Sunday, 4 January 2009

Saudis are “arrogant and racist,”

JEDDAH: The majority of Saudis and non-Saudis agree with Labor Minister Ghazi Al-Gosaibi’s statement that Saudis are “arrogant and racist,” according to an Arab News survey. Al-Gosaibi made his controversial comments on Dec. 28, while addressing the heads of labor departments in Saudi provinces.

“In the past we adulated foreigners for they would be doctors from whom we sought treatment, or teachers from whom we sought knowledge, or accountants who we’d ask to organize or run our businesses,” said Al-Gosaibi, who was criticized by some for the comments.

“It is disappointing that we have been infiltrated by some arrogance and even more racism. We have started to picture ourselves better than those who come to participate with us in our development,” he said.

In a survey conducted by Arab News, 8 out of 10 non-Saudis (including Arabs, Asians and Westerners) and 9 out of 10 Saudis agreed with Al-Gosaibi’s statement that Saudis are “arrogant and racist.” However, a similar number of respondents disagreed with the minister’s view that there has been a shift in Saudi attitudes toward foreigners: that professional non-Saudis who were treated with respect in the past are now treated as if they are laborers.

Those surveyed said Saudis trust non-Saudi doctors, especially Western doctors, more than their Saudi counterparts.

Ahmed, a Saudi physician, said, “Yes, we have to admit that some arrogance and racism has entered Saudi society. One cannot generalize but it’s there. It’s sensed.”

Hamed, a Kenyan national of Yemeni background who has lived in the Kingdom for more than 30 years, said, “Discrimination hasn’t always been the case ... but over the past years it isn’t the case that just the one-on-one treatment that has changed, even the system has. You feel it whether you’re buying a water truck or getting your iqama renewed. This contradicts Islamic teachings, which the Kingdom’s supposed to represent.”

Hadi Al-Fakeeh, managing editor of Okaz newspaper, agreed with Al-Gosaibi. “In the past, the majority of Saudis were illiterate and so people looked at foreign professionals with the utmost adulation. They used to settle for anything. Today, with the power of knowledge and public awareness, citizens have a more critical eye. Therefore, their bar of standards has raised and they do not settle for anything but the best,” he said.

Badr Al-Mutawie, a prominent Saudi journalist, described the minister’s comments as “harsh.” He suggested the comments should be the topic of discussion in a future national dialogue.

“You’re shown attitude even when going through standard procedures,” said Salim, 43, a foreigner who has been married to his Saudi wife for 14 years. “When my wife’s traveling alone and is passing through immigration and customs, I have to be present even though she has a document permitting her to travel. Why? Because her husband isn’t Saudi. It’s as if being non-Saudi makes me a non-man.”

The survey showed that 9 out of 10 non-Saudis agreed that all non-Western foreigners are presumed to be laborers or are treated as such. All 10 stated that non-Saudis are treated differently according to their nationalities with Westerners getting preferential treatment when it comes to attitude and jobs.

“Almost 10 years ago, while working in a private communication company, a colleague and I had exactly the same job. He, however, was paid double my salary. He was German and I was Indian,” said Imran, 39.

“I’m now back in the Kingdom working for another company but I’ve obtained a Western nationality. The difference in treatment and in package is vast. But I see other Indians suffering the same situation I was in years ago. It’s unfair. It’s merit that matters, not nationality.”

A Saudi advertisement agency recently launched a series of TV and newspaper advertisements, entitled Rahma (Mercy), encouraging people to show mercy to foreign workers. One newspaper advert showed a housemaid crouching on the floor with a dog bowl in front of her and a woman’s shoe heal dangling near her face.

The adverts were controversial with some Saudis agreeing with the theme and others disapproving saying they were exaggerated and presented a bad image of Saudis who treat workers with respect.

The Human Rights Watch issued a report in July 2008, entitled “As If I Am Not Human,” about the abuse of Asian domestic workers in the Kingdom.

The report stated that while many domestic workers enjoy decent work conditions, others endure a range of abuses, including nonpayment of salaries, forced confinement, food deprivation, excessive workload, and instances of severe psychological, physical and sexual abuse. Human Rights Watch documented dozens of cases where the combination of these conditions amounted to forced labor, trafficking, or slave-like conditions.

from Samir Al-Saadi | Arab News

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