Abeer Allam

Abeer Allam joined the FT as Saudi Arabia correpondent in 2008. Prior to the FT, she worked as a reporter for Bloomberg News and the New York Times in the Middle East and New York.  

By Abeer Allam in Riyadh. This article originally appeared on ft.com

Peshawar, PAKISTAN: Posters of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden hang at a road side book stall in Peshawar, 23 September 2006.

In the land of his birth, reports of the death of Saudi-born Osama bin Laden in Pakistan surfaced early on Monday morning, sparking mixed emotions ranging from cheers, mourning, denial, to a stream of conspiracy theories.

While the government has not yet issued a formal statement, Saudis on Monday expressed mixed views in online forums. Some alleged pictures of a dead bin Laden on the internet to be a fake, citing the shape of his face and grey hair as proof. Such claims are a consistent refrain in the region, where many continue to doubt bin Laden’s involvement in the September 11 attacks and believe that videotaped confessions are products of Hollywood. 

The protests rocking ruling regimes in the Middle East have raised concerns – especially in the energy sector – about whether they will spread to Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter.

The kingdom, the Arab world’s biggest economy, is grappling with similar issues to Egypt, albeit on a much smaller scale: a growing young population, nearly one third of whom are between the age of 15 and 30; an official unemployment rate of 10 per cent; rising inflation; and a shrinking middle class. But will the kingdom be the next to be shaken? Unlikely. 

Saudi Arabia is the easiest place to do business in the Arab world, according to the World Bank’s latest rankings. Globally, the kingdom is now ranked 11th out of 183 countries – two places up from last year, and 57 places up since 2004. That’s a source of pride for the country’s General Investment Authority (Sagia).

Yet the World Bank’s criteria focus on local business, not foreign investment. Multinational companies must still meet licensing requirements before they can even enter Saudi Arabia. And legal processes still need further reform. 

Rumours about the imminent approval of the Saudi mortgage law continue to circulate, but have yet to materialise.

The Shura Council, the unelected consultative body, approved a draft nearly two years ago, but Saudi officials continue to refine details, with attention to compliance with Islamic law and averting excesses witnessed in Dubai or overseas.

In Saudi Arabia, real estate is driven mainly by domestic demand rather than speculative money. Less than 35 per cent of Saudis own their own homes and more than a million units will be needed in the coming five years.