Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Shoura member: Saudis need attitude adjustment

Well known Saudi businessman believes “Saudis need attitude adjustment”

Director's Comment:

After complaining about the Western media’s negative depiction of Saudis, Dr. Najeeb Al-Zamil, a well-connected Saudi businessman and a member of an appointed national assembly of 150 men (Majlis Alshura, a powerless committee of advisors to the King) has commendably raised an issue that human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and CDHR have studied and highlighted for years: The plight of mostly poor Asian expatriates in Saudi Arabia. Some have described the treatment of unskilled expatriates in Saudi Arabia as a modern form of slavery because of their unbearable living conditions, meager financial compensation and mistreatment by their employers. Dr. Al-Zamil correctly asked: “These expatriates who have come here to make a living and to improve their lives — why do they not like us?" He attributed it to assortments of anecdotes including gloomy facial expressions, “This is because Saudis are known for always putting on a grim face."

In this case, Dr Al-Zamil, like many Saudi officials and employers, shunned dealing with the real causes of expatriates’ resentment toward their employers. The dehumanizing treatment of expatriates begins the minute they arrive in Saudi Arabia. For starters, their passports are confiscated by Saudi authorities and handed over to their prospective employers. These expatriates consist of professionals, technocrats, cheap laborers, family drivers and the unluckiest amongst them, maids. Once they are in the custody of their employers, or masters in the case of maids and family drivers, they are treated as property of their employers. They cannot leave the country, try to escape abuses in the hands of their current employers, look for other jobs, form associations or other support systems with their compatriots, and if they happen to be non-Muslim or non Saudi-style Muslim, their plight gets worse.

The overwhelming majority of unskilled laborers live in shoddy and unhealthy camps where temperatures can reach 120 degrees in the shade during the scorching Saudi summers. Most expatriates are paid meagerly ($100 to $ 150 a month) and many of them work for months without receiving any financial compensation, depending on the mood of their employers since there are no labor laws to protect them from gross injustices and abuses.

For house maids, things get uglier. They are under their employers’ disposal 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Like other unskilled laborers, they are paid very little and expected to perform a variety of jobs including entertaining adult males in the households where they work. These are facts that foreign and some courageous Saudi men and women reporters and human right activists have written about. While Dr. Al-Zamil’s castigation of his country men and women for their maltreatment of expatriates is to be applauded, smiling won’t change the negative image the Saudis (not the global media) have efficiently and successfully created for themselves.

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