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Saudis demand government jobs in rare protest-media
Rare protest staged in Riyadh, media says; Saudi graduates demand jobs.
August 29, 2010 5:08 by Reuters
Some 200 unemployed Saudi university graduates staged a rare protest in the capital Riyadh demanding the Gulf Arab state give them jobs, Saudi media said on Sunday.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, is an absolute monarchy that has no elected parliament and usually does not tolerate public displays of dissent.
Unemployment hit 10.5 percent last year, according to official data, and creating jobs for a fast-growing native population of more than 18 million is one of the biggest challenges facing the country’s ageing leadership.
Saudi newspapers carried pictures of graduates from state universities gathering on Saturday in front of the education ministry to demand jobs as Arabic language teachers.
“Enough injustice,” read one slogan carried by the protestors in front of the ministry building.
With a population officially at 27.1 million, Saudi Arabia offers its nationals social benefits but these are below those granted by other Gulf Arab oil producers such as Kuwait and Qatar, which have much smaller native populations.
Many Saudis are forced to work as taxi drivers, private security guards or other low-paid jobs to make ends meet.
The kingdom does not publish regular jobless data, a sensitive issue for authorities since it highlights fissures in wealth distribution in one of the world’s wealthiest countries.
Despite its vast oil resources, Saudi Arabia struggles to find jobs for Saudi nationals due to an outdated education system that focuses more on religion than on the job skills needed to diversify an oil-based economy weighed down by a bloated public sector.
Nayef al-Tamimi, a spokesman for the protestors, said they had graduated from university but were unable to find work, according to the daily newspaper al-Hayat.
“I was surprised about the lack of opportunities despite the need for teachers but the ministry was not interested in this,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.
In a statement carried by al-Hayat, the ministry of education said it was not in charge of hiring but only defined the demand for teachers based on positions allocated to it. Its spokesman could not be reached for comment.
King Abdullah has tried to overhaul the archaic education and legal system since taking office in 2005 but the religious elite which controls the bureaucracy has held back reforms.
Officials who back Abdullah fear that without jobs young people will be drawn to militancy in the future.
Al Qaeda launched a campaign against the Saudi state in 2003, accusing the royal family of corruption and blaming it for its alliance with the United States. Most of those who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were Saudis.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Jon Hemming)