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Home Issues in Focus Economic Reform
Economic Reform

Economic Reform

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The problem of severe discrimination against Saudi Arabia’s religious minorities is only compounded by the Saudi regime’s restrictive and inhumane policies towards the country’s nearly nine million foreigners, or one-third of the population of Saudi Arabia, who live and work in the country without any rights or recognition under the law. The vast majority of these expatriates have fled their own poverty-stricken or war-torn countries in Africa and Asia, such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sudan, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. The 2004 report by the Saudi Statistics Department of the Ministry of Economy and Planning acknowledges that non-Saudis account for 67% of the Kingdom’s labor force, while it is estimated expatriates currently hold 85–90% of the private sector jobs. At the same time, there is no minimum wage and workers do not have the right to organize or strike.

In 2004, Human Rights Watch reported that they had encountered both women and men working in conditions resembling slavery. Female workers coming to Saudi Arabia to work as domestic servants often endure the most severe conditions. Upon arrival, they often find that the contracts they signed in their home countries are disregarded. Instead, they are forced to work 18 hours a day, 7 days a week and are paid far less than initially agreed in the contract, if they receive pay at all. They are forced to sleep on the floor, are underfed, and are forbidden to leave their employment facilities or compounds. They are kept in complete social isolation without outside social contacts or freedom of movement. They are subjected to frequent beatings and often face the trauma of sexual abuse by the male members of the household.

It is virtually impossible for foreign workers to improve their situations, as they are deprived of legal recourse when their passports are confiscated by their employers upon entry to Saudi Arabia. Expatriates who complain or attempt to seek legal redress can be arrested and held indefinitely without charge, legal counsel, and access to their embassies. Consequently, foreigners are executed in much larger numbers than Saudi citizens. For instance, in 2003, fifty individuals were executed by the Saudi authorities; only 19 of them were Saudis (Amnesty International 2004).

 
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Saudi Power is Dwindling

By Ali Alyami

Many analysts have been saying for decades that Saudi regional and global power has been exaggerated and hyped up by Western powers to strengthen the Saudi ruling family’s influence among Arabs and Muslims. In return and for their protection from internal and external threats, the Saudis have played major roles in regional politics, not militarily, but economically and religiously. Because of Saudi Arabia’s centrality to Islam, its government’s staunch opposition to Israel, and Communism and its generous gifts to leaders in Arab and Muslim countries, the Saudis have performed rather well among Arabs and Muslims, given their detested methods of ruling and the imposition of their rigid religious and traditional values. Despite the increase in oil revenues, the Saudis have been losing to other players in the region and beyond. Regionally, the Iranians and their proxies such as Hezbollah, Syria and Hamas have reduced the Saudi political and religious influence measurably. In OPEC, Iran, Venezuela, Nigeria and other oil producers have cut into the Saudi dominant role. Even in its own backyard, in the Gulf region, the ruling families of the small but rich Gulf states became less dependent on their “big Brother” and more reliant on the US, especially since the US moved its forces from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the rest of the small Sheikhdoms and Kingdoms. The Saudis feel and know this, thus they have been putting more emphasis on Muslim unity and intensifying the exportation of their austere brand of Islam, Wahhabism.
 
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Ironies, Contradictions and Stagnant Societies

By Ali Alyami

The Arab family-ruled and owned Gulf fiefdoms (fiefdom: territory or a sphere of activity, that is controlled or dominated by a particular person or group) led by Saudi Arabia, are among the richest in the world. This is due to large deposits of oil under the most inhospitable Arabian terrains. Despite this labor free bounty, the Gulf States remain among the least politically, socially, economically and educationally developed in the world. Most of their workforce, from street sweepers to bankers, engineers, doctors, nurses, planners and pilots are imported from other countries, some of which are very poor. This not due to a lack of intelligent, educated Gulf citizens who are willing and able to develop their countries to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The ruling families of these “dependent” countries (that cannot defend themselves against their enemies internally or externally) feel that their continued control over their repressed people and their natural resources depends upon keeping their people divided, segregated and above all, dependent on the ruling families for education, food, water, health care, electricity, transportation and protection.

One of the most ruinous obstacles to the development of the Gulf countries is the marginalization of women. Women suffer from layers of administrative rules and exclusionary polices at home and in public regardless of their status, kinship, education or wealth. They have no protection from their male-dominated societies and institutions. Their providence, movements, activities and even worshiping is controlled by their fathers, brothers, husbands and government’s segregationist policies, as well as radical religious courts that are based on arbitrary interpretations of Shariah Islamic law, which discriminate against women, minorities and non-Muslims. Many Muslim men and women attribute religious extremism and its byproduct, terrorism, to the exclusion of women from the workforce and decision-making, especially on matters that deal with the education of children.
 
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The Forever Vincible Saudis and the next President of the United States

By Ali Alyami

Due to the frightful absence of accountability, transparency, public scrutiny, free press and visionary leadership, the Saudi ruling elites keep repeating the same mistakes that could be avoided had they only put the people’s interest first. If they had done so, they would have learned a stark lesson from the mismanagement of public wealth in the 1970s-80s. After the 1973 oil embargo against the West, the oil price leaped from $3 per barrel to $11.65 in one year. This unprecedented jump in oil prices brought sudden riches to Saudi Arabia, which, at the time, was ruled by a frugal and uncompromising autocratic ruler, King Faisal. For the first time in the country’s history, a budget of $140 billion was announced.
 
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Saudi Anti-Corruption Plan Misses Mark

By Ali Alyami

While King Abdullah should be acknowledged for admitting that corruption is rampant in Saudi Arabia, in his approval of the “National Strategy to Protect Honesty and Combat Corruption” during a February 2007 weekly ministerial session, he avoided the real source of crippling corruption: a lack of accountability and transparency.

The King and his family personally control all government income, 75% of which comes from oil revenue (U.S. Department of State, 2006). A large portion of this income is divided among thousands of family members before it goes to the royal-family-controlled Saudi National Treasury. A good share is doled out to major ministries and governors of major regions directed by members of the family. The severe absence of accountability and transparency in public and business agencies has earned Saudi Arabia a place among the most corrupt political and business systems in the world. The ruling princes also receive hefty kickbacks or become partners when they award major contracts, business licenses, and land sales to favorite businessmen. Reports have detailed that Defense Minister Sultan and his sons make billions of dollars from foreign arms manufacturers. These practices permeate every ministry, governorship, municipality, and governmental agency, from passport offices to police stations, as well as hospitals, airline service counters and hotel reservation desks. King Abdullah is correct in saying that corruption is rampant, demoralizing, dishonest, and should be eradicated, but his plan for combating corruption remains misdirected.

To curb corruption and the continuous squandering of public wealth, government revenue should go directly to an independent national treasury managed by elected officials, scrutinized by independent accounting firms, and backed by a system of checks and balances and open public records. Compensation received by all government officials and employees, including those of the King and his family, should be made public. All non-working royal family members now bankrolled by the Saudi government should be integrated into the workforce or taken off the public payroll completely.

An anti-corruption plan will only work if backed by uncensored free press, codified rule of law and an impartial, non-sectarian and independent judicial system that addresses corrupt government officials, employees, and businesspeople regardless of position or family affiliation. Throughout its history, in addition to using force, the Saudi royal family has maintained power using bribery, kickbacks and handouts. Efforts to eradicate reshwah (bribes), wastah (intermediaries), and Al-Fassad (rampant corruption), especially at the top, will be supported by all citizens regardless of their religious, regional, gender and ethnic differences.

 



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