Fishermen in Saudi Arabia launched a strike against the additional fees imposed on them by the government that has led to an increase in their overall business costs, a report in Middle East Eye stated on Sunday, April 17. The fishermen in the Saudi city of Qatif decided to launch a strike action on Saturday to “defend their livelihoods” after repeated appeals to the government to drop the new surcharges and reduce the corresponding business costs went unheeded. Several commentators have called the strike a rare and highly risky occurrence in the ultra-conservative and authoritarian kingdom.
Reports stated that Qatif’s famous fish market imposed a variety of additional fees and other costs on the fishermen, including loading charges, surcharge on every individual fish sale, and other taxes. The fishermen claim that these new tariffs will negatively impact business and increase the retail prices for customers. This may lead to an overall decline in sales.
The fishermen added that the new fees will not only disrupt their livelihood but also put into jeopardy the long term future of the fish market in Qatif, which is one of the oldest and biggest fish markets in the Gulf region. According to news reports, the charges were introduced suddenly in an arbitrary fashion. The government provided no explanation for the move and did not take take the fishermen community into consultation before announcing the new fees.
Qatif, in the eastern part of the country, has a substantially large minority Shia population which has historically faced oppression and persecution in the Sunni-Wahabi majority country. The Shias have been economically marginalized and neglected by the Saudi regime over the decades.
The region has been the site of several demonstrations by the minority Shia community, who have for decades protested against the continuing discrimination and persecution they face at the hands of the Saudi authorities. They have been demanding equal rights and treatment with respect to education, employment opportunities, healthcare, and other public services. The government has responded to these demands by cracking down on the demonstrations with brute force.