Population and society
According to Homosociety, there are about 30 million Saudis, 90% of whom are of Arab ethnicity, while the remaining 10% are made up of minorities of Turkish, Iranian, Indonesian, Indian and African descent. Although the population density per square kilometer is very low, the reference index marks sustained increases, thanks to a high fertility rate (2.7 children per woman) and immigration. Foreigners residing in the kingdom are more than six million, mostly from other countries in the Middle East region, but also from Muslim Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia) and, to a lesser extent, from Western countries. In addition, it is estimated that a significant number of irregular immigrants reside in Saudi Arabia, most of them men, who have settled in the country for work reasons.
To guarantee economic development and to cope with the strong internal demand for manpower, the kingdom has over the years favored the immigration of heterogeneous and mainly unskilled workers. The economic factor also contributed to this important influx, deriving from the fact that migrant workers tend to be underpaid compared to their Saudi colleagues and, therefore, more in demand by local businesses. This factor, together with the rapid growth in the percentage of young people in the population, has contributed to the increase in the national unemployment rate (reaching 5.7% and reaching a worrying 30% at the youth level).
In an attempt to contain strong immigration on the one hand and to better respond to the needs of the production structure on the other, the government has adopted a policy of ‘Saudizing’ the workforce, establishing quotas of Saudi citizens that must be employed by every company. operating in the country and even banning the use of foreign labor for some sectors – mainly in the private sector – considered to be of particular national strategic importance.
As for socio-economic conditions, Saudi Arabia occupies the 34th place in the world ranking of human development. At the Middle Eastern level it is in an intermediate position: it remains below UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Libya (pre-revolution). Literacy stands at 94.4% of the total population, but reaches 99% among young people of both sexes. Most educational institutions are administered by the government, although the role of private individuals is growing. University education is constantly developing, thanks to the increase in the number of Saudi universities, which have reduced the number of students who have gone abroad. Furthermore, in 2008, 61% of graduates were women. Girls, however, are affected to a greater extent by unemployment. The labor ministry is trying to promote female employment – less than a quarter of the total workforce -, particularly in the private sector, where it more than quadrupled between 2011 and 2013.
Freedom and rights
During Abdullah’s reign (2005-15), the condition of civil and political rights saw some positive developments: in 2005, for example, elections for municipal councils were introduced. The right to vote, so far limited only to men, has also been extended to women starting from 2015 thanks to a reform introduced in 2011. Furthermore, for the first time in the history of the country, a woman has been appointed to the government as Deputy Minister for women’s education.
Despite these openings, Wahhabism rejects the idea that democracy has universal value and is applicable everywhere in the world: to govern in Saudi Arabia, respect for Islamic law is sufficient, which is guaranteed by the union of the ulema (the clergy) and the umara (the rulers). Furthermore, the division of powers between the legislative, the executive and the judiciary, typical of a Western democracy, has never been theorized in the country and is therefore rather ignored. This is also why parties are prohibited and the only opposition that exists is the one living in exile. Serious limits are also imposed on freedom of expression and freedom of the press (not protected by the Basic Law): the government controls the media extensively and dominates the region’s press and satellite television. 63.7% of the population has access to the internet, but the internet is also censored by the government.
Corruption is widespread: the country ranks 55 in the ranking of perceived corruption, compiled by Transparency International. Saudi Arabia is usually attacked by international NGOs for its lack of respect for the human rights and civil rights of all individuals, be they men, minorities and / or women. Nonetheless, the country won a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for 2014-16 (after renouncing that of non-permanent member of the Security Council for 2014-15) and ratified in 2000 the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) of 1979. In any case, the United Nations committee responsible for supervising its implementation found serious shortcomings: Saudi national legislation has not yet implemented the principle of gender equality and the definition of sexual discrimination, provided for by the Convention. Furthermore, the law does not provide for the crime of violence against women. Finally, the concept of ‘custody’ of women (mehrem), still widespread, prohibits women from exercising certain institutions, such as divorce, the right to inherit their husband’s assets, private property, the freedom to travel. In this regard, Saudi Arabia is at the center of criticism for the driving ban imposed on women.