'Monopoly': A YouTube sensation knocks Saudi royalty
'Monopoly,' one of several new critical videos, derides Saudi Arabia's lack of housing as a groom-to-be shows viewers the van where he envisions living with his new wife.
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A Saudi economist, Essam al Zamil, appears in the film to explain that the reason for the shortage of dwellings is sky-high land prices, caused by the absence of taxes on unimproved property.Skip to next paragraph
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While the film doesn't explicitly explain the "Monopoly" of its title, a leading Saudi human rights activist said in an interview that it comes down to one thing: "All the land is owned de facto and de jure by the royal family," said Mohammed al Qathani, president of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association. He noted that only 22 percent of the families in Saudi Arabia own their own homes, and 78 percent must rent.
Not fit for a prince
The video that perhaps cuts closest to the bone is "On the Other Side," an earlier production by Boqna. A copy of the video is still available on YouTube, though it can only be viewed through a reposting. It, too, begins with a Koranic verse to criticize the regime: "Surely, kings, when they enter a country, despoil it, and turn the highest of its people into its lowest. And thus they will do."
The opening scene is one of residential decay, accompanied by the verse, "The choice is yours: either refresh your nose with the fragrance of flowers" – the film then shows heaps of garbage – "or swim in one of these streams" – as the video shows sewage on a street. "Or maybe you would like to gladden your eyes with the sight of a unique building, whose wires have turned into trees, woven intricately to hug the post and the walls."
The narration savages the princes of the realm, asking viewers, "Did you know that the funds that went into building this neighborhood are less than what it costs to build a palace for one prince, and what is allocated for its services is less than one-fifth what is spent to maintain a prince's palace?"
No widespread movement yet
The criticism, while harsh, seems unlikely to have an immediate impact.
"There is no urgency among the people," says Jamal Khashoggi, a former newspaper editor who is now organizing an all-news television channel. "The people in Saudi Arabia who are asking for a more modern concept of the monarchy is only a small elite. There is no widespread movement...The concept of rights is not very strong."
Still, it would appear that those in power are aware – and unhappy – with the criticism.
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