Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Confronting crises with timely solutions | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Nowadays, people rely on the state for most aspects of their daily lives; such is the nature of modern life. The caveman, the farmer, and the shepherd are all remnants of a bygone era, a time when the government had almost no role to perform, and man was independent, living off his livestock and agriculture. The bulk of the population today are either civil servants, or people who are dependent on the former, in all walks of life. People are linked to official institutions in a variety of ways, from their water supply, to electricity, food, medication or travel. Such a dependency grants enormous powers to the governing authority, and also imposes huge duties upon them. This situation reflects the complex relationship between the two parties, whereby the citizen must have trust in the authority, and the authority in turn must be reliable.

Internal tension is a clear indication of declining trust, in which case, reliability alone becomes the most important currency. As the state’s reliability declines, it has less chance of solving its internal problems peacefully. It is natural that in troubled times, people are frightened and act out of fear, rather than out of public interest. When certain people, in the name of protection or patriotism, demand that the government shut down the stock exchange, and close the door in the face of those seeking to leave the country and withdraw their money, then they are jeopardizing the most important link between the two parties; the trust in the regime.

The Saudi stock exchange is being ruptured by an overwhelming sense of panic, stemming from the state of unrest in the region, and this is a normal and completely expected reaction. Such fear has also led to the increase of major financial withdrawals from [Saudi banks]. If the government prevents such activities, which were once permitted in times of “stability”, this is a devastating blow to the relationship between the regime and the citizen. Preventative measures show that the regime is lacking in self confidence, and such confidence can reassure citizens in the first place. Considerable damage will be inflicted upon the stock exchange and the banking system in the future, as a result of state interference in their activities, and making decisions contradictory to how they are meant to operate. The damage may be irreversible, particularly in a country like Saudi Arabia, which doesn’t need to interfere and prevent money transfers. Saudi Arabia does not rely on taxation as a source of income, nor does its private sector contribute greatly to the activities of the government or the people. In fact, it is most likely that those who transfer their money will then return it, once they discover that their predictions were wrong.

Fear cannot be healed when it is further fuelled through [stock exchange] closures, the prevention of financial circulation and money transfers, along with internet blackouts, travel bans, or any other means that a troubled regime may resort to. We do not need to claim that life is normal, because the region is witnessing a fire like never before, nor should we deny the need to be alert to the danger, and take responsibility to deal with this state of anxiety. The best way is to listen, amend, change, and retract [where appropriate]. This is the art of politics, and this cannot take place through prevention, prohibition or tightening the constraints on people’s living.

Furthermore, the act of fulfilling popular demands that relate to living standards is not necessarily easier than fulfilling political demands, although many believe that reformative measures such as salary increases can be achieved with a simple signature. Yet recruiting over a million jobless citizens is harder than a mere pay rise, and granting personal loans requires strict management, otherwise half a million debtors would become embroiled in unpaid debts and failed projects. Irresponsibly providing funds for housing construction would lead to severe competition over basic building materials, soaring prices, and ultimately, failure. Subsequently, the government’s money, which it had lent to the people, would end up in the pockets of merchants and brokers.

Those who think that ten-year old problems can be solved in a few days are mistaken. The unemployment and declining living standards that we see today are the natural products of poor education and mismanagement. Such problems cannot be solved in a matter of weeks, as some may imagine, but they will require a clear-sighted vision, a prolonged reform program, and political courage.