Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Change Depends on the Wealth of the Country

This letter appeared in a New York Times discussion about change in the Arab World. A link to the story is here, and text is pasted below. You can add comments to the NYT posting.

Aiyah Saihati
Aiyah Saihati is a Saudi businesswoman and writer. She is on Twitter.
August 28, 2012
Arab monarchies can be divided into two groups: those with oil and those without.
Change will be slow in most oil-rich Gulf states with one exception: Saudi Arabia.
Monarchies less dependent on a wealth of natural resources -- Jordan, Bahrain and Morocco -- are under more pressure from their citizens to democratize. But oil-rich states, engaged in measured crackdowns, are less likely to fully democratize. They have created societies more concerned with entitlements of wealth distribution than with democratic political participation. Furthermore, the citizens of oil-rich states value their countries’ strategic importance in an oil-dependent world and understand the level of foreign support their governments garner.
As such, change will be slow in most oil-rich Gulf states with one exception: Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is the largest oil-rich monarchy and has one of the lowest G.D.P.'s per capita among the Gulf states. It also has a young population (45 percent of the population is under the age of 20). With high unemployment rates looming, the Saudi leadership needs to act fast to keep its people content.
Aware of the situation, the monarchy has begun to do the unthinkable. Recently, it decided to permit women to work as airline attendants. Empowering women is the easiest and wisest path to gain public approval. Lifting the ban on women driving, for example, will not only make people feel less oppressed but will also bolster the local economy by at least $140 billion over the next 10 years. (An amount that far exceeds the appeasement package the Saudi monarchy offered its public during the Arab Spring). The push of one button to overturn the ban is a no-brainer.
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