Riyadh (GPA) – A protest at a royal palace in Riyadh late last week has ended with eleven Saudi princes arrested.
The privatization of the Saudi economy is continuing to affect more layers of society that the government has previously kept compliant with massive subsidies, resulting in another sign of the fracturing upper and middle classes in the Kingdom.
The latest incident occurred on Thursday when eleven members of the extended Saudi royal family entered a royal palace in Riyadh and attempted to stage a sit-in. This ‘protest’ came after the application of a new set of regulations by the government under the reform plans of Prince Mohammed Bin Salman that have cut off previous subsidies for members of the royal family.
The particular subsidies that were cut, triggering the eleven princes’ demonstration, are apparently the payments made to members of the royal family that cover all their bills for gas and water. The ending of these payments is just the latest in economic policy changes which have also included recent changes such as the increase of gas prices inside the kingdom by nearly 80%.
While the Saudis have continued to make changes in their massive government spending, the still walk a fine line between the cuts they can make while also keeping their economy stable (especially as they seek to sell off major pieces of state-owned industries). Changing government spending this quickly has led to several previous attempts at cutting government spending schemes being called off or delayed and this is still the case.
Even the latest increase in fuel prices has been offset to some degree by increases in other areas of government spending, such as a fresh round of salary increases for state employees that was announced this weekend. This pay increase will be worth an extra 1,000 riyals ($267) a month to all civil servants and soldiers as well as a one time bonus of 5,000 riyals ($1333) to Saudi soldiers serving on the border with Yemen. These pay increases are expected to cost the kingdom 23 billion riyals this year as Riyadh tries to tamp down a budget deficit that is projected to hit around 195 billion riyals ($52b).
The eleven princes attempting to protest their grievances with this new concept of utility bills were also seeking compensation from the state for the death sentence carried out on a member of their branch of the Saud family.
Despite this sit-in taking place on Thursday, it seems that the Saudi media was likely unwilling to publish anything about it without state consent, which only came on Saturday. Disclosure of the arrests was first allowed out two days after the event when Attorney General Sheikh Saud Al-Mujib emailed a statement to news outlets about the detained royals.
According to Al-Mujib the princes “were informed of their wrong approach, but they refused to leave the site. A royal directive was issued to arrest them and they were sent to Al-Hair prison, pending trial.” Al-Hair is one of Saudi Arabia’s highest security prisons that also holds terrorism suspects and dissidents.
While the choice of prison for these royal family members may make it seem like they are from the poorer part of the Saud family tree, that is not the case according to Al-Mujib, who, in his statement said that in his office “We emphasize here that the royal directives are clear that all citizens are equal before the law, and those who fail to abide by the regulations and instructions will be held accountable whoever they are.” Whether the status of the princes played a part in their final destination is likely to remain unclear, however, what is clear is that the rapid privatization and economic reforms that are part of Bin Salman’s “Vision 2030” are beginning to create the predictable fractures in Saudi society.