Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah's $37bn benefits package


The daughter of the former Saudi oil minister, Sheikh Yamani, Dr Mai Yamani has said the economic measures announced this week by the Saudi King will not satisfy the demands of the country's young people. Dr Mai Yamani told the BBC World Service that greater political reform was urgently needed.

King Abdullah, who is 86, has just returned to Saudi Arabia after medical treatment and announced $37bn (£22bn) in benefits to lower and middle income Saudis. The package includes pay rises, unemployment benefit and affordable housing.

Dr Mai Yamani is a respected academic who has written a book called Changed Identities - The Challenge of the New Generation in Saudi Arabia. Her father was a crucial figure in the oil producers' cartel OPEC, when it forced up oil prices and sent the western world into recession in the 1970s.

On the BBC's World Business News, Mike Johnson asked her why King Abdullah had gone on this spending spree now.

Transcript below:

Dr Mai Yamani: It is in many ways viewed as bribery and it is again the same old methods. Use your oil money to quieten the people, gain their subservience, silence and submission.

Mike Johnson: That's what the king is doing you feel?

Dr Mai Yamani: The king is genuinely trying to appease the new generation in Saudi Arabia. But what is now urgently needed and what the Saudi youth are asking for is political reform, citizenship rights. They do not want to be the subjects of the past. They want political and economic participation in their countries.

Mike Johnson: But what is the extent of economic discontent, specifically in Saudi Arabia?

Dr Mai Yamani: The picture in Saudi Arabia is about politics of marginalisation and discrimination of certain sects, gender. So that causes unemployment. There are certain jobs that a woman cannot have, a job that the Shia cannot have, so this is one problem.

The second one is education and education has been mostly supervised and controlled by their Wahhabi religious establishment. And so if you read on the web sites, so many of the young men and women today are saying that the educational system is not preparing us for a new century, for the demands for jobs.

Having said that, this new generation in Saudi Arabia, like other youth in the Arab world, are educated, connected and angry. Some say that they have announced uprisings and demonstrations. Now demonstrations are illegal in Saudi Arabia. Whether that happens or not, there isn't much time.

What the examples of the revolutions have shown is not only economic grievances. You have Egypt. You have Tunisia that we heard more the need of bread and of course jobs. But you have Libya. Libya is an oil rich country with severe suppression, repression of the population and then you have Bahrain, which is not a poor country.

So the models or the examples of this revolution that the Saudi royal family are watching show that it is more than economic rewards or bribery that they can solve the problem of this earthquake, of revolutions in the whole region.

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