RIYADH – Despite their country boasting the world's greatest oil wealth, many Saudis complain their salaries are not enough to make ends meet, and are taking to Twitter to demand more money.
"The salary is not enough," a hashtag launched in early summer on the micro-blogging website, triggered more than 17.5 million tweets, reflecting the frustration of many Saudis over their purchasing power.
The campaigners called on King Abdullah to order "by decree, an increase in the salaries of all civil servants" of the world's top oil exporter.
The basic monthly salary of a public employee ranges from between 3,945 riyals (US$1,051) and 24,750 riyals ($6,599), in addition to various allowances, according to a study prepared by insurance companies.
In the private sector, the average wage is 6,400 riyals ($1,700), compared with 15,299 riyals ($4,000) in most other Gulf monarchies, according to a reported study prepared by the World Bank and the Saudi economy ministry.
"Let officials stop stealing... corruption has taken everything and people are the victims," tweeted journalist Fahd al-Fahid.
Others posted images they said reflected the misery in the kingdom – a woman rummaging through rubbish, families living in dilapidated houses and students crammed into old trucks.
Some posted cartoons, one of which featured a Saudi man standing in the shadow of a palm tree whose fronds stretch far beyond the kingdom's borders.
The caption reads: "Our assets go to others: the kingdom receives five per cent (of the wealth) and 95 per cent goes abroad."
As an example, Saudi Arabia has announced $5 billion in aid to Egypt since the army there ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in early July.
"Inflation and continually rising prices over several years have seriously affected the purchasing power of people," economist Abdullah al-Almi said.
The result, he said, was "a shrinking middle class."
Unemployment stands officially at 12.5 per cent and affects mainly young people, who represent 60 per cent of the 20-million-strong native population. The job market is still dominated by foreigners who come mainly from Southeast Asia and accept low wages.
The government has embarked on a policy of "Saudi-isation" of jobs, hoping to reduce unemployment among its citizens who also happen to be big spenders.
"Nearly 80 per cent of Saudis are now living on bank loans," warned economic consultant Zeid al-Rummani, adding that their spending is more than their income.
And a housing crisis marked by soaring prices of land and property "puts heavy pressure on salaries," he said.
"Rising property prices, which is out of control, is a crime," complained Abdelhamid al-Amri in a tweet.
Saudi Arabia is not alone in taking to Twitter to voice economic gripes. Complaints have also emerged from other wealthy Gulf states.
In neighbouring Kuwait, youth activists launched two campaigns on Twitter to urge the oil-rich emirate to accelerate housing plans for Kuwaiti families, some of whom have been waiting for 15 years.
The campaigns "Nater Bait," or "waiting for a house," and "Watan Belijar," or "a rented homeland," have been successful, mainly among 107,000 Kuwaiti families placed on a waiting list for homes.
Kuwait has a national population of 1.2 million people and financial assets estimated at more than $400 billion. The government builds houses for Kuwaitis against an interest-free loan repayable over 30 years.
Those behind the campaign there now plan to lobby the newly elected parliament to make the housing problem a top priority. AFP