Sultan as a Sea to His People (although not necessarily to his hired help)
We heard this phrase in both the UAE and in Oman. It generally refers to how the Sultan (aka, King) channels the country’s great wealth to its citizens to improve their lives and their children’s prospects. Certainly, the sultan and his family also benefit, as evidenced by their palaces, their yachts and their lifestyles. However, the citizens are gaining so much from their country’s wealth that they do not begrudge the share retained by the Sultan and his family. In fact, we have heard–from citizens of each country–nothing but love and gratitude for their rulers.
These rulers, as mentioned in previous blogs, channel money to citizens in many different ways. Most of these approaches, however, encourage people to continue in their traditional occupations by subsidizing these activities. For example:
- In Al Ain (UAE) the Sultan gave local farmers free use of oasis land on which they could grow and tend date trees, and then bought their production at market prices.
- In Kashab (Oman), fishermen from seven villages along a fjord were given exclusive fishing rights to the entire fjord.
- Bedouin tribes are given free access to land for grazing sheep and goats.
- Bedouins are given free land, housing allowances and very low-cost loans to build or buy their own modern homes and, if they wish to remain in their own remote villages, they are given free electricity, telephone, television and internet connections and central access to fresh potable water.
- Bedouins, in additional to all other UAE and Omani citizens, are also entitled to free health care and free public education (as far as they wish to and are capable of going).
Nor do any of these country citizens pay taxes. The countries, after all, have no need to raise additional revenue through taxes.
Although older residents are allowed and subsidized to continue in their traditional careers, their children are highly encouraged and assisted in preparing for new careers, especially in cities. Foreign teachers and administrators have been brought in to develop modern curricula, using modern teaching tools and methods and all public education is, as mentioned, free. (Parents do, however, generally do have to pay extra for their children to attend private and overseas schools.) When a student choses a potential career, whether a trade or a profession, the governments will pay for the required education and training and either give the student a job (such as in the police, the army or a ministry) or subsidize the initial employment of citizens who chose to work in the private sector, as by subsidizing half the salary and cost for the employee for the first year while they learn the trade.
There are, however, some differences between the UAE and Oman. The UAE is actively encouraging and subsidizing private sector companies to create new knowledge jobs for its citizens, in areas such as petroleum engineering, alternate energy research and development, financing and teaching in the growing number of Middle Eastern branches of Western universities. Oman, in contrast, is not really going out of its way to encourage such companies or jobs. They are more focused on growing current industries and jobs, than in enticing foreign companies to create new jobs and new fields. Although they had temporarily encouraged such entrants, the government determined that the societal disruptions and potential for corruption outweighed the potential gains.
Life, however, is very different for expatriates than it is for citizens–particularly for the millions of low-skill, low-salary expatriates that have flooded into the country to fill the millions of menial and distasteful jobs that locals now shun. As many as 80 percent of all UAE residents and 30 percent of Oman’s (a percentage that the country purposely keeps low) are expats. The low-skill laborers (especially from countries such as Pakistan and India), and even mid-skill workers such as tour guides/drivers and airline flight attendants, certainly do better than, and live better than in their home countries. But while they certainly earn more, the cost of living is much, much higher.
Mid-skill expats who do not have families to support, may do pretty well for themselves; living at least as well as, and often leading more more interesting and enriching lives than they would in their home countries. But, if they have families to support, either at home, or especially in one of these countries, many of even the better paid, mid-skill workers may have a hard time making ends meet. This, however, is not the case for high-skill expats, especially engineers in the oil and gas industry. But also areas such as international banking and law. Such workers, who are in great demand, can earn large premiums over what they are likely to earn in many other locations and invest enough money to support a nice lifestyle while simultaneously funding a comfortable, early retirements. And many families (especially women) find the more liberal UAE and Omani cultures to be much more conducive to engaging lifestyles (not to speak of careers) that is the much more conservative and rigid Saudi culture.
But whichever the country, once an expat, always an expat; or at least, almost always. The vast majority of such guest workers find it virtually impossible to gain citizenship in (or the benefits of) their host countries. Even families who have lived and worked for generations in the country find it impossible to qualify for citizenship—and to get the perks of citizenship. There are, however, exceptions: if you have a business that can create enough jobs, or enough money to own significant numbers of rental property, you may qualify.