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Five Decisive Years - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In a country with eight million migrant workers, it is difficult for half a million unemployed citizens to accept any official justification as to why they remain jobless. Even if such talk concerns Saudi Arabia after it announced its five-year development plan on Tuesday, it also concerns eight other states that produce and export enormous natural resources; namely the GCC member states, plus Algeria, Libya and Iraq.

Unemployment of this magnitude means that the state is having a real problem, either in terms of planning or implementation. This is either because it has produced a large number of educated citizens but failed to provide them with jobs or in contrast because the state has produced an army of incapable citizens who are not fit to enter the job market. In both cases i.e. planning and implementation, the citizen is not responsible for the problem, but rather the result [of it]. Therefore a government can never run away from its responsibilities so long as it is primarily responsible for managing the country’s natural resources.

Every five years, Saudi Arabia announces its five-year plan with regards to how the country will be run over the next period; Saudi Arabia announced its ninth five-year plan on Tuesday. This plan includes an interpretation of the challenges of the current situation, and future solutions to these. In this plan, the government admitted that unemployment has reached 10 percent, promising to reduce this rate by approximately half, as well as accommodating the hundreds of thousands of new job seekers.

The problem here is that the definition of the term unemployment is not clear to us, whilst the project to reduce unemployment is vague and there are no details surrounding this. The simple question is; how can an additional million people find employment? If the government is being criticized today, then it should prepare itself for even more criticism when each citizen graduating from university finds themselves loitering on the streets.

Saudi Arabia, as well as the other eight states [that are rich in natural resources], are being blamed more than other Arab countries for this state of affairs for one simple reasons; they have huge oil and gas resources. The challenge in front of them is how to manage the income [from these resources]…rather than how to obtain the income in the first place. This contrasts with the rest of the Arab states who struggle just to secure hard currency for their treasury. Such countries that are rich in resources do not suffer from overpopulation like Egypt, or extreme poverty or political failure like Yemen or Sudan. Even these three countries – which I am using as a example – produce oil – however their standards of development, and the challenges that they are facing, are not the same.

The challenges facing Saudi Arabia are related to planning and implementation, as it still enjoys considerable revenue and income, but at the same time it suffers from the dilemmas of a developing country. Saudi Arabia is now launching its ninth five-year plan, meaning that 40 years have passed since this development project first began and there are still a number of problems that are being deferred from one plan to the next. In practical terms, Saudi Arabia only has one resource, and successive plans have failed to ensure realistic additional – not alternative – sources of income. How will we be able to keep spending on our people when the population continues to increase in terms of size and requirements? Will the oil revenue be sufficient for this?

The second challenge concerns the state’s inability to create generations that work productively and independently, as currently, millions of Saudis work in the civil service. The government is expanding its departments simply in order to accommodate an enormous number of new employees due to the lack of other job opportunities. This means that the civil service is increasing without a need for these new employees. There is also the chronic deficiency regarding the continued failure of these development plans to resolve the issues surrounding women’s employment. As a result of this, 50 percent of society remains almost inactive. Women are limited to working in female education, and so almost all women are stuck within one of three boxes, and are either students, teachers or unemployed. Can the Ministry of Economy and Planning be frank with us; what are your plans for the millions of Saudi Arabian woman over the next five years?

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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