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05 March 2024

A clamour for education in Saudi

By Reuters

Nayef al-Tamimi wishes he could have gone to such a college. Like thousands of other Saudis, al-Tamimi graduated from university as an Arabic language teacher but has struggled for years to get a job that pays a decent wage. At private schools, he makes about 2,000 riyals a month - much less than the 8,000 he would get as a government teacher. "At private schools I compete with foreigners. Egyptians, Jordanians, Palestinians. It's tough," he says.

This year he joined some 250 fellow graduates to organise a series of protests in front of the ministry of education in Riyadh, a bold move in a country that does not tolerate public dissent. Even though police quickly show up whenever the group gathers, Tamimi said the protests will continue until they all get the state jobs they so desperately seek. The government may eventually decide to hire the protesters just to end the demonstrations that have started to make global headlines.

But critics of the reforms, including political opponents, say the problems will remain until the ruling al Saud family allows more freedom and independent thinking - the sort of progress that will depend on the future king.
Saudi Arabia has no elected parliament, but King Abdullah has forced Saudi society to open up ever so slightly. Saudi newspapers now debate reforms, women enjoy slightly more access to education and the job market. Would a more conservative king reverse those?

"How can you reform education without democracy?" asks Mohammed al-Qahtani, a veteran dissident based in Riyadh. "I tell you that in five years there will be no improvement to education."