On Saudi spending

From an FP piece by Steffen Hertog, one of the best Saudi-watchers out there:

With a total estimated volume of $130 billion, the new spending measures are larger than the total annual government budget was as recently as 2007. They include the creation of 60,000 new jobs in the Ministry of Interior -- an agency that is already said to employ almost as many nationals as the whole Saudi private sector -- the building of 500,000 houses, the setting of a minimum wage of 3,000 Saudi Riyals ($800) in the public sector, one-time bonus payments for incumbent civil servants, the creation of a general unemployment assistance scheme, budget increases for various public credit agencies as well as supplementary funds for a number of religious organizations. Some of the spending is immediate, while other components will be rolled out during the coming years.

Many Saudis see the extra cash for religious institutions, including the religious police, as a reward for their vocal public stance against potential anti-regime demonstrations. Amendments to the Saudi media law announced in late April made it a crime to publish any material that insults the kingdom's grand mufti, members of the Council of Senior Ulama and government officials. Dissidents feel that the regime is circling the wagons, and is underwriting its strategy with targeted patronage measures.

Emphasis is mine. Quick thought: Having been in some part responsible for making Pakistan what it is today, will the al-Sauds now make their own country like today's Pakistan?

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.