Saturday, April 20, 2013

Saudi Arabia: Buying Stability

Saudi Arabia is blessed with enormous oil reserves; therefore, whoever controls Saudi Arabia has the financial means to remain in power for a long time. Saudi Arabia is a prime example of how a regime can keep the citizenry from rising up, even while maintaining some of the most oppressive laws in the world. The regime is also able to recognize early when there is civil unrest, and offers up concessions to appease the masses. By offering minor concessions, like allowing women to ride bikes[1], the regime is seen as lenient in relation to their former rules. Two of the main issues that threaten the Saudi regime today are the unemployment rate of the youth population, and women’s rights issues. Both of these factors have the potential to upset the populous enough to result in mass uprisings, but so far, the regime has been able to keep ahead of the organizers and eliminate any small protests that do begin to form.

The Saudi regime is attempting to deal with the issue of unemployment by driving out foreign workers who have traditionally offered a cheap alternative to Saudi citizens. According to a Guardian article[2], upwards of 300,000 Yemini workers could be kicked out of the country to make room for unemployed Saudi workers. At the same time, the regime is aiming to crack down on foreign workers who are in the country illegally. Al Jazeera reports that the regime plans to hire 1,000 additional inspectors to check and make sure businesses are not hiring illegal workers, who are willing to work for much less than Saudis[3]. This move is meant to open up positions for Saudi residents, while also creating government jobs for inspectors and regulators. But the labor minister, Adel al-Fakieh (seen below), acknowledges how essential foreign workers are in Saudi Arabia, so the efforts already seem to be more of a signal to the population that the regime is taking steps to alleviate the unemployment issues, than a serious attempt to help the average Saudi.

Recognizing the international pressure surrounding women’s rights issues, the Saudi regime is slowly moving towards concessions on restrictions women face as well. Saudi Arabia is notoriously harsh on women and extremely restrictive on the freedoms of women. However, as is usually the case, the potential for economic profits trumps religious ideology again. Prince AlWaleed bin Talal, seen below, has proposed allowing women to be able to drive on a financial basis[4]. The idea is that if money isn’t being sent abroad by paying foreign drivers, then more money stays within the economic system. Also, there would be more disposable income for families if they didn’t have to pay a driver anytime a woman wanted to go somewhere.

The Saudi regime has been able to stay ahead of mass protests by offering minor concessions to its people. While these concessions may seem like the monarchy is losing certain controls on its people, it is actually a power play to only offer concessions on their own terms. The regime can show itself as concerned with the well being of its people because any change is a major change when the status quo is so staunchly conservative. The regime has responded with a heavy hand to any minor protests that arise, keeping mass gatherings from materializing which would encourage other citizens to speak up. Having a Saudi prince speak out about allowing women to be able to drive sends the message that there is diversity within the regime, and it is not a single-minded approach to rule. The potential for modernizing civil rights is there, but those liberties can be quickly retracted if people start demanding too much change. The Saudi regime has enough oil money to stay in power by slowly offering up minor concessions, repressing gatherings, and attempting control the rate at which Saudi Arabia modernizes. The Saudi monarch has such control over its people that it is hard to see any drastic changes coming to society in Saudi Arabia; rather, it is more likely that the regime will continue with minor concessions, which can be taken back, or not followed through with in the first place. 


  1. It will be interesting to see how businesses and foreign populations will deal with the crackdown on foreign and illegal workers. Many businesses seem to be burdened by the regimes efforts to deport workers and many foreign populations, such as those in Yemen, have been outraged for the way they have been treated. The efforts are meant to improve the local Saudi unemployment, but the cost may come at upsetting local businesses and many foreign workers.

  2. Even though the United States and Saudi Arabia appear to have little in common, it is interesting to that both countries are grappling with immigration. In both countries there is this idea that you can kick out the illegal workers and that will create jobs for legal workers. The problem with that idea in both countries is that these illegal workers are working for hardly any pay and they're not doing glamorous jobs--they're cleaning toilets. I have a feeling that the key to immigration reform and job creation in both countries does not lie in the illegal immigrants and their jobs. It lies in improving education and creating skilled jobs that pay well. Americans and Saudis do no want to receive minimum wage or clean toilets. There's a better solution out there. I wonder which country will find it first?

  3. Because Saudi Arabia is such a major player in oil, it impacts the United State a great amount. Of course the economies will be impacted and create instability amongst the rest of the global economy, but what about the workforce in Saudi Arabia? A large majority of the employed in the country consists of American workers being paid by their own country. The other factor that essentially makes up the rest of the country is the oil money and power given to the government on behalf of that. Therefore, what do the people do to gain employment? Even though the government and Prince's have been able to buy people off from protesting or create some sort of incentive to the people who live in less than normal conditions, is this sustainable and how long will it last?

  4. The new labor laws could end up hurting the Saudi Economy more than it could help it. By merely making many foreign workers "illegal", the government is merely trying to bandage the Issue of unemployment in hopes that Saudi workers will take those jobs once foreigners are out. But the reality is that foreigners work those jobs because Saudis refuse or do not possess the skills necessary for those jobs. Removing the foreigners from the labor market will not ensure that Saudis replace them. Saudi citizens, who already receive heavy subsidies for education, healthcare, utilities and living expenses, etc, will not take minimum wage jobs just because they become more available. What's the difference between having no job and having a job, seen as "beneath you", which pays minimum wage, especially considering that they government already pays for your basic expenses? In essence, will a little extra spending money motivate you to work for minimum wage when you already have housing, utilities, education and healthcare paid for? Not likey. Secondly, the majority of high paying jobs require advanced degrees and training, much of which is not provided by the Saudi University System. Attempting to integrate Saudis into this advanced workforce will not work without changing the University system to offer degrees and training in what employers are looking for. To conclude, the effort to "illegalize" foreign workers could actually lead to a contracting economy, as many positions may be left unfilled when foreigners are deported and not replaced by Saudis as expected. The higher skilled positions will also not be filled with the best individuals if left to be filled by the overall unskilled saudi workforce. The result will therefore likely be little reduction in unemployment and job vacancy perpetuated by the deportation of the foreign workers.