The Middle Class in Saudi Arabia! |
Al Hayat - 06 August, 2012
Author: Jameel Theyabi
The middle class is eroding in Saudi Arabia. This headline would have been acceptable had the country been suffering from a financial and economic crisis; or had it not been the first source of oil or the country with the largest oil reserve in the world. However, it is quite surprising and suspicious for these symptoms to appear in a rich country and one that is a member of the international economic G-20 group, which is working on finding solutions to help countries in their economic and financial rise. In addition, Saudi Arabia ranks first on the international level when it comes to dispatching humanitarian and relief aid as indicated by the UN. Saudi Arabia is sending out aid and support to other countries while its own population is in need and its youth are suffering from unemployment. This is quite surprising and raises many questions!
Recent reports point to the growing erosion of this important social class, which will jeopardize and perhaps adversely affect the future livelihood of the Saudis. The Saudi government must acknowledge the problem and deal with it in a transparent manner through a practical plan to guarantee the persistence of safety and stability in the society especially that Saudi Arabia is a rich oil country. I hope that we won’t be seeing some “provocative” theory-maker who might try to simplify the matter. In addition, the decision makers and concerned parties must come up with plans and implement a governmental and civic mechanism of action in order to overcome the symptoms of this crisis, which will have bad repercussions in the future. Indeed, if the erosion persists and if the gap expands in light of a dragging in the efforts aimed at finding a halting mechanism, then there will only be a rich and a poor class. This cannot be good for the society, its structure, and its development, safety, stability and strength. Society will turn into masters and servants and all the social components will disintegrate under the feet of the rich and opportunistic ones.
Three years ago, I wrote a column under the headline, “The Threat of the Middle Class Erosion;” and two years ago, I wrote a second column entitled, “The Middle Class Once Again,” where I warned against the danger of the dissolution of the middle class and the expansion of the gap between the rich and poor classes.
The middle class constitutes a safety valve for any human society. The more this class grows in proportion, the more it constitutes an important source of stability and accountability. Indeed, this class is a major corner of the social movement because it is immune to the state of need, which is the nightmare of the poor classes. This provides society with independence and with a stable participation in the responsibility of building the state and holding people accountable. However, in the event of the continued erosion of the middle class, then society will be subjected to many diseases that might adversely affect its safety and stability.
In the past few years, the Saudi citizens have been suffering from the greediness of the traders and the slow governmental interferences, which caused the people to lose their life savings in stumbling real estate investments and fictitious investments such as SAWA. In addition, the stock market crashed, bank debts increased, prices swelled and so did the unemployment, unequal opportunities, favoritism and financial and administrative corruption. Thus, citizens lost their balance and slipped into a deep sea of debts.
Two years ago, a report issued by the GCC Chambers’ Union warned against the emergence of a large gap between the social classes as a result of inflation, prices’ increase, the failure of the local economy to create adequate job opportunities for the citizens, the decrease in salaries, and the fragility of the economic and financial factors that constitute the basis for the process through which people enter and exit the middle class.
Last week, the Saudi Al-Sharq newspaper interviewed Saudi researchers on the social, psychological, security related, and economic effect of the erosion of the middle class. Through this professional investigative report, the experts warned that the middle class in the Kingdom has started to dissolve as it now constitutes only 30 percent of the total population while it constitutes 60 percent in the rest of the countries that enjoy a similar per capita income.
The middle class is almost inexistent in some Arab countries where people are either rich, poor, or below the line of extreme poverty. But anyone who has been following up on the situation of some Gulf States during the past years may note that, despite the salary increase in varied proportions, the middle class is now threatened and faced with difficulties such as the issue of shady income sources, unequal opportunities, extremely high prices, and high unemployment rates. Meanwhile, those Gulf States are still bringing in millions of foreign workers who are employed in national projects at the expense of the unemployed citizens who are not benefitting from any state training or professional preparation to allow them to efficiently enter the job market!
The middle class constitutes a major player in the stability of any country because it is able to showcase the ailments of any society. If the middle class were to become incapacitated, then the gap between the rich and poor classes will grow, which threatens of the appearance of class-related ailments and which constitutes a burden on the state and on the development regardless of how many means are put in place to improve people’s livelihood. Therefore, Saudi Arabia must acknowledge the root of the problem. The civil and media organizations and institutions must also work on highlighting the problem and taking part in coming up with solutions instead of reverting to the justifications of the ministries, governmental agencies, or even the Consumer Protection unit, which has actually turned into a burden thanks to its members’ bickering over power. The governmental sides and civil institutions must denounce the greedy traders and reveal the real unemployment rates. They must also implement a national project aimed at confronting anyone who is working on breaking society and impoverishing it. Bruises and wounds may be treated, or even concealed with make-up products. However, class-related ailments can only be treated through challenging national surgeries!