Mohammad Alsaeddi does not fit the popular image of a rich Saudi. As a 37-year-old living in Qatif, in eastern Saudi Arabia, he has been unemployed since 2010 and receives no help from the state. He sells birds at the markets and depends on help from his family in order to support himself.
 
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"I have to borrow money from my brothers and sisters in order to live"

The last few years have been financially and morally very difficult for me. I have been hit by a series of setbacks that has really given my life a shake. Until 2008, I worked as a producer for the television channel CNBC Arabiya. But following an internal conflict, I was given the sack without any warning. A team of puppets had been appointed a few months earlier to do a “clean up” of the channel. I had clearly been sanctioned by the government, who did not tolerate me speaking and thinking freely [Mohammed identifies himself as an activist. He has previously denounced on this site the Saudi authorities’ discrimination of Shiites such as himself]. Two years earlier, in 2006, during the mini-crash of the Riyadh stock market, I lost an enormous amount of money: around 14 years of savings.
  
Between 2008 and 2010, after finding nothing in my field, I worked as a truck driver. I spent 12 hours a day on the road for 600 euros a month: in other words, four times less than what I was earning at CNBC. On top of being poorly paid, the job wore me out, so I quit.
 
“In Saudi Arabia, leisure activities are very rare, if not non-existent”
 
For the past two years, I have had to make do with very little. I don’t receive any unemployment benefits or any other welfare benefits. This year, Saudi Arabia launched “Hafiz”, an assistance program for unemployed people.Even though the program helps just over a million Saudis, it is still very limited. That’s because only people aged between 20 and 35 are eligible. I’m 37. They also have to have spent the last 10 months in Saudi Arabia, and have parents with Saudi origins. If you are lucky enough to fit this profile, you can count on receiving 400 euros a month for a year. After that, the payments stop.
 
I earn my money by selling birds at the markets in Qatif. But I earn very little from this casual job. Therefore I borrow money from my brothers and sisters. They only help me when they can. It’s very delicate to ask someone for money, especially from my relatives. I see it as a humiliation, but I also tell myself that this won’t be forever and that one day it will be my turn to help them. It’s good if I get to pocket 400 euros at the end of the month. This just about covers my expenses, which don’t vary a lot. Most of that money is spent on petrol, food and my mobile phone bill. Life is very expensive in Saudi Arabia. The only advantage is that you don’t need to pay income tax, thanks to the colossal sums of money that the Kingdom receives from oil.
 
“Among the youth, there is high unemployment, and suicides are common”
 
In this country, leisure activities like what you have in the West are very rare, if not non-existent. Life is austere. There are certainly bars where you can go and drink coffee or smoke a chicha, but I don’t go to those places. My finances are too tight.
 
I am not married, have no children, and I live at home. How do you make life better for yourself? In order to stop being a burden on my family, I had planned on going to the United States last September to try my luck there. But 10 days before leaving, my father died, so I cancelled everything. This plan has been put on hold while I spend time being near my mother.
 
The West thinks Saudi Arabia is just a safe haven for the rich. But I can tell you that life here is hard for a lot of people. Among the youth, there is high unemployment, and suicides are common.