Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has announced increased benefits for his citizens, as he returned after months abroad getting medical treatment. There will be extra funds for housing, studying abroad and social security, according to state television.
King Abdullah has been away from the country for three months, during which time mass protests have changed the political landscape of the Middle East. There have been few demonstrations in Saudi Arabia. Hundreds of men in white robes performed a traditional sword dance at Riyadh airport and dozens of princes gathered to greet the king on his arrival – including Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa.
King Abdullah left for New York on 22 November and had two operations to repair spinal vertebrae and a herniated disc. After a period of convalescence at his New York home, the 86-year-old flew to Morocco on 22 January and had been recuperating there since. By that time, Tunisia’s president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali had become the first leader in the region to be ousted after weeks of mass protests – and he had fled to Saudi Arabia.
Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, a close ally of King Abdullah, was the next to go. The younger generation were prominent in both protest movements and among the measures announced ahead of the king’s return were plans to tackle unemployment. Among the 15 – 24 age group, unemployment in Saudi Arabia is reported to be almost 40%.