Saudi authorities sent a clear message last Friday: No one is above the law and any challenger to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s vision will be asking for trouble.
According to news media reported by CNN, Reuters, the Financial Times and confirmed by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), 11 new princes were arrested for protesting loss of benefits related to energy bills.
Arrested, not detained, behind bars in Ha’ir prison, home to hardened criminals, not the cushy, and glitzy Riyadh Ritz Carlton, where prince Alwaleed bin Talal awaits his fate, and who in November 2017 was detained alongside dozens of royals, businessmen and senior government officials as a part of a corruption crackdown.
And this time around it’s not about $100bn in funds allegedly embezzled from the Kingdom, but over petty energy privileges that these princes were protesting losing.
Pay your bills or go to jail
After staging a sit-in at a palace in Riyadh, 11 princes were arrested protesting a recent royal order that halted payments by the state to members of the royal family to cover their electricity and water utility bills,” the kingdom’s attorney general Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb said in a statement Saturday.
“They also want compensation for the 2016 state execution of a cousin who was convicted of murder,” according to the statement, which The Financial Times (FT) reported was Prince Turki bin Saud al-Kabeer, who was convicted of murder and executed in 2016.
Al Mojeb, said that authorities had cautioned the princes that their demonstration and requests were breaking the law, but such warnings fell on deaf ears, leading to the arrests and now the Saudi princes find themselves behind bars, pending trial.
“No one is above the law in Saudi Arabia. Everyone is equal and is treated the same as others,” the statement said.
The protests, though deemed illegal, were surprising in nature, because no one expected Saudi princes to complain about utility bills, and knowing that Saudi has begun implementing countermeasures to help Saudis affected by the reforms, including a rise in fuel prices and the introduction of 5% VAT.
Relief is coming
According to Reuters, Saudi King Salman on Saturday ordered a monthly payment of $267 to state employees in 2018 in relief over rising cost of living to counter increased fuel prices and the 5% VAT that took effect January 1, of this year.
As for those on the frontlines in the Yemeni war, “A royal decree also ordered the payment of $1335 to military personnel.”
According to Reuters, King Salman directed the state to bear the burden of VAT in special health and education services as well as the first purchase of a house valued at $226,660, while boosting allowances for students by 10%, and relief measures for retirees.
“About 1.18 million Saudis are employed in the government sector and there are more than 1.23 million pensioners and beneficiaries of pension payments, the central bank says. That suggests a total package cost of about $6.2bn,” according to Reuters calculations.
A Vision 2030 that sees everyone
Saudi non-oil diversification strategy was born out of the need to compensate loss in oil revenues due to lower energy prices and end deficit spending which reached a $52bn gap in 2017, but also to take the Kingdom to the forefront of the region’s investment and business dealings and lure FDI and tourists.
It has announced a number of reform programs including the lifting of bans from VoIP usage, and women drivers, introduced a new entertainment strategy that sees the re-entry of movie theaters into the kingdom, and lifted restrictions over business ownership, all in the aim of encouraging business to thrive in the kingdom.
In parallel, last December saw Saudi implement a Citizen’s account policy that will distribute $540m to 10.6 million Saudis in need, to the tune of $27 per family member, monthly.
This is in addition to a recent $19.2bn stimulus spending package it announced in December, aimed at supporting SMEs, boosting entrepreneurship, housing and others.