Saudi salaries campaign gains momentum on social media
A Saudi-based social media campaign aimed at increasing salaries has gained a massive following among citizens of the kingdom, many of whom are facing an increasing struggle to meet their daily living costs. Supporters of the campaign, which uses the Arabic hashtag #Our_salary_does_not_meet_our_needs, have been most active on the micro-blogging site Twitter, and their hashtag is becoming the campaign’s defining symbol, generating 17 million tweets in its first two weeks and becoming the 16th most popular hashtag in any language. However the campaign has also attracted criticism, with some Saudis seeing it as misguided and others unhappy with the public way in which the country’s problems are being aired.
Kingdom in flux
Although the campaign’s objective, to appeal to King Abdallah “to issue a royal decree to increase the salaries of all employees”, appears clear cut, the campaign has come to embody a number of factors that reveal a society in flux: poverty and the distribution of the country’s vast oil wealth, a population that has grown from around 7 million in the 1970s to almost 30 million in 2012, a growing number of young, educated citizens, and a disconnect between the expectations of many Saudis and their government’s policies.
Misplaced government spending?
Supporters of the campaign have voiced criticism of what they see as the Saudi government’s misplaced spending of the country’s funds. A widely circulated cartoon on Twitter depicts a palm tree labelled “the Saudi government” on one side of a wall, with a Saudi citizen sitting beneath it while the tree leans over the wall dropping its fruit on the other side, which is captioned “95 per cent: the rest of the world”. This criticism came to a head when the government pledged 5 billion dollars in aid to Egypt in the wake of the ousting of President Muhammad Morsi in July, prompting many to express their resentment at the decision. A picture circulated on Twitter underlined the point: it showed a Saudi couple with a baby and living in squalor in a caravan, with the caption: “Saudi Arabia gives Egypt 5 billion dollars. Don’t they deserve it more?”
Many Saudis have used the campaign to vent their frustrations with the perceived excesses of some members of the royal family. Recent reports of a prince paying half a million dollars to spend 15 minutes with the American actress Kristen Stewart were met with tweets such as: “A prince meets an actress for 500 thousand and the people are chanting ’Our salary does not meet our needs’, suffering from a housing crisis and asking ’How can a Saudi own a house?’. The country is lost.”
Attempts at “Saudization” by the government in recent years are yet to make significant inroads into resolving employment issues in the kingdom. A number of measures aimed at reducing the country’s heavy reliance on foreign workers in favour of Saudi employees, has so far had a limited impact on the situation. With 50 per cent of its population below the age of 25, how Saudi Arabia tackles this issue will become increasingly important in future. According to a July 2013 IMF report on Saudi Arabia, one of the challenges faced by the country is in providing suitable employment for the increasing number of young Saudis expected to enter the workplace over the next decade. It also notes a complaint voiced by many of the campaign’s supporters, which is the lack of affordable housing, reporting “a sharp increase in rents during 2007-11”.
Nation “drowning in debt”
Preparations ahead of Saudi National Day on 23 September have led many Twitter users to express conflicted feelings over their sense of patriotism in light of the campaign. A tweet posted by many users reads: “Before you shake your behind on the street happily wearing green on National Day, remember that you were tweeting with the hashtag ’Our salary does not meet our needs’.” Another Twitter user complained: “What National Day, when my nation is drowning in debt, all the princes are in Switzerland and we’re paying bills. It’s the fault of those who allow them to play with our money and our petrol”.
Twitter hashtag “is a front for sedition”
Such public airing of social grievances is frowned upon in a society which prefers to keep its flaws out of the spotlight, with some believing that the campaign and the publicity it has received tarnishes the image of the country. The secretary-general of the Cabinet, Abd-al-Rahman al-Sadhan, condemned the campaign in the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan, saying that the hashtag was “a front for sedition led by people angry that the kingdom is living in peace and stability amid the struggles that some countries are facing”. He added that it was set up by “unknown, envious people who don’t like the fact that Saudi Arabia is blessed with security and peace of mind”.
Campaign misses deeper issues
Abd-al-Rahman Al Farhan wrote in the Saudi daily Al-Bilad that the campaign’s demand of a higher salary fails to take into account underlying issues that make it difficult for many Saudis to meet their living costs. The writer suggested that topics addressed by the campaign would be better dealt with by the introduction of measures such as ensuring accommodation by expediting housing allowance payments, and providing health insurance for all citizens to enable them to receive the best health care. According to Al Farhan, if these measures were implemented, then “all calls for increases in salaries would dissolve into a vast sea of satisfaction and contentment”.
Source: BBC Monitoring research in English 12 Sep 13
© Copyright British Broadcasting Corporation 2013