‘Expatophobia’

‘Expatophobia’

Mahmoud Ahmad


Mahmoud Ahmad




LAST week, a shocking cartoon was published in a local Saudi daily targeting expatriate workers that sparked anger among many people, mainly expatriates working here in Saudi Arabia. As is my wont of reading local dailies every morning, I was doing just that when I received a phone call from an expatriate friend. He asked me my thoughts on the cartoon that had been published in a particular local daily, which I hadn’t seen at the time of the call. I quickly took out that daily from the bunch and what I saw was really sickening. The cartoon left me totally disgusted.

The cartoon displayed what looked like an acrobatic Saudi man riding a unicycle on a rope, like the one we see in the circus. The Saudi man was shown carrying a balance beam, with the two sides of the beam carrying loads that read “low salaries” on one side and “lack of opportunities” on the other. The Saudi man is shown vexed by the effort needed to stay the course while balancing these two hefty loads, and is agitated further by a black rat eating away at the rope in front of him — thus fraying the rope which typifies the road to jobs. The rat, in the cartoon, symbolizes expat workers, who are shown nibbling away at the jobs and opportunities for Saudis. Such unjustified and blatant classification of expat workers is wrong and racist.

The caricature got me thinking in more than one ways, especially why this deplorable cartoon was published and what was the reason behind instigating hatred against expat workers? That cartoon would have passed muster if the rat had been used to depict drug dealers, criminals or terrorists who with their acts have been nibbling away at the society’s social fabric. But to show expat workers in such a light is extreme racism and instigating phobia against expatriates.

I also wondered, what was going through the mind of the cartoonist when he drew his caricature, and whether all our problems here are due to expats? Are they a ticking bomb in our society that could explode any minute? Is he, with this depiction, calling on all of us to gang up against them and kick them out of our society? Did he ever think that we would ever accept the message behind the cartoon?

The expat workers, he is depicting as a rat in his caricature, did not sneak through the border or had forced their way into our country. They have been brought here on a working visa to fill a gap and deliver a service that Saudis could not provide, right from our development days. The expat worker came to our country as a doctor, engineer, teacher, mechanic, accountant and in many other professions. He participated in the wheel of development and helped us build roads, buildings, bridges, schools, hospitals, etc. He, as a doctor, treated our children and, as a teacher, provided our children with education.

I have been countering many of those who are putting the social, economic and security problem on the existence of expats. Their argument is they steal jobs, harm the economy by transferring money outside the Kingdom and commit crimes. I again ask, first, how could they steal a job when they were recruited through a visa and with a legal contract to fill that particular position. It was not like someone was already there at that job and the expat came here and pushed him away. The claim of harming the economy is baseless. They are not allowed to invest here and it is not within our rights to prevent them from sending money to their families. It’s their money and they can do whatever they want with it. As for crimes, well, crimes do not know nationality or religion and it is wrong to generalize.

The language of racism is not our language. It is against Islam and against humanity to paint a negative picture as a whole of others. Expatriates, who worked with us in our country, deserve our thanks and appreciation. The language of racism and accusation comes only from ignorant people and also those who are envious of others or lack self-respect.

I came across a beautiful article written by the late diplomat and poet Ghazi Al-Gosaibi nearly 30 years ago titled “Warning”. In it he warned that our society would become like the Greek and Roman societies of the olden times, divided into two sections, First class Saudis and second class non-Saudis. He warned us from liking anything that is Saudi and hating anything that is non-Saudi. He reminded us that before oil we were working in other countries like Syria, Iraq and India. He warned us that we should never think that money has made us superior over others, even if tough conditions had forced the others to work in our country. He warned us to extend hospitality to our relatives and people and we do need to show the same to others. And most importantly he reminded us that the non-Saudis that work in our countries are not invaders and did not sneak through the border. They are people with dignity. We went to their countries and asked them to come and work in our country. Very wise words that he said more than 30 years ago and I think we should be reminded of that repeatedly to keep us rooted to the ground.

I conclude with a saying from our beloved Prophet (pbuh): “A Muslim is the brother of another Muslim. He should not wrong him nor surrender him to his enemy. Allah will take care of the needs of anyone who takes care of the needs of his brother. On the Day of Rising Allah will dispel the anxiety of anyone who dispels the anxiety of another Muslim. On the Day of Rising Allah will veil anyone who veils another Muslim.”