Why Saudis are not revolting

January 16, 2018
Why Saudis are not revolting

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

Many foreign observers are wondering: If economic difficulties are fueling public outrage in our volatile region, why should Saudi Arabia be immune? From Tunisia to Iran, people are protesting hikes in food and fuel prices, unemployment and worsening living conditions. If that is what it takes to bring them out in protest, why aren’t Saudis following the trend? After the new Value Added Tax (VAT), reduced subsidies for fuel and food, double-digit unemployment rates, shouldn’t Saudis go out in protest? Why not?

I tell them that living standards in Saudi Arabia and Arabian Gulf states for citizens are much better than in oil-and-natural-gas-rich Iran. This is because while Iran is overspending on Arab militants, over-reaching to foreign followers, at the expense of its own people, Arab Gulf governments are making maximum efforts to spare their citizens economic pains. Every law they make, every decision they take is explicitly protective of their nationals at home and abroad.

Take the latest Royal decrees in Saudi Arabia, for example. To compensate citizens for higher prices of energy products, the government extended direct monetary aid to over 10 million of the nation’s less privileged citizens - that’s more than half its 21 million nationals.

To protect them from higher prices, King Salman gave further monetary subsides to all government employees and retirees for a year. Banks and large companies followed suit. Students receiving monthly salaries here and abroad were given 10 percent compensation for inflation. VAT will be removed from private schools and hospitals, as well as for the purchase of a first home, for citizens. Not to mention that public education up to college and comprehensive medical services are free for all.

A SR 5,000 bonus is given to soldiers defending the Saudi borders with Yemen. In addition, all annual salary raises that were suspended a year ago are back, starting from Jan. 1. All new work regulations are about providing jobs for the unemployed. Until they find a job, they can receive temporary salaries, free education, training and social services.

The average salary of a Saudi teacher is about SR 7,500, not including all past and recent handouts. He is entitled to a subsided mortgage to buy a house. If, Allah forbid, his home is flooded and his car is ruined, the government will give him temporary housing and cash to repair his home and buy a new car.

The costly war in Yemen, Saudis understand, is not a war of choice, but of necessity. Their soldiers are defending the homeland from an Iranian militia with an announced goal—controlling Makkah and Madinah. This is a clear and present existential threat to security, land, religion and identity that no true Arab would accept no matter at what cost.

Iran, on the other hand, is cutting back even hunger aid for 30 million of its own people, while generously supporting Arab, African and Asian agents and militias to spread its sectarian view of the world, extend political influence and destabilize governments deemed “uncooperative” or not sufficiently Islamic (read Jaffari Shiite). Those include Sunni-Turkey, Shiite-Azerbaijan and most Arab neighbors—and as far West, as Nigeria, and as far East, as Malaysia.

An Iranian teacher, who receives a monthly salary of $300 and lives with his wife, parents and five children in a shantytown, two-room home, must feel cheated when he finds that an Afghani or Pakistani refugee is recruited to fight in Syria for up to $1,500 in salary, plus free meals, accommodation and transportation. The same teacher who is told that there are no funds for school improvement is can see on TV how his money is proudly spent serving Lebanese, Iraqi and Yemeni followers of Ayatollah Khamenei. And as winter freezes and fuel is scarce and expensive, billions are spent on fireworks of ballistic missiles that only bring global enmity and isolation. Instead of lessening his pain, food prices are higher, his deposits and investments in state banks are wiped out, and the justice agencies he turns to for help are corrupt. If an earthquake strikes his area, the Iranian teacher must pray to Allah or Imam Hussain, because the government is too busy with foreign conspiracies and wars to lend him a hand or even an ear.

What faith the teacher in Iran has left in the system and religious institutions is shaken when they unanimously accuse him of being an agent of America, Saudi Arabia and Israel, and cooperating with CIA, Mossad and Daesh — the perfect example of adding insult to injury!

To compare the conditions of a Saudi vs. an Iranian teacher is like comparing the lifestyle of an American vs. a Soviet citizen in the 1990s. True, both demand more, but one is content with what he has got and the other has nothing to lose.

— Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi

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