Middle East

Saudis join Twitter campaign for higher pay

Saudi cartoon complaining about other countries benefitting from the kingdom's money
Image caption Some Saudis believe foreigners are benefitting at their expense

A social media campaign demanding better pay in Saudi Arabia has gained a massive following among citizens of the Gulf kingdom, many of whom are facing an increasing struggle to meet their daily living costs.

Supporters of the campaign on Twitter - which uses the Arabic hashtag #our_salary_does_not_meet_our_needs - have been very active over the past two months.

More than 17 million tweets carrying the hashtag were posted in the campaign's first two weeks in July, which led to it 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 country's problems being aired in public.

Kingdom in flux

The campaign, which seeks to persuade King Abdullah to issue a decree increasing salaries, has highlighted the problem of poverty in Saudi Arabia and the concentration of its massive oil wealth in the hands of a few.

With the population having grown from seven million in the 1970s to almost 30 million in 2012, there are more and more young, educated citizens who have high expectations.

Supporters of the campaign have criticised what they see as misplaced government spending - a charge characterised by a widely circulated cartoon on Twitter depicting the fruits of a palm tree benefiting the rest of the world at the expense of Saudi citizens.

And some people resent a government pledge of financial aid to Egypt after the country's military ousted President Mohammed Morsi in July.

A picture circulated on Twitter underlined the point. It showed a Saudi couple with a baby living in squalor in a caravan, with the caption: "Saudi Arabia gives Egypt $5 billion. Don't they deserve it more?"

'Royal excesses'

Many Saudis have used the campaign to vent their frustrations at the perceived excesses of some members of the royal family.

Twitter users with the hashtag #our_salary_does_not_meet_our_needs expressed outrage at reports that an unnamed prince had donated $500,000 to a charity in return for 15 minutes with the American actress Kristen Stewart.

Campaigners have also complained about a lack of affordable housing, a problem noted by an IMF report published in July that also pointed out the challenge of providing suitable employment for the increasing number of young Saudis expected to enter the workplace over the next decade.

Some Twitter users see Saudi Arabia's National Day on 23 September as an opportunity to highlight their concerns.

One of them asked: "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."

'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 tarnishes the country's image.

The Cabinet Secretary General, Abdul Rahman al-Sadhan, condemned the Twitter campaign as "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".

Meanwhile, commentator Abdul Rahman Al Farhan wrote in the Saudi daily al-Bilad that Twitter users' demands for higher pay failed to take into account underlying issues that are making it difficult for many Saudis to afford their living costs.

He suggested that health insurance for all and the proper allocation of housing allowances would mean that "all calls for increases in salaries would dissolve into a vast sea of satisfaction and contentment".

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