Are Saudi-Arabia and Qatar weatherproof?

3 Mar

While the world continues to worry about the violence in Libya and how to face it, concerns about Saudi-Arabia mainly circle around its oil output. Little is heard of serious protesting in the kingdom, and close to nothing is heard about protesting in Qatar.

Umm. Does that mean Qatar really is the only Arab country with no revolt at all?

Compared to the wild bunch Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Jordan and all the others, Saudi-Arabia’s position seems pretty comfortable: Profiting from the current high oil prices on the one hand, the swing producer did on the other hand raise its own oil production to compensate for the market’s loss suffered by the Libyan violence. Because excessive up and down in the price, of course, is just as much a drawback as a low price.

So no need to worry for the kingdom? Wrong. Because albeit Saudi Arabia can swing produce and is rich enough to hush its population by announcing to spend around $ 35 billion on job creation, affordable housing and social security programs, it knows some of its neighbors’ problems all too well: Inefficient structures of distribution and a high percentage of young population without prospects.

How much of the $ 35 billion will indeed benefit the average Saudi citizen? It’s safe to assume that the ruler’s spending largely ends up in the pockets of members of the royal family or in pockets of those loyal to the king’s family. So a sharp increase in spending cannot safely lull a public unless accompanied by structural reforms ensuring that this money actually serves its lulling purpose. But this would imply that the money had to reach broad parts of the population. Yet Saudi Arabian political structures are, big surprise here, not designed to fulfill this condition, and reforming structures would in turn imply actual political concessions to broad parts of the population. King Abdullah will surely not enact a loss of his own power.

But he did feel the need to spend extra, and the world around him is on fire, and there are poor people in Saudi Arabia, unbelievable as this may sound. King Abdullah fears the spillover of the revolt into the heart of the Arabian Peninsula. It’s the same dilemma his ousted fellows have faced in the North African countries. The recent declines on the Saudi stock market additionally reflect investors’ fear of revolt. Reports on Saudi Arabia of course are humble compared to what we hear about the North African countries. Only little gets out of the country, and most of what does get out is oil. We should however not mistake sparse coverage for calm waters. And King Abdullah could indeed err and assume that $ 35 billion will do the trick, although that would be really surprising.

Interestingly, coverage about possible protests in Qatar is even scarcer: Is there even anything going on over there at all? Or is it to do with al-Jazeera? The current news outlet of choice on the Arab uprise is after all the brain child of Hamad bin Khalifa, the Amir of Qatar. Never a bad word about Qatar out of al-Jazeera’s mouth, I suppose. Even peninsular wunderkind Oman has to deal with its own share of uprise. For news on Qatar, we could for example turn to the fellows over at the Lebanese Daily Star, who report about spreading demands to oust the Amir of Qatar. To face this „first call for change“, Qatar’s Prime Minister announced that consultative council elections are to be held soon. However, activists announced on Facebook that Qatar’s March of Revolt is to be held on March 16.

Let’s wait and see.

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