The Saudis enjoy social benefits that are among the most generous in the world. No state income tax is levied, despite the fact that schools – including higher education – and health care are free of charge for citizens. There is also a comprehensive social insurance system and the prices of gasoline, electricity, water, gas and airline tickets are subsidized by the state.
Any adult Saudi who is not able is entitled to a piece of land and a generous interest-free mortgage. Widows, disabled people and others who may find it difficult to manage themselves receive state support. At the same time, the gaps are huge between them and the richest people in society, especially the members of the royal family who receive great apanage (maintenance by the state).
- Countryaah Official Site: Official statistics for population in Saudi Arabia, including population growth, density, and estimation in next 50 years.
Almost everyone has access to clean water, although it must be transported in tankers in its own way. In 2002, the government decided to allow the privatization of state hospitals.
Welfare care is now more of a problem than child mortality and infectious diseases. Dieting is often unhealthy and many people move very little. Obesity is common. According to a 2015 report, Saudi Arabia is one of the ten countries in the world where diabetes is most common.
Alongside this Saudi society, millions of foreign guest workers live under completely different conditions. Asian women work as servants in Saudi homes, where they are almost lawless and extradited to the employer’s discretion.
Women are generally discriminated against. All women must have a male guardian (wali)). Many important issues require permission from a male relative. Nor can women stay in public places without a comprehensive veil, and the right to drive is of late date. In the fall of 2017, the ban on driving was lifted and women were allowed to start driving licenses in the summer of 2018. Driving is one of several areas where Saudi women have carried out campaigns to expand their rights. A campaign against the stringent clothing requirements is expressed by the fact that the women wear their all-black garment, called abaya, with the outward side.
It has happened in a number of cases that young women protested against freedom by fleeing abroad. Some have been taken home by forced relatives, while others have been granted refugee status and asylum in other countries, including Australia. In 2019, 18-year-old Rahaf al-Qunun managed to get an international discussion on the problem by publishing his case via social media. She was granted asylum in Canada for her own part after the UN deemed her need for protection. The regime has subsequently extended women’s rights, including the right to travel, although the system of having a male guardian has not been abolished.
If a woman marries a foreign man he does not get Saudi citizenship. In the judicial process, the woman is not counted as the equal man.
The family and the family form the basis of society. Loyalty and solidarity within the family are fundamental. For both nomads and non-nomads, the individual’s place in society is defined primarily by customer affiliation. The hierarchies exist both within a clan and between clans. At the top of the notch is the multi-thousand-headed royal family of Al Saud. The Saudis’ loyalty to the state is thus based on an ancient customer tradition.
The hierarchies do not mean that the leader of a clan – who may be given the honorary title of shaykh (sheikh) – governs simply. Decisions are made according to the ideal in consensus. A sheikh gains reverence through his ability to mediate in conflicts and induce everyone to pull in the same direction. Generosity, selflessness and hospitality are highly valued. There is a strong ideal of equality, while respect for the elderly is central.
The kinship is counted on the father. There is contact with the woman’s family, but the children belong to the father and his family, not to the mother. This means that the woman does not have the right to custody or even intercourse with her children during a divorce. A married woman is counted as part of the household, but not by the family. She keeps her own name in marriage. Divorces are relatively common, as are divorced marriages.
Marriage is not a religious ritual, but a civil contract governed by religion. The parties themselves may agree on terms to apply. Normally, the man pays a morning gift to the woman. Although marriage is considered to be an agreement between two parties, it is normally only the man who can divorce. According to Islam, a man can have up to four wives, provided he can support them and treat them equally. It is mostly among religiously conservative groups and among the very affluent – not least in the royal family – that polygamy occurs. Marriages are often arranged, although nowadays it is common for couples to settle for marriage. Within the most senior clans, marriages outside the clan have traditionally been avoided.
In the past, a person’s position was more important than the assets. With the huge economic upswing that oil has brought, wealth and material standards have gained greater social value. A new middle class has emerged and awareness has increased about the huge gaps between the country’s elite and the rest of the population.
The family is both social security and provides employment opportunities. Anyone running a business is expected to prepare a place for relatives who need work. Men and women are separated in working life.
Bodywork, even in the home, is largely performed by foreign guest workers. Many families stay with servants, and Saudi children are largely raised by foreign nannies.
FACTS – SOCIAL CONDITIONS
Infant Mortality: 6 per 1000 births (2018)
Proportion of population with access to clean water: 100.0 percent (2015)
Proportion of the population having access to toilets: 100.0 percent (2017)
Public expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP: 5.8 percent (2015)
Public expenditure on health care per person: $ 1,147 (2016)
Proportion of women in parliament: 20 percent (2018)
Border agreement with Qatar
Saudi Arabia and Qatar agree on border crossing between countries; the agreement is signed after the turn of the year.
Suspected Islamists in court
Trials begin against 991 suspected al-Qaeda members, for a series of terrorist crimes committed since 2003.