For those who believe in monarchies, the fact that the Saudi royal family owns palaces with gold embellishments and luxury vehicles that carry them to and fro is merely par for the course. However something is awry in a country where a monarchy squanders its wealth while poverty and hunger remain an everyday battle for 60% of the population. Press TV reported that “sixty percent of people in Saudi Arabia live below the poverty line according to Saudi activists, although official reports state only 22%” of its people are impoverished. Surely the ruling royal family is aware of this sad and desperate situation.
With such a sharp contrast between the rich and poor, why are there few reports on the matter? One can deduce that the Saudi media must be suppressing such reports in an attempt to keep the luxurious appearance it has worked so very hard to portray. “The regulations ban media from publishing anything that violates Islamic law, incites division and threatens internal security in Saudi Arabia, the holder of 20% of the world's oil reserves,” The Guardian cited. Media coverage of poverty in the country would dispel the myth that everyone is rich in Saudi Arabia. For those who expose this major error on the part of the Saudi Arabian government, they face detainment at the very least.
Feras Boqna, Hussam al-Drewesh and Khaled al-Rasheed were detained 2011 for airing a short film on poverty in Saudi Arabia. In the film, they asked Saudi motorists in a nice part of town how they were doing to which they respond gleefully, “We are fine.” The group then visited the poor Al-Jaradiyah district of Riyadh near center city. The conditions of the homes were deplorable and the streets were filthy. When asked the same question, residents of Al-Jaradiyah said with an obvious look of hopelessness and sadness, “We are not fine.” One resident said that he has difficulty supporting his family of thirteen on his salary and that they eat one meal a day. When Boqna, al-Drewesh and al-Rasheed aired their film, they were arrested a few days later. Authorities say they were released but no one has heard from them.
The Saudi government contends that it has been working hard to rid the country of extreme poverty. Arab News reported, “As part of the government’s efforts to alleviate poverty, the maximum social security benefit per family has been increased from SR 16,200 to more than SR 58,000 per year. It also provided assistance worth SR 10.8 billion to low-income groups to enable them improve their living conditions. Through the productive projects program, which
aims at qualifying social security beneficiaries through upgrading skills or providing tools, the government spent SR 24.9 billion.”
Perhaps part of the poverty problem is that there are people who are classified as ‘stateless’ in Saudi Arabia. It is as if these people do not exist. These residents do not qualify for any form of government assistance nor can they obtain decent employment.
As in most, if not all, Arab nations, a person carries the nationality of his father. This means children of non-Saudi fathers do not qualify for any government aid as well. In such a case, a person has no other recourse but to live in poverty. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) compiled a report listing the stateless people in each country. They cited Saudi Arabia as having 70,000 stateless residents.
“People suffer intolerable discrimination and unbearable abuse,” stated Zaid El-Isa, a Middle East expert, in an interview with Press TV about the impoverished.