Unrest builds up as Saudis vent rage at government price hikes


File photo of a Saudi man counting his banknotes
File photo of a Saudi man counting his banknotes

Saudi Arabians have taken to the social networking services, venting their anger at the government for hiking domestic gas prices and introducing value-added tax (VAT).

London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi paper said on Sunday that furious Saudi citizens had created a “salary is not enough” hashtag on Twitter.

According to various media outlets, the kingdom almost doubled gasoline prices and introduced a five-percent VAT on most goods and services on Monday.

The paper said the prices of thousands of goods and services had soared, including gasoline prices which had been hiked 82-126 percent.

The “salary is not enough” hashtag has been recreated four times so far after reaching its follow limit.

Unemployed Saudis, who according to 2016 estimates comprised more than 5.1 percent of the population, have created another hashtag named “the unemployed, the forgotten.”

New footage circulated online seemed to show a Saudi citizen setting fire to a gas station in protest at the fuel price spikes.

The kingdom has been trying to diversify its economy which is reeling from falling oil prices and its costly war on Yemen. Crude prices tumbled last year after Saudi Arabia flooded the market with additional oil.

Last month, the country whose economy contracted by 0.5 in 2016 cut the government subsidy on electricity supplies for the second time in two years, leading to a sharp rise in bills.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia’s Attorney General Saud al-Mojeb confirmed that 11 royals had been arrested after gathering in front of a palace in protest at government cuts of their water and electricity subsidies, Sabqpaper reported. It said those arrested were transferred to the al-Ha’ir security prison south of the capital.

The protests have raged on despite King Salman’s efforts to soothe the public on Saturday by ordering a 1,000-riyal ($266) increase in monthly payments of state employees.

The payout to Saudi troops involved in the kingdom’s war on Yemen was increased five times the rest of the state employees as per the order as the hugely-deadly warfare becomes more and more unpopular.

Mojeb said the royals apprehended on Saturday for protesting the kingdom’s austerity measures would face trial for “disrupting public peace and order.”

The princes were also demanding compensation for a death sentence issued against one of their cousins, convicted of murder and executed in 2016.

“Despite being informed that their demands are not lawful, the 11 princes refused to leave the area, disrupting public peace and order,” Mojeb said in a statement issued by Information Ministry.

“Following their arrest, they have been charged on a number of counts in relation to these offenses,” the statement added.

HRW: Saudi cleric held in isolation

Separately, New York-based Human Rights Watch said that a prominent Saudi cleric arrested in a crackdown on dissent in September was being held without charge or contact with the outside world.

Salman al-Awda was among more than 20 people arrested in what the Saudi government has said was a crackdown on “intelligence activities… for the benefit of foreign parties against the security of the kingdom and its interests.”

Awda’s family, however, believes he is being held over a tweet linked to neighboring Qatar.

Riyadh cut ties with Doha last June, accusing it of backing “terrorism.” Doha rejects the claim.

Saudi activists have said al-Awda’s brother Khaled has also been detained for disclosing that the cleric had been arrested.

The kingdom has widened the scope of its “anti-terror” laws in what rights bodies denounce as a controversially-restrictive action against civic freedoms. (PRESSTV)

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