10 Facts about Waleed Abdulkhair
Waleed Abdulkhair is a prominent human rights activist and a famous lawyer from Saudi Arabia. He is currently serving a 15- year sentence in his native country. In February 2014, Saudi Arabia passed a new anti-terrorism law, using a vague definition of terrorism to crack down on free speech. Abulkhair was the first human rights activist to be tried and convicted under the law. In the article below, top 10 facts about Waleed Abdulkhair are presented.

10 Facts about Waleed Abdulkhair

  1. Waleed Abdulkhair was born on June 17, 1979 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He was raised in a religious Hejazi family, a family that had many judges and imams (religious leaders). He was taught to memorize the Holy Quran from a very young age.
  2. Waleed Abdulkhair received his Bachelor’s degree in Arabic in 2003 at King Abdu Aziz University. He also received a license from Shaikh Obaid Allah Al Afqani and was approved by the Teaching Board of the Holy Mosque in Medinah.
  3. Abdulkhair met his spouse, Samar Badawi when he took up her case against her father who was verbally and physically abusive toward her. Abdulkhair was successful in defending her rights in court as well as launching a social media campaign. They soon got married and have a daughter together.
  4. In 2015, Waleed Abdulkhair won the most prestigious prize in human rights in Europe, named the Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize. He also won the Swedish Olof Palme Award and the Swiss Freethinker Prize. Abdulkadir was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, twice.
  5. He founded an independent human rights organization in 2008, called Monitor for Human Rights. The Saudi government, unfortunately, banned the website of the organization and its Facebook page, prompting Waleed Abdulkhair to register the website in 2012 with the Canadian Ministry of Labor. This made the organization the first Saudi Arabian human rights organization that was registered abroad.
  6. The Saudi authorities forbade him from representing particular defendants in court but Abdulkhair defied them. One of his more prominent and recent cases like this was the case of Raif Badawi, the man who garnered international attention when he was flogged for hosting a website advocating for discourse on sociopolitical issues.
  7. Abdulkhair was arrested in 2013 for hosting what is called a “diwanniya,” an informal gathering at his home where participants would discuss topics such as politics, religion, culture and human rights. It is also referred to as “samood,” meaning resistance or in Arabic.
  8. Abdulkhair was sentenced to 15 years in prison on July 6, 2014, by Saudi Arabia’s Specialised Criminal Court, the national terrorism tribunal. He was sentenced for violating the anti-terrorism law, was also banned from leaving the country for 15 years and fined over $50,000.
  9. Abdulkhair strictly refused to apologize to the court for his position on human rights and he did not acknowledge the legitimacy of the Specialised Criminal Court.
  10. Abdulkhair initiated a hunger strike in the prison he was being kept in as a political statement against the poor treatment of the authorities toward him. He suffers from intestinal complications and diabetes, thus requiring a special diet that the authorities have refused to give him.

Waleed Abdulkhair remains a bastion of hope for human rights, civil liberties and democracy in a country that currently suppresses all three of these things. July 2018 was the fourth anniversary of his sentence. He still remains in jail, similar to his many compatriots speaking against human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.

– Maneesha Khalae
Photo: Flickr

Saudi Arabia
Sensing that change in multiple forms is necessary for the growth of the economy, Saudi Arabia has begun massive and unprecedented reform. At the heart of the reform, the Saudi government recognizes the need to invest more for the improvement of its impoverished people. Here are the top 15 facts about poverty in Saudi Arabia.

Top 15 Facts about Poverty in Saudi Arabia

  1. Saudi Arabia has the lowest reported poverty rate in the Middle East and the 10th lowest poverty rate in the world at 12.7 percent, as of 2017. However, the Saudi government does not release regular statistics regarding this information, resulting in varied estimates by outside agencies.
  2. The country is highly urbanized with close to 85 percent of citizens living in cities and many impoverished citizens, estimated to be around four million Saudis, reside in slums on the outskirts of those cities.
  3. Saudis who do not even live in the slums still struggle to afford the home in the cities. An estimated 60 percent of urban Saudis cannot afford to own their homes outright.
  4. The unemployment rate has risen slightly from 12.8 percent in 2017 to 12.9 percent in the first fiscal quarter of 2018. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi government have made tackling unemployment a key component in their economic and social reform program Vision 2030.
  5. The government has implemented an insurance program for unemployed Saudis, but it is still difficult for recipients to survive when the cost of living is constantly increasing.
  6. A major factor in unemployment is the number of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia. There are roughly three million Saudis in the labor force compared to 11 million immigrants who work in similar fields.
  7. Vision 2030 discusses plans to reduce Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil as the largest economic asset. Instead, the country plans to invest in other industries that will generate more jobs for unemployed Saudis.
  8. The government announced plans to implement nationalization quotas for small businesses and education programs to allow impoverished Saudis to prepare for the employment.
  9. Prince Salman believes that addressing poverty and unemployment is as necessary from the economic perspective as it is from the humanitarian perspective. He believes that by diversifying the economy and improving the poverty and unemployment rates, Saudi Arabia will attract more foreign investment.
  10. Saudi Arabia’s lifting of their long-standing movie theater ban has drawn AMC to create numerous theaters throughout the country, introducing service industry jobs for impoverished citizens who may not be qualified for more specialized positions.
  11. The government has lifted several bans preventing women from working and participating in the economy. With these barriers eliminated, women will be able to work and help provide for their families.
  12. Despite Prince Salman’s popularity and economic ambitions, many are still troubled by the vast wealth gap in Saudi Arabia. While many Saudi citizens live in poverty, Salman’s father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, has an estimated net worth of $17 billion.
  13. With the possibility of water and farmable land becoming scarce in Saudi Arabia in the next few decades, the government will likely need to establish new ways of ensuring food production and food availability at a rate that can support the country’s population.
  14. Saudi Arabia has a history of refusing help from the nongovernmental organization because of the fears of deterring investors, but the government has recently begun to change its policies in favor of helping its impoverished citizens.
  15. Changes will take time. While it is clear that Saudi Arabia is in need of immediate change in some aspects, it will take time for sustainable growth to be implemented.

As Saudi Arabia finds itself in a highly transitional period in terms of social reform and economic reevaluation, its citizens face great uncertainty. However, despite what some of these top 15 facts about poverty in Saudi Arabia may suggest, the country’s leadership has made clear that their top priority is to build the economy into something that will work for, rather than against, the Saudi people.

– Rob Lee

Photo: Flickr

 Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman
Ever since Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman promised reforms to make Saudi Arabia “modern, open” again, women’s rights in Saudi Arabia have grown noticeably, culminating most recently in the lifting of the driving ban
But, while the lift of the driving ban is a large step in the fight for women’s rights in the country, it isn’t actually the largest problem that women are facing. Local activists say that the next, and more pressing, issue that must be addressed is the guardianship system in Saudi Arabia.

The Guardianship System in Saudi Arabia

The guardianship system is rooted in a deeply conservative reading of Shariah law. Under this system, all women must have a male guardian (wali), either a father, husband, uncle or son, sign off on what a woman can or cannot do in her life. Last year King Salman, the Prince’s father, loosened some of the restrictive measures in the guardianship system, but not much has changed in the everyday lives of Saudi women.

A woman still cannot get an education, marry or apply for a passport without permission, nor can she open a bank account or get a fair trial without the consent of her guardian. But women are fighting back and making their voices heard through whatever avenues they can. The internet has proved to be a particularly powerful tool. In September 2016, more than 14,000 Saudi women signed an online petition calling for the end of the guardianship system. The petition was sent to the Saudi government.

Working to End The Guardianship System In Saudi Arabia

A Saudi-born, Australia-based artist who goes by Ms. Saffaa has generated acclaim for her artwork protesting the guardianship system. Saffaa’s popular poster features a woman veiled in the Saudi shemagh and the hashtag #IAmMyOwnGuardian. The image has been massively popular on social media and distributed throughout Saudi and Australian streets. Her most recent work is a 20-meter mural at The Sydney College of Arts campus cafe.

Twitter allows millions of Saudi women to voice their opinions. In part, this is due to the fact that women can create anonymous accounts on Twitter, and therefore, don’t have to fear retaliation for raising their voices. In the past two years, Twitter has gained massive popularity in the country. The top ten most famous female activists have 1.2 million in followers. And the need to end the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia is the most talked about topic on the social media platform with the hashtag #AbolishGuardianship trending.

Female activists are aware of Twitter’s importance to their cause. “Twitter has brought international attention [to issues], which is very important,” according to activist Areej… “We hope that we will come to a time when all women and men are treated equally and have the same rights.” And as the rest of the world starts paying closer attention, those in power in Saudi Arabia will take note and be more willing to change the system.

The guardianship system in Saudi Arabia restricts women from making the most important and base decisions in their lives. It is also deeply rooted in Saudi society, making it all the more difficult to challenge. However, women in the country are finally enjoying freedoms such as going to soccer games and getting their driver’s licenses, and they are not backing down on the issue of guardianship.

– Evann Orleck-Jetter
Photo: Flickr

 Saudi Arabia
The Thomas Reuters Foundation surveyed 550 experts on women’s issues, ranking the worst countries for women’s rights. Out of 195 countries, Saudi Arabia ranked as the fifth most dangerous country for women in terms of the risks they face in cultural and religious practices, and second worst in terms of economic access and workplace discrimination. To get a better understanding of the hardships of Saudi Arabia, this article examines 10 facts about human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Middle East and the home of Islam. While Saudi Arabia is known for its plentiful oil reserves, the country is also one of the most dangerous places to live in or travel to. Saudi Arabia is slowly improving in regards to women’s and children’s rights, but still has a lot of progress to make. 

Facts about Human Rights in Saudi Arabia

  1. According to Human Rights Watch, by mid-2016, nearly all of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association founders were imprisoned and sentenced to nearly 10 years for peaceful protesting. This is a common issue in Saudi Arabia, as people are punished for expressing their beliefs. Journalists, protesters, non-Muslims and women take a huge risk when they express themselves or call for reforms.
  2. Non-Muslims are not allowed to worship in public or display religious items, such as the Bible or a crucifix. Expressing different religious beliefs can result in jail time or the death penalty. This law is to prevent Muslims from converting to a different religion.
  3. There is little to no justice in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system. Saudi Arabia does not have an official penal code; therefore, judges and prosecutors are allowed to improvise charges on the spot. In many instances, the suspect is not aware of the crime he or she is accused of, allowed access to evidence or allowed to have a lawyer support them during the trial. The Saudi religious establishment, ulama, believes there is no need for an official penal code because everything about law and punishment is stated in the Qur’an and Sunnah, the religious books of Islam.
  4. Women in Saudi Arabia face harsh restrictions, discrimination and punishment every day. Women are required to get permission from a man in order to do things such as travel, obtain a passport, work, sign contracts and get married or divorced. This man is known as the woman’s guardian and is usually a husband, father, uncle or brother. This makes it extremely difficult for women to feel safe and secure, especially because there is no law protecting women from their guardian. If a woman is a victim of domestic violence, she needs the male guardian’s permission to file the complaint, even if the complaint is against that man. However, in 2018, Saudi Arabia took a step forward by lifting the driving ban for women for the first time since 1990.
  5. One of the facts about human rights in Saudi Arabia is that there are no human rights groups. Human rights activists are imprisoned or sentenced to the death penalty for protesting or joining a human rights organization or group. The organization is usually shut down and banned from spreading awareness about their beliefs. 
  6. Human Rights Watch reported that 48 people were executed in Saudi Arabia in the first third of 2018, half of them for non-violent crimes. There have been nearly 600 executions since 2014. One can be executed for a “crime” as small as protesting or showing too much skin if one is a woman.
  7. In many areas of Saudi Arabia, men are allowed to marry a girl once she reaches puberty. Fortunately, according to the Middle East Monitor, girls under the age of 17 now have to present a marriage request from the girl and her family before the marriage can take place. Preventing child marriage is a work in progress in Saudi Arabia.
  8. No one is not allowed to eat pork in Saudi Arabia. Muslims are not to eat pork in keeping with their religious beliefs. If a person is not a Muslim or is a foreigner, they are still expected to not consume pork in the country. Only food that meets the guidelines of Islam is allowed into Saudi Arabia.
  9. As of 2017, nine million foreigners work in service and clerical jobs in Saudi Arabia, accounting for more than half of the workforce. Many of these workers face punishment or abuse during their jobs. Some employers will take away passports and paychecks to hold workers against their will. If workers are caught trying to leave the country, they face serious consequences.
  10. Women are not allowed to work in a job that a man would traditionally do. This means that women are limited to working in the education or medical fields. On the bright side, 38 women were elected to council in December 2015 for the first time ever. This gives women more opportunities and freedoms. While gender restrictions are slowly improving, women are still required to cover their skin fully while working on the job.

These facts about human rights in Saudi Arabia show the challenges and improvements regarding human rights in the country. Women are gaining more independence and children are being allowed to live their childhoods freely. While there is a lot of progress to make, Saudi Arabia is taking steps towards becoming a more equal and free country.

– Kristen Uedoi

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Saudi Arabia
In Saudi Arabia, human rights are based off the Hanbali Islamic religious laws, which are under absolute rule of the Saudi royal family. Due to the strict regime of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, human rights in the nation have been ranked some of the worst in the world. However, due to a recent change of power, progress has been made in terms of human rights, especially for women. Here are 10 facts about human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Facts About Human Rights in Saudi Arabia

  1. On June 24, 2018, women gained the right to drive in Saudi Arabia. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman lifted the ban due to his 2030 Vision to have women ascend ranks in the workforce. Women 18 and older are able to now apply for a driver’s license, and driving lessons are offered by instructors that can even be women who obtained their license abroad.
  2. Male guardianship is a huge issue in Saudi Arabia. Every women has to have a “male guardian” that can be a husband, brother, father or son. These male figures have the authority to make decisions on the women’s behalf and decide if she can apply for a passport, get married, travel or leave prison. However, on April 2017, King Salman removed this restriction and gave women access to any government service without a “guardian” (unless it interferes with existing regulations). 
  3. Dress code is a strict part of the Islamic law, and women have traditionally been restricted against wearing makeup or clothes that show off their beauty. Instead, they have to wear some kind of opaque cloak to cover their body which does not prevent them from being harassed on the daily by religious police for being too “revealing”or wearing too much makeup.  
  4. Torture and other cruel treatments of detainees in Saudi Arabia are common practices. In fact, many human right defenders and critics of the system have been sent to prison or unfair treatment for their protestations, such as when authorities passed the “Counter-Terrorism” law.
  5. Competing freely in sports has been a struggle for women in Saudi Arabia. In 2015, Saudi Arabia proposed hosting the Olympics but without any women. When Saudi Arabia sent women to the Olympics in London in 2012, two of the women were labeled as “prostitutes,” had to cover their hair and be accompanied by a guardian. However, in September 2017, the national stadium in Saudi Arabia welcomed female spectators, but they were assigned their own section in the typically male-only venue.
  6. Discrimination exists for Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a minority. This Islamic sect faces prejudice that limits their right to express their belief, work and access state services. In fact, many of the Shi’a activists are continuously arrested, imprisoned and even killed.
  7.  Freedom of expression, association and assembly is a problem in Saudi Arabia as well. Authorities still continue to harass writers, online commentators, activists or anyone who express their views against government policies.
  8. Women still have restrictions on interacting with men. Women are required to limit the amount of time they spend with men who are not related to them. There are even separate entrances and exits for women and men in a majority of buildings, offices, universities and more. A person can be criminally charged if caught breaking this rule.
  9. Male and female swimming pools, spas and gyms are all separate. However, the Crown Prince aims to make Saudi Arabia more appealing for tourists and investors and is thus planning to create a resort that allows gender-mixing bathing, bikinis and alcoholic beverages.
  10. The death penalty in Saudi Arabia is still a major problem. The courts in Saudi Arabia still impose the death penalty for a variety of crimes. Many defendants that were sentenced to death were seen to have unfair trials, and cases have even occured where authorities fail to inform the families of their relatives’ executions.

Creating Change, One Supporter At a Time

Human rights in Saudi Arabia appear to be improving due to the 2030 Vision; however, there is still a long way to go. Continuous support from protestors and other countries is crucial for creating change in Saudi Arabia.

– Negin Nia
Photo: Flickr

capital flows support economic growthEconomic growth is one of the most powerful tools for reducing poverty, and a key driver of economic growth is investment. Argentina and Saudi Arabia, two countries that have committed to political and economic reforms in recent years, are hoping to spur investment from abroad. The announcement by MSCI, an equity index provider, to classify them as emerging markets has attracted sizable foreign investments to the two countries. But whether the capital flows support economic growth is still up for debate.

MSCI

MSCI created its Emerging Markets Index in 1998 and since then it has become a benchmark for investment in emerging markets. Many investment funds track the index by buying a similar composition of stocks. Therefore, when stocks are added to the index it inevitably prompts investment flows to increase in certain countries.

In late June, MSCI decided to add Argentina and Saudi Arabia to its emerging markets index. The decision is a result of the reform efforts in both countries. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, is trying to shift the country from its oil dependency and increase social liberalization, including allowing women to drive while President Mauricio Macri of Argentina has sought to end disputes with international investors and remove barriers to capital entering and leaving the country.

The effects of their addition to the index may be profound. Some estimates predict approximately $3.5 billion and $40 billion of capital inflows into Argentina and Saudi Arabia respectively in the coming year. The inflows could lead to businesses in these two countries giving them cheaper access to credit that will further lead to more investments; thus boosting economic growth and productivity.

Poverty in Saudi Arabia and Argentina

The two countries are seeking to boost economic growth and stability by any means possible. Saudi Arabia’s economy contracted 0.7 percent in 2017, driven by lower oil prices. Argentina also had to turn to the International Monetary Fund for a $50 million line of credit after capital flight weakened its currency.

Given these countries’ extensive poverty, economic growth is needed for their governments to maintain its credibility. Argentina’s poverty rate is over 25 percent, and while there are no exact figures for poverty in Saudi Arabia, it is believed that almost four million people or approximately 12 percent of the population, live on less than $17 a day.

Do Capital Flows Support Economic Growth?

Do capital flows support economic growth in emerging markets? The answer to that is vague. Take Africa for instance. An economic study concerning private capital inflows found that capital flows had a detrimental effect on Africa’s economic growth in the absence of well-developed financial markets. Conversely, a research paper by the World Bank in 2015 found that capital inflows into Sub-Saharan Africa would have a positive effect on its economic growth. This study found, however, that the most effective type of capital inflow in boosting growth wasn’t private capital flows but aid.

The economic literature debating whether capital flows support economic growth is expansive and divisive. Therefore, increasing private capital flows to Argentina and Saudi Arabia may or may not be the answer to the economic instability plaguing the two countries. But both aid and private capital will continue to play an important role in the economic growth and futures of emerging markets.

– Mark Fitzpatrick
Photo: Pixabay

development in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is steadily growing to be a formidable player in the 21st century on the world stage, especially with its massive oil industry, staunch relationship with the United States, and the crucial role it plays in middle eastern geopolitics and international affairs. Yet, at the same time, development in Saudi Arabia has been hindered over the decades due to its conservatism and hidebound ideals.

Saudi Arabia On the Global Stage

Although statistics and figures on the country’s poverty rate remain elusive, it is predicted that a quarter of the population may live under the threat of poverty, which is considered to be about $17 a day, or $530 a month. Income disparities also continue to be on the rise and the unemployment rate currently stands at about 12.7 percent.

Moreover, even though government-run welfare programs and spending systems like Zakat have helped aid development in Saudi Arabia in the past, the country still prioritizes the strength of its oil industry and its own self-image above all else.

Fortunately, Saudi Arabia now experiences a new wave of revolutionary change via the new crown-prince Salman’s reign. The prince’s new policies usher in a new period gradually shifting away from the traditional pivotal ideologies of Wahhabism, pan Arabism and conservatism that Saudi Arabia once stood for. The Saudi economy has great potential and capacity due to the country’s relatively young, and working-age population.

Vision 2030

In its new era of social and economic changes, the Kingdom hopes to achieve its Vision 2030 reform plan and focus on promoting greater social and political stability, sustainability and transparency. Vision 2030 also concentrates on important factors like improving standard of living and education reform so as to make future workers more skilled and competitive for the labor market.

Moreover, Prince Salman’s policies will hopefully lead to greater social progress and development in Saudi Arabia, owing to its focus on anti-corruption measures, gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Anti-Corruption and Empowerment Efforts

There has been a widespread crackdown on problems like the income gap and corruption as the country’s new anti-graft campaign to ‘clean up the economy’ goes into full swing. The anti-corruption campaigns have already yielded more than an estimated $106 billion in financial settlements from many corporates, executives, businesses, and high profile figures from both the government and the royal family.

Furthermore, with the country’s focus on socially and economically empowering women, notable social transformations will take place in Saudi society as women are given more places in the workforce and granted permits and licenses for investment and commercial activities. Consequently, the National Transformation Program 2020 also aims to boost employment opportunities among women and the youth population.

Saudi Arabia’s Continued Progress

The ban on female drivers is steadily being lifted and women will also be given more places in the municipalities in the future. In 2017, Saudi Arabia was given a place at the U.N. Women’s Rights Commission for a four- year term.

Due to recently falling oil prices, it is vital for the country to reduce its over-reliance and dependence on the oil industry. Development in Saudi Arabia can be stimulated by future growth in the country’s non-oil sectors and further economic and industrial diversification.

Fortunately, the country’s competitiveness is improving as is its growing independence and decline in the level of imports. The government also hopes to further open up the economy and interact with global markets.

Although social and economic changes in Saudi society will take time to materialize, the liberalization of the country is imperative for building a foundation for long-term sustainable growth in a fast-paced and dynamically changing world.

– Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan addresses poverty
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has introduced an ambitious restructuring and development plan called Vision 2030. This plan was first released by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and King Salman in April 2016. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan addresses poverty by working to boost female participation in the workforce, reforming the health and education system and reducing the national unemployment rate.

The goals also include diversifying the Saudi economy, increasing life expectancy, achieving environmental sustainability and making Saudi Arabia a tourist-friendly destination, among others. These are five of the many ways that Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan addresses poverty.

How Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 Plan Addresses Poverty

  1. Empowering the Nonprofit Sector
    The best way that Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan addresses poverty is by setting up a regulatory framework that strengthens the nonprofit sector by offering government support and incentives for wealthy families to contribute, and increasing the number of government projects that generate a social impact. The kingdom currently has fewer than 1,000 nonprofits, which contribute only 0.3 percent of the national GDP. The goal is to increase the sector’s contribution to GDP from less than 1 percent to 5 percent, and to rally one million volunteers for this sector each year, compared to the current average of 11,000.
  2. Increasing Women’s Rights and Participation
    The kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic reform plan sets out a goal to increase female participation in the workforce from 22 percent to 30 percent. Additionally, as a part of the kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan, the Saudi government now funds the education of more than 35,000 Saudi women around the globe. New jobs for women have also been created in the government and in the military. Empowering women and allowing them to participate in the workforce can help them provide for their family and be self-sufficient, thus helping to fight poverty worldwide.
  3. Reforming Education
    The kingdom will be investing in childhood education by reforming the country’s academic and educational system. The government has also made numerous scholarships available that are aimed at Saudi students wanting to attend top international universities. To further develop local educational opportunities, Saudi Arabia also aims to have at least five universities ranked among the top 200 in the world by 2030. To do this, the government plans on preparing a modern curriculum with rigorous standards and tracking its progress and improvement throughout the years. Additionally, it plans to work with the private sector to ensure that students are prepared for the job market in each sector. This will help fight poverty by increasing the opportunities available to Saudi students worldwide.
  4. Investing in Small Business and Enterprise
    Small and medium-sized enterprises are essential to economic growth since they create jobs and promote financial independence. However, these enterprises currently account for only 20 percent of the national GDP, compared to up to 70 percent in more developed economies. In order to increase investment in small and medium-sized enterprises, the government has created the SME Authority to encourage entrepreneurship and help create easier access to funding and remove burdensome legal and administrative obstacles that are preventing their growth and creation.
  5. Investing in Saudi Arabia as a Tourist Destination
    In 2018, tourists visas will be issued for the first time ever in Saudi Arabia. Previously, tourist visas could only be acquired by Muslims going on the Hajj. Additionally, the government is investing in several luxury hotels and facilitating access to heritage sites. This part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 addresses poverty because it will create jobs and increase the amount of money circulating in the Saudi economy.

King Salman described his mission by saying, “My first objective is for our country to be a pioneering and successful global model of excellence, on all fronts, and I will work with you to achieve that.” Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plans to accomplish this objective by alleviating poverty throughout the country.

– Luz Solano-Flórez
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts about Poverty in Riyadh
Riyadh is an expansive metropolis located in Saudi Arabia and is also its capital city. It is home to about seven million of the country’s 32.5 million people. Despite there being a plethora of information on the country’s steadily growing economy, updated statistics and data on the poverty rates in Saudi Arabia and Riyadh are lacking, as the Saudi government seems to keep such information under wraps. Nevertheless, these 10 facts about poverty in Riyadh and Saudi Arabia can shed some light on the situation.

Facts About Poverty in Riyadh

  1. Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s most powerful economies, yet social welfare programs and job growth seemingly cannot keep up with such rapid population growth. The population of Saudi Arabia was just six million in 1970 and has been expanding quickly ever since.
  2. The Saudi family is the richest royal family in the world, with a net worth of around $1.4 trillion due to plentiful oil reserves, yet the country itself can be considered poor, with an estimated 20 percent of its people living in poverty.
  3. In 2011, three young men were arrested and jailed after uploading video footage to YouTube showing poor citizens in Riyadh. The video was a report on an impoverished area of the city which contained personal interviews and a call to action for the Saudi Arabian government to do more to address the issue of poverty. Thousands of people showed support and distaste for the arrests via social media.
  4. The government under King Abdullah has spent $37 billion on housing, unemployment and other programs as of 2012 in an attempt to assist the increasing number of poor people, despite the fact that the programs seem to be ineffective.
  5. The country controls about 22 percent of the world’s oil and relies on that source of income for approximately half of its GDP. Through Saudi Vision 2030, the action plan to privatize more industries and lower the unemployment rate from 11 to 7 percent, government officials hope to reduce the economy’s dependence on oil. The plan even lists specific goals related to the health of Saudi citizens, including building facilities dedicated to sports and physical activity.
  6. As the poverty rate increases, so do youth unemployment rates. Close to 75 percent of all unemployed citizens are in their 20s.
  7. High-status, image-conscious Saudis have downplayed the existence of poverty in Saudi Arabia and the topic was avoided in Saudi Arabian media. It was considered a taboo subject by the Saudi media until 2002, when King Abdullah visited a slum in Riyadh, providing an opportunity for proper news coverage of a Riyadh slum.
  8. The Saudi government provides free education, healthcare and burials to its citizens, although it does not offer food stamps or a welfare system. It also provides pensions and payments for food and utility bills for the poor and disenfranchised. It has been stated that many families still rely on donations from private citizens in spite of these efforts.
  9. Because Saudi Arabia is a largely Muslim nation, citizens observe the religious requirement of zakat that says people and businesses should donate 2.5 percent of their wealth to charity. That money is collected by the government and distributed among the poor.
  10. Women who are widowed or unmarried often struggle financially, as Islamic law and Saudi culture indicate that men should be the main breadwinners. Some establishments require women to have written permission from a guardian before being hired. Fifty-six percent of unemployed youth age 15 to 25 are women as of 2015.

Saudi and American analysts report that, regardless of the efforts to alleviate poverty, large quantities of money are acquired by the royal family through corrupt tactics and schemes. Perhaps through the actions of Saudi Vision 2030 and the charitable and religious nature of the country, a long-term solution may be implemented in the future.

– Camille Wilson
Photo: Flickr

Saudi Vision 2030 Saudi Arabian Reform Opens Markets
With the recent rise to prominence of the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has committed to a vast economic and social reform plan. The Kingdom’s strategy is in its initial stages, but early signs indicate how the promise of socioeconomic Saudi Arabian reform opens markets for American business.

Saudi Vision 2030

The ambitiously conceived Saudi Vision 2030 is a reform plan for diversifying the Kingdom away from its traditional dependence on oil revenues. The plan’s goals are varied, with objectives ranging from enhancing the competitiveness of non-oil sectors, such as leisure and tourism, to increasing women’s participation in the workforce from 22 to 30 percent.

Although it is in its early stages, the plan has made some progress toward its social liberalization goals, providing an ongoing illustration of how Saudi Arabian reform opens markets. After the Saudi Ministry of Culture ended a 35-year ban on movie theaters late in 2017, the Chinese-owned, American-operated AMC Theaters obtained a license to open 30 movie theaters over the next 5 years as part of a joint operation with the Saudi government.

Film and Tourism

This expansion isn’t limited to AMC: one Saudi official estimates the cinema market to reach $21.3 billion over the next 10 years, and companies such as the U.K.-based Vue International and Imax of Canada plan to open 30 and 20 theaters in the Kingdom in the coming years, respectively.

Beyond theatrical entertainment, the emphasis on promoting tourism in the reform plan is opening up investment opportunities for international hospitality companies and employment opportunities for local women. Marriott International’s managing director for the Middle East and Africa has said that the demand for new hotels in the country has been steady, with the company scheduled to more than double its hotels in Saudi Arabia from 23 to 52 by 2022.

Steps Towards Gender Equality

And an increasingly greater shares of the jobs created in this industry are being filled by women. Saudi women appear to be more amenable to working in the hospitality sector than their male counterparts, the latter tending to seek roles in traditional public or energy sector jobs. In fact, a 2017 working paper by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Research cites researchers’ belief that women will an essential role in the tourism sector.

The social progress made by Saudi Vision 2030 is incremental and should not be overstated. The merits of the highly publicized repeal of a ban on women being granted a driver’s license are countervailed by the country’s continued human rights violations, such as this month’s arrest for dissent of women activists who had fought in previous years to overturn that very ban.

A Decade For Progress

However, as the name of the reform plan suggests, the timeline for Saudi Vision 2030 completion is over a decade.

A final judgment of its success will take time, but incremental progress to date shows how, if implemented, social and economic Saudi Arabian reform opens markets and could enhance opportunity for international businesses. The plan could also liberate opportunities for both male and female residents of the Kingdom in the coming years.

 – Mark Fitzpatrick
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