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Saudis drive Uber cars in an effort to improve their incomes

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — For four years the Saudi Ibrahim Ahmed unsuccessfully searched for a second job to help him pay off his bank loan installments, before he also decided to work as an “Uber” driver, which enabled him to improve his income, just like other Saudis who chose to work in jobs that were previously limited to foreign labor.

The oil-rich kingdom is witnessing major changes against the backdrop of a social openness policy led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and economic reform aimed at diversifying sources of mortgaged oil income and curbing state aid to its citizens.

Ahmed, 31, who works as an employee in a private Saudi company in Riyadh, receives a salary of eight thousand riyals (about $ 2130), but the monthly installment of a bank loan he took to buy an apartment for his family of four thousand riyals ($ 1065) was eating up half of his income.

“I finished my work at two in the afternoon, so it was difficult to get a second job. My income after paying off the loan was very limited, and four years passed for us lean,” Ahmed said, dressed in white robes while driving his silver car.

After the father sold three children his car to buy a new one, he began working in 2017 with Uber, the giant private taxi services company. Uber is currently operating in 20 Saudi cities, according to the company’s spokesperson.

“Now I work seven hours a day (with Uber) five days a week, and my average income from this job is about six thousand riyals,” said Ahmed, as he prepares to embark on a new journey with a customer in central Riyadh.

Thanks to his new additional income, the young man was able to pay the installments of his new apartment and car, explaining that working as a driver “made a difference in the quality of my life and helped me to provide all of my salary for my children.”

Khaled, who recently married for his part, says that his work in “Uber” helps him pay monthly three installments of the marriage and car loans in lieu of one.

“I have finished a third of the two loans thanks to Uber,” said the shaved 27-year-old, as he drove his car in northern Riyadh.

– “Flexible economic opportunity” –

According to official statistics for the year 2018, the youths between the ages of 20 and 40 constitute about 40 percent of the number of Saudis, which amounts to 20.7 million. The kingdom has aspired for years to replace millions of jobs held by Saudi foreign workers in what is called the “Saudization” policy.

The unemployment rate among Saudis was 12 percent, according to official statistics for the third quarter of 2019, while in 2018 it was 12.7 percent, but unemployment among Saudi youth, especially new graduates, reaches about percent.

Over a million people have used Uber, which launched in Saudi Arabia in 2014, and acquired the “competing” Karim company in the Middle East last year for $ 3.1 billion.

“Large numbers of Saudis are joining Uber because of the flexible economic opportunity and part-time they offer,” said a Uber spokesman.

“Working in Uber and Karim only requires me to be vacated,” said Khalid, 38, a supervisor at a large restaurant in Riyadh.

– “I’m a manager myself.”

It has become commonplace to see Saudis, or even Saudi women, working in restaurants or shoe stores. Saudi youths said that this makes them more independent and dependent on themselves against their families and the state.

On the other hand, some Saudi youths are reluctant to inform their acquaintances that they work as drivers for fear of stigmatizing them in a society accustomed to luxury.

But the employee, Turki Al-Enezi, who wore a blue robe and wrapped his head in a red-colored scarf, does not care about any negative social outlook, and says, laughing, “In Uber, I am a manager of myself.”

“There is nothing wrong as long as I do something that does not violate honor and morals. On the contrary, this improves my social and financial situation,” the 33-year-old, driving a luxury car working on the Uber Raha program, continues.

“The culture of Saudi society towards simple jobs has changed. The Saudi young man is accepting jobs that he did not accept previously,” Saudi Economic Association member Abdullah al-Maghlout told AFP.

“The presence of foreign companies such as Uber and Karim gives Saudi youth an opportunity to join this business to improve their lives and increase their income. Previously, we did not have such opportunities,” he added.

Al-Maghlout believes that this “will help reduce unemployment and thus increase the purchasing and consuming power of citizens.”

Two-thirds of Saudis work in the government sector. For decades, there were no income taxes before the government finally began imposing a 5 percent value-added tax.

“I use my income from Uber to buy luxuries that I couldn’t get from my salary,” says Muhannad, 21, a military employee, who preferred to give his first name only, noting that he was looking forward to going on a trip to Thailand.

Uber and Karim launched special lines for female drivers, after women were allowed to drive cars in the kingdom after decades of prevention.

“Many of my friends work in Karim, and their financial conditions have improved,” says Hala al-Shammari, a female driving instructor and activist at Karim.

More than 100,000 Saudis cooperate with Karim, a large percentage of whom are women.

“We no longer carry petrol and household expenses,” said the young woman, who trains five girls a day, to lead in a program funded by a public university.

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