King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia announced financial support measures, worth an estimated SR135bn ($36bn), in a bid to avert the kind of popular unrest that has toppled leaders across the region and is now closing in on Libya’s Muammer Gaddafi.
By Abeer Allam
Published: February 23 2011 16:21 | Last updated: February 23 2011 18:37
The measures include a 15 per cent salary rise for public employees to offset inflation, reprieves for imprisoned debtors, and financial aid for students and the unemployed.
Saudi Arabia’s ruling family has thus far been spared the type of popular discontent that has toppled presidents in Tunisia and Egypt and brought Libya to the brink of civil war.
The announcement of the Saudi relief measures coincided with King Abdullah’s return to the country after three months. He had been abroad for medical treatment. Among those on hand to greet him was King Hamid bin Isa al-Khalifa of neighbouring Bahrain, which is struggling to contain a surging opposition movement.
The cash-rich Saudi government has pledged to spend $400bn by the end of 2014 to improve education, infrastructure and healthcare. “The king is trying to create wider trickle- down of wealth in the shape of social welfare,’’ said John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Banque Saudi Fransi. “The budget can handle that, but it is an aspirin to ease medium-term pain, not a solution for the long-term housing, and unemployment issue.”
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