"When the oil runs out, Saudi Arabia will be history...everybody will up and leave, including the rich Saudi who have homes and investments all over the world". That's the common rhetoric you hear around the expat traps. Even I admit to thinking along those lines every now and then.
Well, the oil hasn't exactly run out but the downturn in prices has meant that the Saudi government has, for the past many months, been thinking about their future. As Saudi's future affects a number of expats, I started a blog post on what I thought should be part of those changes. The Husband, bless his worried heart, told me not to post it and every now and then because, lets face it, he pays the bills, I heed his advice but given how things seem to be panning out, here's what I wrote all those months ago.
***************************The Deputy Crown Prince made an announcement the other day that wasn't exactly a surprise given all the debate going on in expat circles - well the ones I move in anyway. I'm sure there was debate in Saudi circles too, but not so anyone else could hear it because peeps in this part of the world are cautious about exactly what they express and to whom.
And Yes, we all know if Saudi hierarchy had thought about their future years ago when the gravy train was so overloaded with cash that the handful of peeps at the top who had access to it all didn't really know what to do with it so wasted a boatload of it on themselves and their closest relatives, they would be in a much better position now to deal with this little economic hiccup. But they didn't, so lets move on...
The general consensus is that the government is going to use this little downturn in the oil income to drag this country into the 21st century. All of it. All the way. I'm guessing the young people love this idea. (I have to guess because I haven't actually asked that many young people their opinion, but the ones I know are waiting, expectantly, for things to happen - here's hoping they aren't disappointed). The old conservative bunch may have to dragged kicking and screaming.
Here's a Bloomberg article on the man charged with guiding and directing the future of Saudi Arabia if you are interested: The $2Trillion Project to Get Saudi Arabia's Economy Off Oil .
What Saudi don't want, and who can blame them, is a move toward change that will descend into chaos, as has happened with their neighbors. Personally I don't think young Saudi are at the mass revolution stage. Restless, yes. Revolting, no. The sector that needs to be watched are the old guard and any of their loopy loo friends. The time is right to make a few adjustments to the way the populace thinks - the modernists will be looking ahead. The loopy loos will be looking backwards.
Some indications of the changes are already published and if you want to read more about them just google: Future of Saudi Without Oil.
Personally I reckon we'll see:
- The sponsorship system eradicated. It's nothing but a slave trading system full of exploitative kafeels and their equally unscrupulous agents. Naturally there should be some other form of control for monitoring the comings and goings of people into and out of the country...just not that one.
- True reform of the public education system which most intelligent people recognize needs to change, the question is how. Naturally I have formed an opinion on this subject even though I have close to nothing to do with the current educational institution. I see there has to be a two fold approach. First the curriculum needs a massive upgrade to better prepare youth for the modern world in terms of their ability to ask inquiring questions, to think critically and creatively and not be afraid of expressing an idea or opinion. (You're thinking I'm barking up a tree with this, aren't you?)
Perhaps instead of insisting on rote learning of the quran, which I gather through much discussion with people in the system is largely the current set up of public education, Saudi could set its brightest brains to creatively integrating quranic lessons into a more useful school curriculum. You know, like real life word problems.
Then of course you have to find someone who can teach such a curriculum and encourage participation and expression without getting their shemarghs tied in a twist. I have mentioned before that you cannot possibly teach a student to think out of the box if you don't know how to think that way yourself. Most local teachers in this country have definitely been programmed to live 'in the box'. And the box sucks.
I have been the recipient of Saudi type lessons. It was quite early in my residence in Saudi and fellow compound dweller and I decided to try and learn Arabic, spoken and written, so hired a woman who said she could teach us. We thought learning from a local would give us an edge. We had one lesson.
There wasn't much structure to the session which wasn't so bad. The disturbing things were when we struggled. After teaching us 'Hello, How are you' and the response she asked us to have a conversation with each other - but she wouldn't let us have the conversation. She would jump in and say the words for us...every time. We're lucky if we got half a word out. When we struggled with pronunciation she was less than complementary and, eventually, she gave up teaching us to talk, with a huff and a sigh, and moved on to writing the alphabet. She shows us a few letters and asks us to write what she has. While I am trying to do so she snatches the pencil out of my hand exclaiming 'No, no...like this', takes the paper from in front of me and writes the letter herself.
Suffice to say my friend and I decided to relieve this woman of the language teaching position and then sat about expressing, with absolute astonishment and disbelief, how shit it must be to be a young student in her class with no recourse to removing her for from the role.
A few years later, after many promises being made by the modernist hierarchy to revamp the national education curriculum not much was improving because, basically, they were being beaten back every step of the way by the conservative crew who didn't want to give away a second of Quranic Time. (Gosh this reminds me of the American education problems. If you ever get a chance to watch 'Waiting for Superman' you may see a lot of similarities to the Saudi situation).
My neighbor was hired to teach in a supposedly international but actually Saudi school and complained constantly about the ridiculousness of her workload. Not the teaching workload - the additional stuff, like the marking of homework. She had to go through every student book and mark every missing dot to the 'i', every crooked cross to the letter 't'. Such activity is an absolute waste of a teachers time and is also not teaching, but it is a reflection of what the system thinks is important. Trivialities. Image. She would watch my grand-children on the mat outside our door writing imperfectly shaped words and hear me saying well done - not for the imperfection, but for the effort - and correcting every now and then as required and wondered why that type of teaching wasn't acceptable in her class.
Here's hoping the new changes include real change to the education system, its' curriculum and delivery. Those would be a good start.
- The government can't afford to keep employing their own so all those cushy government jobs need to be fewer and further between. And seriously, I have heard numerous Saudi say they prefer to be hired by the government because its a cushy, non—demanding place to be. Watching the reshuffles in those offices will be interesting.
- More foreign investment makes sense so people can be pushed out of their comfy government employment into real work. PPP's (Public Private Partnerships) seem to be flavour of the month. I'm guessing a Saudi influenced arrangement will see more risk put on, and more profit demanded by, the private P in that bunch
The Private portion of the PPP's also has to be able to have more say on how to deal with unproductive workers because no company wants to come here if they have to pay people whose productivity is negligible, or pay two nationals to do the job of one expat and, whether Saudi likes it or not, that is the reality of the Saudi reputation on work ethic - it is sorely lacking. If the Private Sector is going to be expected to take on more risk, it would not be impractical of them to push back on Saudization criteria because it will hugely affect their bottom line.
Too much privatization isn't healthy either. Often times the profit becomes more important than the people. Saturating a country with large corporations only leads to the small business owner being pushed out. With 20+million nationals, there's the potential for a lot of unhappy small folk if privatization by big corporations takes over willy nilly like it has the rest of the world.
If Saudi is keeping their finger on the pulse of global trends, they will see the the little guy is beginning to re-emerge in various areas, mostly because the consumer, sick of the big guy, is asking for more community focused, user friendly, responsive and local entities.
Balancing large and small business investment properly will be tricky given that the Regal Clique has a lot of their fingers in the big corporate pies. That clique just stamp their stroppy feet and say NO to anyone else wanting to enter the market that looks like they might be either too much of a competitor to an existing regal owned entity or unwilling to pay the backhander to the Princely Type holding up the paperwork. Ask around the traps and many a rumored tale will be told about that!
- Training institutions, educational institutions and the workplace has to be able to emphasize reward for effort, not reward for existing which, unfortunately, is how the many Saudi view their place in the world. At the top, regardless. Take for example a locally based firm that gives its Saudi workers raises and promotions for billing four hours a week. Four hours. A week. And you get a promotion. The amount you bill over the course of a year doesn't even pay your salary. Nope, the expat slaving it in the office next door, billing 60 hours a week is covering for everybody else. And his promotions get over looked. If the idea is to replace all expats with Saudi's then stuff like that should not be happening. A good hard look in the mirror and facing some home truth's about exactly what the Saudi employee is or is not producing is required.
- Women should be driving. There are far too many unnecessary foreign men milling about in this country who don't actually need to be here.
- The government will be expected to assist while the local people get used to less money in pocket due to price rises of consumer goods. And they will rise some more although I'm guessing expats will be expected to shoulder the brunt of those somehow.
- To make the locals more accepting of price increases and austerity measures The Regal Ones should start leading by example. Everyone knows where all the money is. If peace of the masses is to remain and vocal disapproval by them is to be kept to a minimum, I suggest the peeps up top take some of that cash they have stashed in their bank accounts and back their own country by plugging deficits with money they should have been sharing with their countrymen for years anyway.
When the household budget gets tight the natives will get restless and risk being outspoken. If things go that far and Saudi responds with a heavy 'Shut your trap or you will disappear' response, they will have lost the respect of their nation. After all, only nasty dictators pick on their own. But if the hierarchy can be seen doing the right thing and curbing that terribly bad habit they've developed of rewarding themselves with and from riches they basically siphoned away from the masses just because they have a certain blood line, then everyone might come out of this downturn relatively happy chappies.
- Women should also be doing their own housework and childcare and Dad will have to start helping out more with both. If families insist on the the 'need' for a maid cum–nanny cum–cook come–every flaming thing, an unfortunate side affect of price increases will be abuse of poorly paid maids and drivers (money stress always makes people crack and pick on the weakest link).
- Free health and education for nationals may be a thing of the past. (Such a shame. This is the only country that actually does provide for nationals health and education. We say health and education is free in NZ but we're always having to pay fees, books, uniforms, trips, medications, procedures,....it all gets very un–free very quickly.)
- Conservative fruitcakes will get all trigger happy because they prefer the country back in the dark ages. Everybody, be on your guard.
- Naturally, such modernization has to be in agreement with the quran because, it just does. However my take is that, though the contents of the quran can't, and will not, be changed, there may be some adaptations to current interpretation in the wind.