demands, the people will revolt on March 11 at Riyadh on Olaya St. As of 3/4/11. Two days prior, membership was at 8,528.
    • 8. Three petitions directed at the Saudi regime and detailing reform demands have circulated over the Internet Petitions Toward the State of Rights and Institution Signed by 1,554 people. Blocked in Saudi Arabia by the government a few days after its launch. So, what do they want? Constitutional monarchy, a government for the people, equal treatment, employment, better job prospects Feb. 23 Youth Mainly signed by journalists and cyber activists. Led by Mahmoud Sabbagh. A Declaration of National Reform Most detailed statement thus far, mostly signed by known “liberals” in Saudi society. Blocked in Saudi Arabia as of 2/28/11.
    • 9. Uprisings are spreading rapidly on all borders and have already spanned 14 nations across Northern Africa and the Middle East Regional Unrest
    • 10. Neighboring nations Oman and Bahrain, which recently saw its first series of protests, share several similar attributes with Saudi Arabia Protesting neighbors Saudi Arabia Bahrain Oman GDP per person 22.9 24 23.3 Total population 26.2 million 807 thousand 2.9 million Population under age 25 50.8% 43.9% 51.5% Government Absolute Monarchy Constitutional Monarchy Absolute Monarchy Monarch’s reign King Abdullah, since 2005 King Hamad, since 1999 Sultan Qaboos, since 1970 Monarch’s overall image Honest, uncorrupt Reformative Main Religion Islam Islam Islam Shi’ite population 10-15% 60-70% 15% Unemployment Rate 10.8% (as of 2010) 15% (as of 2005) 15% (as of 2004) Main Export Oil, gas Oil Signs of discontent Slow governmental reform, unemployment, some corruption Heavy governmental discrimination against Shia majority, slow reform, mistrust Unemployment, uncertainty about monarch’s succession
    • 11.
      • The lesson to be learned from the Tunisian, Egyptian and other upheavals — which, it is important to note, were not animated by anti-American fervor or by extremist Islamic zeal — is that Arab governments can no longer afford to take their populations for granted, or to assume that they will remain static and subdued . Nor can the soothing instruments of yesteryear, which were meant to appease, serve any longer as substitutes for meaningful reform. The winds of change are blowing across our region with force, and it would be folly to suppose that they will soon dissipate.
      Desire for change Sweeping reform in Saudi Arabia is desired by both “the people” and royal family members alike “ ” Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud , Saudi Arabia's founding king's grandson
    • 12. Growing protests The latest updates in Saudi Arabia foretell mounting unrest, discontent with the government and a desire for more equality, as well as a very tense monarchy that is ready to retaliate February 28, 2011 (Source:
    • 13.
      • It appears inevitable that the Saudis will revolt sooner than later. Why?
      • Signs of discontent regarding waning employment opportunities, a lack of accountability among the ruling family, and unequal rights for certain population groups have already started surfacing in the form of online petitions, Facebook groups, and rallies.
      • The moment is opportune and the “domino effect” seems to be taking its course in the Middle East.
      • Uncertainty looms heavily over whether the aging royal family can effectively and efficiently address the strong demands of their majority youth population , many of whom are well-educated and globally connected via the Internet and firsthand educational experiences abroad.
      Conclusion Greater, faster reform is imperative if the royal family hopes to maintain stability and remain in power for a long time coming; otherwise, future protests appear inevitable
    • 14.
        • Basic Law (est. 1992)
          • Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by male heirs of Abdul-Aziz bin Saud
          • Nation governed by Islamic law, or Shari’a. It’s also governed by a very strict form of Islam called wahabism.
        • Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Muhammad the prophet, founder of Islam
        • It’s also home to two holy cities, Mecca and Medina
      Appendix History: Basic Law, Muhammad, Islam
    • 15.
      • In 2006, the Allegiance Council was established
        • Consists of male heirs of King Abdulaziz
        • States that all future Saudi kings must be elected by a secret vote within the council
      • According to the WikiLeaks cables, Abdullah has placed restrictions on royal family spending, but Crown Prince Sultan opposes them
        • Sultan is said to make money on every defense contract ever executed by Saudi Arabia
        • Like Abdullah, Sultan went to NYC to receive medical treatment
      • Prince Nayef is said to be one of the most conservative forces in the ruling family
        • Shortly before his promotion last year, Nayef stated that he saw no need for female lawmakers or elections
        • Released statement on Saturday promising to “take all measures necessary to prevent protests”
      Appendix Royal Family: Elections, King Abdullah, Crown Prince Sultan, Prince Nayef
    • 16.
      • Saudi Arabia’s educational system emphasizes religion
        • It is difficult to reform because the clerics are involved in policy decisions; attempts to change the system would involve a power struggle between reformists and religious clergy
        • Less emphasis on science, engineering, and other technical fields
      • Schools are gender-segregated, for the most part
        • Curriculum in girls’ schools focuses on how to be good housewives and mothers
        • Government recently opened two new colleges for girls offering majors such as information systems, interior design, and special education, but women first need guardian’s permission before declaring majors and may have trouble finding work in their area of expertise after graduation
      • King Abdullah Scholarship Fund
        • Allows students to study abroad in the U.S., Europe, and other Middle East nations
        • Over 100,000 scholarship recipients already
      Appendix Education & Unemployment: Religion, Gender-segregation, Education Abroad
    • 17. Appendix Education & Unemployment: Charts
    • 18.
      • Citizens vs. Royals
        • In 2008, the Minister of Social Affairs released a statement that 1.5 million Saudis live under the poverty line
        • Meanwhile, it is estimated that the royal family allocates up to $10 billion/year to personal expenses
        • WikiLeaks cables from Nov. 1996 by Jeddah officials detail extravagant parties thrown by royal family members involving liquor and prostitution
        • Drinking in public prohibited by Islamic law
      • Nationals vs. Non-Nationals
        • Currently, 8.7 million non-nationals work in Saudi Arabia
        • It is harder for private sector companies to fire Saudi nationals because they are entitled to certain rights; Saudis also typically demand higher wages, whereas non-nationals are willing to work longer hours for lower wages and live in small rooms that company provides
        • Recently, royal family proposed a plan that will limit private sector companies in their hiring of foreign workers, but will take years for the plan to fully go into effect
      Appendix Demographics: Citizens vs. Royals, Nationals vs. Non-Nationals
    • 19.
      • Men vs. Women
        • 55% of college graduates are women, but only 5% are in the workforce
        • Private sector companies are less-inclined to hire women, most likely due to gender-segregation laws
        • Women prohibited from becoming judges and rarely ever hold high-level positions
        • Hospital jobs and other positions requiring them to be in gender-mixed positions may be discouraged or forbidden by many families and ruin marriage prospects
        • More women than men are graduating from Saudi universities
        • Saudi Arabia ranked 25 in the world for female participation in education
      Appendix Demographics: Men vs. Women
    • 20.
      • Sentiment towards monarch
        • Abdullah thought of as “king of the people,” one who fights corruption
        • Sultan Qaboos of Oman thought of as a reformative leader who brought the nation out of poverty
      • Main religion
        • Important because all nations use Islamic principles to form their federal law systems, although Bahrain’s and Oman’s are less extreme than Saudi Arabia’s (they use a combination of secular and religious principles for policy-making)
      • Shi’ite population
        • Different in Oman because their majority (75%) are Ibadi, which is the earliest Muslim sect; a majority of their political system are Ibadi
        • In Bahrain, protests erupted from the Shi’ite minority, who wanted more recognition from the Sunni government, who has ruled for 200 years; this may not be the case for Oman and Saudi Arabia, however
      Appendix Bahrain & Oman: Sentiment Towards Monarch, Religion, Shi’ite Population
    • 21.
      • Unemployment rate
        • Saudi Arabia’s unemployment number only accounts for men
        • 60% of Oman’s workforce are non-nationals
      • Other points for consideration
        • None of these nations have a history of violence
        • Like King Abdullah, King Hamad of Bahrain offered $2,650 to each Bahraini family to try to appease Shi’ite public and Sultan Qaboos offered 50,000 new jobs, a $390 monthly stipend to people out of work, and increased the minimum wage from $364 to $520. Citizens still revolted—demanded change in governmental structure.
        • Like Saudi Arabia, Omani citizens are devoted to their king. Some slogans from their recent protests include, “We don’t want to be like Tunisia, where I hear a lot of things were destroyed,” “We will sacrifice our blood, our soul, for you, your majesty!”, “I hope His Majesty can transform this country from its present status quo to a democratic country. He has taken great steps, but his steps could have been faster.”
      Appendix Bahrain & Oman: Unemployment Rate, Other Significant Points
    • 22.
      • March 7, 2011- Saudi officials released a Shia cleric who was arrested last month for calling for a constitutional monarchy in the kingdom after Shias protested in Qatif (eastern city)
      • March 8, 2011- The U.S. supports Saudis’ right to protest peacefully
      Appendix Latest Updates in Saudi Arabia (as of 3/9/11)