PanaTimes

Sunday, Mar 26, 2023

High UAE gas prices stand out where cheap fuel was the norm

High UAE gas prices stand out where cheap fuel was the norm

Mere years ago, fuel was cheaper than bottled water in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates. Now, long lines snake outside gas stations on the eve of price hikes each month.
Fuel prices in the major OPEC producer, set in line with global oil price benchmarks, have soared over 70% since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, accentuating differences with neighboring petrostates that heavily subsidize gasoline.

The contrast has stoked complaints among Emiratis who receive generous cradle-to-grave welfare and prompted the government to boost social spending for low-income citizens.

The UAE’s relaxing of fuel subsidies in 2015, which had been costing the government billions of dollars, put the country at the forefront of long-delayed fiscal reforms in the region as oil prices slumped. Even now, Gulf Arab rulers getting a windfall from sky-high oil prices know it can’t last forever, as the world’s economies move away from fossil fuels.

“The UAE is really standing out,” said Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank. “Its policy focus remains firmly on reforms.”

At about $1.23 a liter, or $4.66 a gallon after July’s price rise, the unprecedented fuel cost in the UAE remains below the grim records reached in the United States and Britain as the war in Ukraine unleashes the biggest commodity shock in decades. But the region’s citizens have long considered cheap fuel a birth right. In Kuwait’s lavish welfare state, the cost per gallon is nearly four times less.

“Everyone is complaining,” said Emirati engineer Suhail al-Bastaki. “It’s just too expensive.”

Unlike for the rest of the world, the war is an unexpected boost to public finances for the UAE and its hydrocarbon-dependent neighbors. With the most diversified economy in the region, flashy Dubai has also benefited from an influx of wealthy Russians since the war.

But the recent price surge in the UAE has signaled the region is not immune to global market forces.

As pressure mounted last week, the UAE and Saudi Arabia allotted a combined $13 billion dollars in social spending for low-income citizens — an option clearly unavailable to the region’s less affluent economies such as Egypt and Lebanon, where the price of bread is surging and hunger is spreading.

Still in the UAE, where expats outnumber locals nearly nine to one, fuel price hikes are costliest for legions of workers from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia who power the economy. Inflation has cut into laborers’ already meager salaries, triggering a rare outburst of illegal strikes this spring.

Other Gulf Arab countries have also curbed state benefits to balance their budgets in recent years. But fearing backlash from angry consumers, none have gone as far as the UAE, where fuel prices are nearly double the average among Gulf Arab states.

The country can get away with this partly because the burden falls on its 9 million expat residents, experts say. Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia — a country of 35 million, two-thirds of which are citizens — the government’s fuel price cap has kept inflation under control even as food costs have spiked.

“The impact is not really on the (UAE’s) local population,” said Nasser Saidi, an economist in Dubai. “They feel the fuel price increases, but they remain protected in terms of the social contract.”

The tiny Emirati population benefits from a generous welfare state that helps with everything: free education, health care and housing, grants for marriage, scholarships to foreign universities and well-paid government jobs.

That contract emerged across the region as rulers cashed in from the oil boom and distributed some of the bounty to citizens in exchange for political loyalty.

In times of windfall — and of discontent — governments know what to do: Spread the wealth. International benchmark Brent crude has surged some 50% over $100 a barrel since sanctions on Russia stoked fears of shortages.

“The outlays are a recognition that citizens know oil revenues are really high right now,” said Karen Young, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. “This is a traditional mechanism of sharing.”

After the UAE’s latest fuel price rise, grumbling among Emiratis on social media and at traditional meeting spaces grew louder.

“People were suffering,” said Emirati social media influencer Hassan al-Amiri. “People think Emiratis are filthy rich but I don’t have an oil rig. Our needs are increasing.”

The grievances escalated to President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s weekly majlis, a gathering at which any citizen may apply to voice concerns, said Emirati political expert Majed al-Raeesi.

Last week, Sheikh Mohammed unveiled plans to double the state’s social support for low-income Emirati families — classified as those who make less than $6,800 a month. The $7.6 billion package will cover 85% of recent fuel price hikes and 75% of food inflation, among other things like housing allowances and support for job-seekers.

The government portal received so many applications that it crashed.

“The leadership listened to the streets,” said al-Amiri, who faced some backlash from some Emiratis online over his complaints. Citizens are careful about expressing public criticism lest it be taken for dissent, which is outlawed.

From Saudi Arabia, the world’s second-biggest oil producer, King Salman announced $5.33 billion in direct cash transfers to citizens “to protect beneficiaries from the effects of of global price rises.”

But that help will not reach those who need it most. Desperation over the cost of living is growing among the region’s low-paid migrant workers.

Uber drivers and food delivery riders who pay for their own fuel in Dubai say they’re barely breaking even. Riders for two main delivery companies went on strike over their slim salaries in May — defying the UAE’s ban on labor protests.

Uber said it would raise fares as much as 11% for some trips to account for new gas fees in Dubai, but some drivers say that’s inadequate.

Muhammed, a 38-year-old Uber driver from Nigeria, was drawn to Dubai 12 years ago by the prospect of good pay. But now he has vanishingly little to send home to his wife and newborn daughter.

“I can’t stay here anymore,” he said, giving only his first name for fear of reprisals. “I work in Dubai 12 years and I have nothing.”
Newsletter

Related Articles

PanaTimes
Close
0:00
0:00
Singapore’s Prime Minister says China and US need to stabilize relations because world can't afford a confict between the two superpowers
Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel Corporation, died at 94
Powell: Silicon Valley Bank was an 'outlier'
Bordeaux town hall set on fire in France pro democracy protest
Police violence in Paris
Donald Trump arrested – Twitter goes wild with doctored pictures
NYPD is setting up barricades outside Manhattan Criminal Court ahead of Trump arrest.
Credit Suisse's Scandalous History Resulted in an Obvious Collapse - It's time for regulators who fail to do their job to be held accountable and serve as an example by being behind bars.
Paris Rioting vs Macron anti democratic law
'Sexual Fantasy' Assignment At US School Outrages Parents
The US government has charged Chinese businessman Guo Wengui with leading a $1 billion fraud scheme that cheated thousands of followers out of their money.
Credit Suisse to borrow $54 billion from Swiss central bank
Russian Hackers Preparing New Cyber Assault Against Ukraine
"Will Fly Wherever International Law Allows": US Warns Russia After Drone Incident
If this was in Tehran, Moscow or Hong Kong
TRUMP: "Standing before you today, I am the only candidate who can make this promise: I will prevent World War III."
Drew Barrymore
China is calling out the US, UK, and Australia on their submarine pact, claiming they are going further down a dangerous road
A brief banking situation report
Lady bites police officer and gets instantly reaction
We are witnessing widespread bank fails and the president just gave a 5 min speech then walked off camera.
Donald Trump's asked by Tucker Carlson question on if the U.S. should support regime change in Russia?.
Silicon Valley Bank exec was Lehman Brothers CFO
Elon Musk Is Planning To Build A Town In Texas For His Employees
The Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse effect is spreading around the world, affecting startup companies across the globe
City officials in Berlin announced on Thursday that all swimmers at public pools will soon be allowed to swim topless
Fitness scam
Market Chaos as USDC Loses Peg to USD after $3.3 Billion Reserves Held by Silicon Valley Bank Closed.
Senator Tom Cotton: If the Mexican Government Won’t Stop Cartels from Killing Americans, Then U.S. Government Should
Banking regulators close SVB, the largest bank failure since the financial crisis
Silicon Valley Bank: Struggles Threaten Tech Startup Ecosystem"
Man’s penis amputated by mistake after he’s wrongly diagnosed with a tumour
In a major snub to Downing Street's Silicon Valley dreams, UK chip giant Arm has dealt a serious blow to the government's economic strategy by opting for a US listing
It's the question on everyone's lips: could a four-day workweek be the future of employment?
Is Gold the Ultimate Safe Haven Asset in Times of Uncertainty?
Spain officials quit over trains that were too wide for tunnels...
Corruption and Influence Buying Uncovered in International Mainstream Media: Investigation Reveals Growing Disinformation Mercenaries
Givenchy Store in New York Robbed of $50,000 in Merchandise
European MP Clare Daly condemns US attack on Nord Stream
Former U.S. President Carter will spend his remaining time at home and receive hospice care instead of medication
Tucker Carlson called Trump a 'demonic force'
Kamala Harris: "The United States has formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity."
US Joins 15 NATO Nations in Largest Space Data Collection Initiative in History
White House: No ETs over the United States
U.S. Jet Shoots Down Flying Object Over Canada
Nord Stream terror attack: David Sacks breaks down Sy Hersh's story
Being a Tiktoker might be expensive…
Miracle: El Salvador Search and Rescue teams, with the support of Turkish teams, rescued a woman and a child from the rubble 150 hours after the earthquake
SpaceX, the private space exploration company, made a significant breakthrough in their mission to reach space.
China's top tech firms, including Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, NetEase, and JD.com, are developing their own versions of Open AI's AI-powered chatbot, ChatGPT
×