Saudi Arabians are greeting austerity with satire

Royal decrees are becoming the face of social media parody

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The Independent Online

If one man became the unwitting face of Saudi Arabian austerity last week, it was retired state television presenter Sulaiman Al-Eidi.

With hands clasped and a gentle smile, the avuncular Al-Eidi used to relay the royal orders through which most major policy changes become public. So when Saudi satirists were looking for a way to respond to the most recent cost cutting measure—a Sept. 26 decision to cancel bonuses paid to state employees for a year—he was an obvious target.

“In the name of God, the most gracious, most merciful: A royal order,” Al-Eidi says at the start of a 10-second video that became popular on Twitter after the government’s announcement that also reduced ministers’ salaries by 20 percent. The clip then cuts from the studio to a screaming Mr. Bean as the bumbling British sitcom creation is scared out of his wits by a horror film. “The state of the citizen when he hears a royal order from now on,” explains the caption.

As the kingdom struggles under a prolonged oil-price slump, soaring deficits and now pay cuts, there’s been a raft of bad news sailing into living rooms. Saudis have taken to their phones and computers—Snapchat and Whatsapp are favorite platforms—to vent their frustration or share jokes about the turmoil that has swept a nation more known for oil-funded stability. Many have also expressed support for the government, and there are no opinion polls in Saudi Arabia through which to measure dissatisfaction.

Here are a few other examples.

Feast or fowl?

With two-thirds of Saudi employees working for the government, many families face the prospect of having to rein in spending. A photo montage circulated on Whatsapp shows the head of a roasted lamb—lamb or goat is the traditional dish for religious festivals or family celebrations—attached to the body of a chicken. The caption reads: “Feasts as of next year.”

This video—captioned “The situation of ministers in the coming days”—was posted on Twitter, lampooning the threat hanging over the cushy privileges enjoyed by top government officials.

Who’s happiest?

Some economists say spending cuts could push more Saudis to consider jobs in the private sector, long a goal of the government. This video pokes fun at how the previously cherished state job is losing its allure.

The first caption, under the melancholy singer, reads: “The situation of the government employee after the decisions.”

That under the gleeful dancer states: “And this is employees in the private sector.” The final caption: “This is the unemployed, living it up.”

Within our means

Not every one is taking a dig at the cuts. One patriotic pledge spread through social media was: “We heard and we obey the royal orders.”

Abdullah Jaber, a popular cartoonist who’s often critical of the government, surprised some of his Twitter followers by posting a sketch comparing complaining Saudis to spoiled children. In the cartoon, a father says “our circumstances now don’t allow it” while his child throws a tantrum. The image, since removed from his Twitter page, is shown on the right here:

Jaber recently posted a more critical cartoon, below, that suggests the government is mining its citizens for revenue in lieu of bumper proceeds from oil.

Happier times

And then there are those who just wish the clock could be turned back.

This manipulated image from The Simpsons suggests Saudis should lovingly hug a portrait of King Abdullah—who died in January 2015 shortly after the plunge in oil prices ended years of economic prosperity—to lull themselves to sleep.

Bloomberg

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