Thursday, January 24, 2013

Saudi-Arabia- From Rags To Riches

Saudi-Arabia, the land of the filthy rich sheikhs who live in extravagant palaces.. The Kingdom where everyone enjoys the unbelievable riches that stem from its loins in the form of black gold...In Saudi-Arabia surely all citizens live at least a fairly comfortable and easy life, right? Not exactly.

This is the impression that many outsiders have about the Kingdom of Saudi-Arabia. Through the eyes of most foreigners, it's a place full of wealth and luxury where all Saudis live in large villas and mansions, tended to by servants, maids and drivers. They drive in the latest sports car models and luxury SUV's, spending most of their free time shopping for the latest Gucci bag or Rolex watch. 

All of the above may be true for a minority of Saudis but there's another side to the coin, and it's not all that shiny. While the rich Saudis live lavishly, the poor languish in misery.

There is a rarely seen "dark side" to the Kingdom. Poverty, unemployment, hunger, beggars, shack villages..They all exist in Saudi-Arabia.

According to a report by The Washington Post, poverty in Saudi-Arabia is increasing. An estimated quarter of the population (2-4 million) live below the poverty line. That is a staggering amount. So where do all these people live?

The following is a photo collection from around the Kingdom of Saudi-Arabia displaying the very humble and some even shocking circumstances that millions of Saudis live under. There are Saudis who live in houses built out of mud. Many of them do not enjoy the luxury of running water, plumbing or electricity. There are Saudis who build straw huts for their families to live in. They are goat herders and live much like some rural tribes in Africa. Others have no other option than to live in shack villages or even on the streets.

While the average Saudi probably falls somewhere between the wide array of these two extremes, lets not forget that there are families in the Saudi Kingdom who struggle everyday to find a decent meal to feed their starving children. These struggles are mostly unseen and unheard of to the average Saudis. These people are the forgotten ones, the hidden "dirty" secrets. Many of them are widowed or divorced women with no source of income, or ways to find (or get to) work. 

The trend in Saudi, like all over the world, is the rich are getting richer and the poor even poorer. This seems to be a paradox keeping in mind the importance of zakat (giving charity) in Islam. Many Saudis give zakat during Ramadan only, when it's believed that blessings from giving charity to the poor are multiplied. One reason that Saudis don't help the poorest citizens more is simply the lack of social charity organizations and channels through which to donate.

Saudi-Arabia does have some social charity organizations to support the poor, but although they go by the name of NGO's, they're still heavily controlled and supervised by the government. Strict rules apply for everything from the range of permissible activities to regulating donations to cash only. Currently the law prohibits foreign organizations from opening branches in Saudi-Arabia and foreign funding is also restricted.

There is a draft law which would hopefully relax the rules for charitable organizations and help would reach more people in more effective and productive ways.

But does this solve the underlying issues, the cause of poverty?

In a country with so much wealth, how did this happen? 

From old to new. A traditional mud house next to a typical modern villa in the Najran valley.
This family lives in a simple house amongst piles of trash. The electricity cord has been dangerously set up.

Crumbling floors and structures pose dangers to the inhabitants.
A simple mud house on a farm.
A little girl peeks from the window of the mud house.
Surprising colors inside a mud house.
A shack village in Jizan.

A man selling a replica of the house he lives in.

Small farming community in southern region of Saudi-Arabia.

The village well.
Is this somewhere in Africa or Saudi-Arabia?

 A family lives in the ruins of an old mud village.
A typical villa in the capital Riyadh.
Luxurious palace in Riyadh.


❤ αmαℓ said...

SubhanAllah. What a contrast. Something needs to be done for these ppl. How can anyone be left to live in a mud hut?? Especially in a wealthy country that likes to flaunt it. Probably tribal politics :(

Christine said...

Beautiful photography. It's wonderful to see the variety...

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with you that outsiders think there are no poor Saudis, while reality is quite different. From all the GCC countries, Saudi citizens are the poorest, i.e. local of other countries get more help from the Government.

Steve said...

Excellent article, photos. Never seen such images from the Kingdom. Keep up the great effort.

Havivah said...

Hello Layla,

I love your post, thank you so much for sharing. It seems to me personally it is a result of globalization and possibly poor organization on an 'urban planning' front. However I understand why foreign interest parties aren't allowed to do charitable work, I work in Accounting (though soon hope to leave the field) and believe me the figures would stagger you the amount of money laundered everyday. At least I suspect this is why KSA wants to save themselves from such a mess. Regardless it would be interesting to see growth/birth/morbidity/mortality/etc. rates on these regions vs. others of KSA. Also, is it possible to find perhaps a sustainable way to help? Having mud houses does have its advantages though may not be the most structurally sound. Sorry, please pardon my academic questions, I am a budding researcher ;))

Latent congratulations also to you and your family.

Layla said...

amal-agreed, something needs to be done..and there is, but just not enough!

Layla said...

Thank you Christine!

Layla said...

anon-that's true, but also Saudi is the largest GCC country by land and population.

Layla said...

Thanks Steve!

Jean said...

Thanks for showing us the real and contrasting sides Laylah. Write more about the ordinary side of KSA.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, but what about a little insight as to WHY this situation exists? Your husband is a Saudi...Any insights from that direction?

Those of us living here notice the drive from the Saudi government towards Saudization at every level, yet we still see people from other countries doing many jobs that could be filled by these poor Saudis. Cleaning is one.

I suspect a large part of this problem you describe here is actually caused by the widespread lack of interest in working in jobs felt to be beneath even the poorest Saudi.

Layla said...

Hi Haviva and thank you for the insightful comment.
I think you're right,poor planning definitely plays a big role here. It seems government has not been prepared for such an explosive growth of the population, which is difficult to understand since most poor Saudi families tend to have many kids (around 10 is common)
Lots of these families live in the countryside and it's difficult to reach them. Maybe government could subsidize crops and support the farmers more.

Layla said...

anon-thank for the comment,
True that, many Saudi would not take menial jobs such as cleaners. Although there was just a news article about Saudi women who had a cleaning job and the scandal that caused.
It does seem that living in poverty and even begging on the street is more acceptable for a Saudi (especially woman) than doing a street cleaning etc job. The attitudes need to change drastically.
That said, because many of these poor people live in the countryside, doing some of those jobs becomes impossible even if they were willing to do it..they have to stay at their farms working. So like I said above, government should support the poor farmers more.

Anonymous said...

Aren't you part of the problem? You are an expat living in the DQ with a wealthy Saudi husband. Why not downgrade and donate your wealth?

Layla said...

We are not wealthy as you think..Living in DQ doesn't equal being rich :D
We worked long and hard to get in here,and it was worth it. Would not live anywhere else. There's other ways we can help like donations in form of clothing and household items and cash..

What about you, why don't you "downgrade"? What are you doing to help?

Falcon of Arabia said...

Great article! you should be in Shura Council instead of those dysfunctional members who hardly address the issue of poverty and inequality.

Anonymous said...

The Turkish prime minister and his government assisted in lifting Turkey's economy; 1 SR was equal to tens of Turkish Liras. Now, 1 Lira = + 2 SR.
When he was the mayor of Istanbul, he was asked how could his administration achieved such a leap of development? His answer was: "We don't steal".
That's our problem in KSA.
PS. Since you live in the DQ (from the comments), I hope you can assist in delivering this image to your neighbors. I met many people there who were extremely haters to KSA, mostly because of "They have a lot of money".

PPS. I really appreciate the tone of your language in talking about your country, Saudi Arabia. I didn't see many English posts around the internet showing this simple respect when discussing Saudi issues; which is easy to do, but I don't know why is it hard to do when it's about SA. Keep the good work!

Anonymous said...

It really annoys me when some Saudis try to deny that poor Saudi people exist.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post my dear ! Only a brave one can write for such issues ! I think the "leading" class there have many interests to keep poor people and WOMEN in these conditions and you know what I mean...
My respects from Greece !

Anonymous said...

No saudi is better than a non Saudi words of the holy prophet yet the Saudis don't adhere then who will be to blame when the punishment of the lord descends upon you like it did on previous nations who disobeyed

Anonymous said...

Hi .. my name is Mohammad, I am the person in the first pic. My job is tour operator in Najran/ KSA I would like to clarify that pic. No. 1,7 and 9 were in a historical village called Al Mishkat in Najran while I was explaining historcal issue about the village to the tourists . It's not my house and its not a house of any one any more. you can see a lot of pic's like this in my Facebook page "Najran Tours".
Also pic's no 2 is showing how the people of Najran keep their old historical houses although they have a new one's. Am not saying that there are no poor people in my city but this is not the correct pic. to support your article. Thank you.

Layla said...

Salaam Mohammed, thank you for the comment and correction, I have deleted those images! Apologies for the misunderstanding.
Honestly I've been to so many places around Saudi over 5 years and I guess I mixed up which pic was from the Najran mud house that was in the Miskat village and which was from the mud houses that were still inhabited. They were very similar I must say.
Najran is one of my favorite places in Saudi Arabia, such a wonderful mix of friendly welcoming people, history, scenery, great climate, clean streets..

Anyways, thank you and hope to hear from you again and sorry for the mix-up!