x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Decline of the Saudi middle class

The Saudi Government must act to increase the size of the middle class, a commentator says. Other Arabic-language newspapers address the aspirations of Egyptians, and Israeli control over Palestinian territory.

Saudi middle class is in decline, a problem that must be handled with care before it is too late

"The middle class is wasting away in Saudi Arabia," warned columnist Jameel Theyabi in yesterday's edition of the London-based, Saudi-owned newspaper Al Hayat.

"If this kind of statement was said about a nation that is suffering from a financial or economic crisis, or one that is not the world's first oil exporter … it might be acceptable," he said.

But we're talking here about a wealthy country that sits on the world's largest oil reserves, is a member of the G20, and has spent enough on international philanthropy to become one of the world's top donors of humanitarian aid and development grants aimed at supporting struggling nations, the columnist went on.

Recent studies have confirmed this gradual decline of the Saudi middle class.

Last week, the Saudi newspaper Al Sharq polled local researchers about the question. The experts said the Saudi middle class now accounts for just about 30 per cent of the population, when in other nations with comparable per-capita income that figure stands at 60 per cent.

Indeed, Saudi citizens have been feeling the pinch, the columnist noted. Merchants' greed and slow government intervention are partly to blame. Some people lost their life's work in sham ventures in the property market or the bourse and, worse, many more suffered from the lack of equal opportunity, cronyism and bureaucratic corruption, which led many to get into debts they could never pay off.

"The Saudi Government ought to recognise the problem and deal with it transparently by devising a practical plan to ensure that social stability and peace are preserved," the columnist said.

Should this socio-economic crisis worsen, the repercussions will be dire for the country's future. "For if the decline continues and the gap widens even further between rich and poor … Society will eventually split into masters and servants, and all the other social components in between will disappear, squashed by the rich and the opportunistic," he argued.

Two years ago, a report by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council warned against the widening gap between social classes due to inflation, relatively low pay and the inability of local economies to create suitable jobs for their citizens, he wrote.

"Three years ago, I wrote an article titled The risks of a declining middle class, and a year later followed it up with The middle class, yet again. In both articles, I warned precisely about this deterioration of the middle class and the ever-growing gap between the rich and poor."

The idea is to drive the point home that the middle class is "an essential player" in the stability of any country, because it has the potential to reveal economic ills in any society way before they become structural woes, which are much harder to undo.

Most Egyptians want a better life, not slogans

Most ordinary Egyptians might like this or that party, this or that idea or slogan, but at the end of the day they will ask one single question, "What has changed in our lives?", Emad Eddine Hussein wrote in the Cairo-based Al Shorouk.

Citizens will give President Mohammed Morsi and his administration a chance. They will display patience and undergo sacrifices when they see real efforts and good intentions to change for the better.

But eventually, people are not going to care about the Brotherhood's "renaissance project" or any other project.

The simple question they will put to themselves is: Is our situation better? Have education, health, transport and culture improved?

"I hope the Brotherhood and President Morsi's government will stop repeating big slogans, and work more towards achieving practical things on the ground," the writer noted.

Most citizens will not call Mr Morsi to account over Sharia implementation. The purpose of Sharia for people is a good job, a decent house and a hopeful future.

The Brotherhood must take their cue from the Turkish model and mull over prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's reply when he was asked about Sharia: "First let us settle the issue of the sewage in Istanbul and other issues facing citizens, and then we can talk about Sharia."

Global community is helpless toward Israel

A conference of non-aligned states was supposed to convene, on Sunday in Ramallah, to examine the situation in the Occupied Territories, but Israel refused entry to four ministers, resulting in the conference being cancelled, reported the UAE-based daily Al Khaleej in it editorial yesterday.

"This decision is a punishment for the barred countries because they have no diplomatic relations with the Zionist entity," the editorial said. "It is also a reminder that it is [Israel] that has sovereignty over Palestinian territories."

It is a situation that brings to light, once again, the demise of the international community and all its claims of noble values, the editorial went on.

Israel not only humiliates Palestinians on a daily basis, and subjects them to measures and laws that are incompatible with the laws of the international community, but also humiliates the international community itself represented by these four ministers from the non-aligned movement.

The international community is driven by interests, not principles, of which Israel is taking full advantage. But occupation can be deterred only by the force of the law, and since the humiliated countries can do nothing about it, Israel does not give a hoot, the editorial said.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk