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Saudis Tweet: Be Kind to Foreign Workers

September 5, 2011 15 comments

This is an excerpt from Arabnews, an English language daily paper from Saudi Arabia:

JAZAN: A number of Saudis have launched a campaign on Twitter asking their compatriots to be kind to the foreign manpower living with them and to spread awareness in society about humanitarian treatment to foreign laborers.

They also tweeted that Saudis should congratulate them on the occasion of Eid, as they do their relatives and friends, and make them part of the local celebrations in order to help them mark Eid as they would in their homeland, Arabic daily Al-Watan reported on Friday.

I applaud progressive Saudis who take initiative when those in power don’t. It’s Saudis like these who are hopefully the future leaders of the kingdom. However, I think it’s sad that someone had to go and start a Twitter campaign to treat foreign workers with respect. I’m ashamed that the situation in Saudi Arabia has come down to this; to remind each other via messages to respect other people. This kind of issue is something one would expect to hear in a speech or Friday sermon. It’s not something one would expect to be the central cause for an awareness campaign.

Treating people with respect and kindness is one of those virtues like cleanliness and honesty that should be deep-rooted and nurtured in a person from childhood. This campaign hangs on the shoulders of parents and teachers; so they should always use an encounter with another person, whether a Saudi or expatriate, as an opportunity to set an example that would teach children to respect all people regardless of race, religion, or status.

A Saudi passing by an expatriate worker. Image courtesy of Galen R. Frysinger.

Samuel Johnson once said:

The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.

Many of my friends are skeptical about this campaign, saying that this is yet another PR exercise by the Saudi government in order to clean its image after Indonesia stopped sending maids to the country and the Philippines possibly following suit. Others are hoping the ‘campaigners’ would take to the streets as well, since Twitter alone cannot reach all the masses. But all are hoping that this campaign reaches every Saudi and expatriate and brings out the good in people. As for me, I’ve learned to take anything about Saudi Arabia in the media with a grain of salt, but I truly hope that this is the start of many positive changes in this beautiful country.

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Saudi Sponsorship System – Modern Day Slavery

August 28, 2011 90 comments

The night was young and the cool spring breeze sent a chill down my spine as I wrapped my arms around myself and exited the warmth of the mosque. Isha prayer had just finished and I thought of my evening plans as I tried to locate my sandals among the heap of shoes and slippers at the main door. “Dude, use the damn shoe rack next time” I thought to myself, as I found my sandals and proceeded to walk home, a mere 50 meters away.

The neighborhood street was eerily quiet, but started showing signs of life as people slowly exited the mosque and went back to what they were doing before prayer. There were no birds flying around, no cars moving in sight, save for the few worshippers who came to the mosque with cars. Another sudden breeze blew leaves off the nearby trees and carried with it that unmistakable tangy smell of the nearby Arabian Sea. A little kid blew past me on his BMX bike, looking back and waving at me for approval, to which I responded with a big smile and two thumbs up.

As I walked past the houses, mothers and sisters were busy preparing dinner and the different smells emanating from the kitchen windows tingled my nose and I had a sudden craving for shawarma. I decided to call Ali and ask if he was down for some shawarma followed by some diet-killing Krispy Kreme donuts and that’s when I met Mohammed, my neighbor. He was walking back home from prayer and had just come back to Saudi Arabia from Malaysia a couple of days back. He told me that he has a long semester break and would be in Saudi Arabia for a couple of months and will renew his iqama before heading back to Malaysia. We talked for some time and had to cut our chat short as Ali rolled into my street. A couple of weeks later I went back to Malaysia.

Little did Mohammed know that he might never make it to Malaysia. What was supposed to be a couple of months turned into 4 months and he’s still stuck in Saudi Arabia as I type this.

But first, for those of you that don’t know, Saudi Arabia does not have your usual residence permit system for expatriates. Expatriates have to obtain an iqama (pronounced iqaama), a residency permit that allows them to work and live in the country, through a legal citizen of Saudi Arabia who becomes their kafeel, or sponsor. This kafala system, or sponsorship system, binds the expatriate worker to that kafeel and he has the power to alter the employment contract and/or transfer the sponsorship to someone else. The expatriate worker has no power or say and is under the mercy of his kafeel. Kafeels are normal people like you and me, so majority of them have a healthy relationship with the people they sponsor, but there are always the ones that go out of their way to wreak havoc on people’s lives.

Image courtesy of The Crazy Jogger @ Flickr

Some kafeels, in seeing that the person/people they sponsor are totally under their mercy, exploit them by blackmailing them and forcing them to pay them money. Some of them simply decide to get them deported after the pettiest of misunderstandings. An expatriate can file a legal suit against their employer or sponsor, but often times they are deported before their cases are even reviewed by judges. Other kafeels simply ignore their duty towards the people they sponsor by refusing to get their papers signed for renewing or any other legal processes. Something similar happened to my neighbor Mohammed and his family.

Mohammed’s father is a retired engineer who used to work for the oil giant Saudi Aramco and a respected member of the community who has lived in the same house in Saudi Arabia since the early 70s. Mohammed was born in Saudi Arabia and has lived his whole life there. He has nowhere else to call home. All of his friends are Saudi.

When the time came for the family to renew the iqamas, they found out their kafeel was on vacation in USA. They didn’t worry, thinking he’d be back in time for them to start the renewal process. When a week passed and he was nowhere to be found, they tried reaching him through his numbers, but to no avail. They tried his family. No luck. They tried reaching him through his company and siblings. Still no luck. As each day passed, and with the threat of deportation looming over them, the family decided to take matters into their own hands and try to obtain a new sponsor. As of this moment they are still working on that solution, and I pray it works out for them.

This kafala system is nothing short of modern-day slavery. How is it different from historic slavery where people were tied to a ‘master’? It is a primitive idea that hinders human potential and breeds hatred toward Saudi Arabia in the hearts of the millions of expatriates living inside and outside Saudi Arabia. Sadly, sometimes even children  even exposed to this ideology and understand from a young age that they are not equal with their Saudi peers.

Other Gulf nations have seen the error of their ways and have either done away with the system or ensured migrant workers get justice. Abolishing it will instantly improve Saudi Arabia’s battered image in the eyes of the world and provide it greater influence and flexibility in the global arena. Getting rid of this archaic system which is open to all sorts of abuses will not only win the hearts of the millions of expatriates who suffer the indignity of being under a Saudi sponsor’s power, but make them fall in love with the country and its people.

There’s an Arab proverb that goes along the lines of:

Write bad things that are done to you in sand, but write the good things that happen to you on a piece of marble.

Too often have the winds of time blown away the proverbial writing in the sand; the cries for equal treatment from the expatriate community. Saudi Arabia should change for the better and become a home for all, instead of a home for a few and a prison for many. Saudi Arabia, being The Land of the Two Holy Mosques and a leader in the Islamic world, should be  beacon of hope and a model for human rights and equality.

Islam teaches us the great reward for releasing a slave. King Abdullah has the opportunity to release millions.

Killer Roads

June 8, 2007 9 comments

 

Race
Resembles your average commute on a Saudi freeway – minus the decals

A recent Arabnews article brought back certain memories. Having spent quite some time driving in Malaysia, I have somehow forgotten the many driving experiences and close calls I’ve had on Saudi roads.

 

Related:
Joy Riding – Death Penalty
After 35 Years
Saudi Autobahn
 
 

Joy Riding – Death Penalty

February 21, 2007 29 comments

To all you joy riders out there in KSA, what say you…to this.

And for those that don’t know how much of a great pastime drifting is for many young Saudis, check some of these.

After 35 Years

February 21, 2007 4 comments

“I’m done paying the bills and I’m just leaving the bank,” I told my dad. He asked me to wait while he stopped the car to talk; he has a thing about driving in Dammam while talking on the cell; and he’s right about that.

While I waited, I watched another customer leave the bank and proceed toward his Caprice SS. He came to a halt just outside the driver window and whatever he saw on the reflection must have not appealed to him and decided this was a good time to adust his ghutra. While in the process, his cellphone rang and once done adjusting his head piece, he decided to put that 50 Cent ringtone out of its misery and answer the phone. I hope he wasn’t thinking of driving off while talking on the phone.

 The bank is located in the downtown area and it was noon; so this wouldn’t exactly be the best time to drive around unless you can handle bumper-to-bumper traffic and weavers trying to knock you off the road. You can forget about trying to cross those streets. If major video game makers decided to make one based on that city with the goal simply to cross the street safely at noon, no one would ever finish the game…even with cheat codes. Even worse, the bank is just beside the street, with the sidewalk serving as a makeshift parking lot; so anyone leaving the bank would have to wait for ages before they can safely back out.

With the press of a button and flash of the indicators, his door was unlocked and he went in, fired up the engine, switched on the A/C, and from the way the car’s rear just raised a couple of centimeters, I knew he’d just shifted into ‘R’; all the while busy talking on his Motorolla.

Then he backed up. He never looked. There was a Yukon headed for him. It swerved in time, albeit nearly flipping over. Sadly though, the much heavier Ford truck behind it wasn’t as agile…

Read more…

Why be racist?

October 15, 2006 74 comments

One of my old homeboys, AJ has just come back from abroad to spent time with his family on Eid. It’s been a little over a year since we’ve seen each other so he messaged me a month prior to his arrival to inform me of his trip.

Fully aware of the Eid shopping season having started already, I suggested we meet up in a quiet café and keep away from the shopping centers and malls. AJ suggested the Starbucks on the Khobar Corniche and I warned him that it’s pretty packed with people on Thursday evenings. Since he loved Starbucks, I recommended the branch in Doha since it was less likely to be full and since I knew the guys there.

Turns out we made it just in time since people started coming in large numbers. That didn’t bother us as we started catching up on old times. 15 minutes into our conversation, 3 guys sitting across us caught my attention. AJ had his back to them so I started observing them from the corner of my eye. Something about the way they were laughing gave me a feeling that we were the subject of their conversation.

The three guys, all in their early 20’s started laughing at a joke I’m sure was about AJ. They started getting louder, thinking we didn’t understand what they were speaking about. One of them cracked, “shoof hal 3abd wish laabis.” Having a bad feeling they were referring to AJ’s large 49ers jersey, I quickly looked around to see if there was another dark skinned person in the lounge…and to my dismay, there wasn’t one. AJ was black American, and doesn’t know Arabic except for the casual greeting.

They reminded me of the three stooges; one was pretty thin with teeth so messed up I got sick each time he laughed. Another was quickly hoarding cake into his mouth and made me think if any of it was actually going into his mouth, while the third, just like the second, could have done with more longitude than latitude on his body. Judging by the BMW and Benz they came in, I wondered what kind of upbringing they had. As the jokes went on, AJ and I continued chatting, and I kept him from knowing what they were talking about because it was a pretty sensitive topic, and knowing AJ, he wouldn’t hesitate to get physical and throw in the first punch. After half an hour, I couldn’t take the insults anymore so I told AJ to wait outside for me while I paid. On my way out, I passed by the three, and scolded them in their own accent to show them I understood what they have been saying for the past hour. Surely enough, they nearly choked on their cakes and tried apologizing, but it wasn’t worth it so I walked away.

Those guys were adults, knowing fully the difference between right and wrong. So was it their parents who must have gone wrong somewhere when raising them? Or is it the common case of being raised by nannies who could care less about what model citizens they turned out to be, while their parents tended to business? Or is it because they know their fathers will leave them a big inheritance and they’ll forever employ foreigners? Or maybe it was out of sheer boredom. Every once a while I see a parent, be it a father or a mother, insulting foreigners due to their skin colors or nationality in front of their children, and it’s no wonder we end up having such members of society… 

Needless to say, I had to tell AJ about it later, and he wasn’t all too happy. To my surprise, he said he wished I’d tell him at the café because all he wanted to do was go up to them and use his limited Arabic and say, “Allah yahdiikom…”

Categories: KSA, Life, Middle East

Weekend Getaway

September 1, 2006 14 comments

On a perfect weekend, I’d be sleeping all day long and chilling outside all night long…but that’s not the way here where I live. Whereas most of the world has Saturday and Sunday as the official weekend, we, like many other countries, call Thursday and Friday our weekend. 

That’s not where I have my issue though; it’s the fact that half of Thursday is spent working and trying to finish up projects on their set deadlines, only to end up too worn out to do anything in the evening. And if going out on a certain Thursday night is inevitable, Friday would be used up basking around the house too tired to do anything other than have lunch with the family and watch TV. 

That wouldn’t be the case if the weekend was moved from beginning on Thursday to commence on Friday; like a couple of Gulf states have. Qatar has had this system for quite some time now and Bahrain has just put it into practice on the first of September. If this was the case, we would still have our holy Friday and a much needed day to unwind from the week’s hard work on Saturday; giving us ample time to do much more than we could possibly do with the current weekend scheme. 

I, like many more, can finally enjoy two full days off from any duties. I can eventually finish up some old artwork that’s been calling me for ages now. I can finally have enough time for a quick weekend getaway with the family or by myself; the beach is a couple of minutes from our house and it’s been a while since we’ve had time or energy to go there. I would be able to visit family and friends I haven’t seen in a long time largely due to the hectic work schedules we face here. 

The last time I’ve enjoyed a good two days of holiday were during Eid and the few weeks I’d had off from university. I know this is a far-fetched proposal and that this little idea has a one in a gazillion chance of reaching the Saudi lawmakers, but it’s always nice to imagine how things would be if slight changes were made to make everyone blissful. Who knows…it might already be on their discussion table. But I don’t think I’ll get to enjoy such a weekend here in my lifetime while still in KSA. All I can say is, I’m grateful for the sole Friday we have…at least no one can take that away.

Enjoy your weekends everyone…

Categories: KSA, Life, Opinion