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Carrot time

Carrot time

Governments in the Gulf states are rushing to find ways to keep their populations happy as unrest continues to spread. Can the likes of Saudi, Oman, and the UAE maintain stability?

February 28, 2011 5:15 by

Kipp has to admit, we did not see this one coming. Yesterday Omani police had to fire rubber bullets at crowds of protesters who were demanding political reform. According to Gulf News one protester was killed as 2,000 gathered in Sohar, north of Muscat, although other reports claimed two had died. Police also used tear gas to try to disperse the crowds; there were reports that a police station and government building were on fire, though this is disputed. Whatever the extent of the unrest Kipp’s point remains: we didn’t see this coming.

We didn’t see it coming perhaps because all eyes round here are on Saudi. The unrest across the rest of the region seems distant somehow (at least to us without business interests in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya or Bahrain), but we’ve all been aware of the potential tinderbox that is Saudi. Oman was kind of on the periphery, and it always seemed very stable. We guess that was a misconception.

Saudi, on the other hand, is on everyone’s radar. This week 119 academics, activists and businessmen wrote a letter to the king, according to the BBC, in which they complained “about the prevalence of corruption and nepotism and a widening gap between state and society.” Saudi has vast wealth, but it also has a large population, many of whom struggle to find jobs and to afford homes. According to the BBC, there is an 18 year wait for government housing, and two-thirds of the population is under 30, with youth unemployment three times the national average. Inflation is making life much harder for them, meanwhile there is uncertainty over the succession of leadership in the country.

Alongside the letter, a Facebook group calling for a “day of rage” on March 11 has seen as many as 12,000 members. The general mood has provoked concessions from the government, as it tries to head off potential unrest by buying off the population – a sort of carrot method (as opposed to the stick). Reports say that the country will draw from its reserves to fund benefits for Saudis worth $36 billion, while King Abdullah ordered permanent state jobs for every Saudi on temporary contracts. The move could apply to tens of thousands.

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