You can call it the carrot and stick policy; Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah recently unveiled a public benefits package worth $37bn, and his authorities arrested three bloggers apparently for a ‘minor’ issue this week.
On the eve of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on Monday 17th October 2011, Khaled al-Rasheed, Firas Bughnah and Hosam al-Deraiwish were detained on Sunday after they produced a YouTube video about poverty in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. The video was part of a series they did called ‘Mal3ob3lena’ which means ‘fooling us’.
The Saudi authorities have not issued any public statement regarding this incident, but the detainees families have been told the issue is ‘minor’ and they should be released soon, but they are still waiting until now…
Just little over two weeks ago, the Saudi authorities fired at protesters in Qatif area in the oil-rich eastern part of the country. The protesters were demanding the release of nine local prisoners who they say have been held without trial for more than 14 years. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia called the protests a ‘foreign plot’ and promised an ‘iron fist‘ response for any future protests (the usual official line in the Arab autocratic world).
Naively, I watched the whole video for instance, and I didn’t see any single foreign person in it. The residents, actors, and presenters are all Saudis, and speaking with a Saudi accent. Ignoring the fact that in the clip some men have numerous wives and 20 children (which isn’t necessarily a foreign culture), THERE IS clearly poverty in the KSA. I was shocked how one couple slept on a broken bed, while luxurious-5-stars is the attributed status to all Saudis when they go abroad.
The original YouTube video went viral recording almost 800,000 views in the past 9 days only; the below video is a copy with English subtitles.
To put this in perspective in a country holding 20% of the world oil reserves, and ranking 160th out of 167 countries on the democracy scale according to the Democracy Index for 2010 published by the Economist Intelligence Unit, note the below facts mentioned in the video:
- 22% of Saudis are considered poor (2009)
- 70% of Saudis don’t own their houses
- The man with 20 children earns $660/month
- Top 11 wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia possess more than $60bn
- The Zakat (religious Islamic tax for charitable purposes) for the 9 months in 2011 was more than $4bn. This money is for the poor, so where does it go?
- More than 89% of Saudis have debts
- KSA donated $75bn to poor countries between 1982 and 2009