Blood, sweat and tears


I am a proponent of the authorities granting citizenship or permanent residency to long-term residents who have contributed positively to Saudi society. It is not simply our way of recognizing their contributions but also a means to ensure their continuing presence in helping this country move ahead.

However, not all Saudis share my views. Samir, a businessman, disapproves of my views, stating that by opening up the doors to immigrants, the Kingdom would be flooded with individuals who would do little to contribute to the economy. On the contrary, he said, they would be a burden on our resources.

“You don’t have to look far, Tariq, to see them scattered on our street corners begging for a hand-out. And this is at a time when our own youth are facing a scarcity of jobs. And what happens to such people when they cannot find the means for daily sustenance through charity? They will soon resort to committing crimes against their hosts!” I had to interrupt to remind Samir that I was talking about deserving folks, and not seekers of streets lined with gold.

Mona, a successful entrepreneur in her own right, who runs a multi-million-riyal group of companies on her own was worried that the influx of immigrants through the liberalization of immigration laws would have a negative impact on our own unique brand of society and culture.

“What utter nonsense, Mona,” I replied. “What special brand are we Saudis heralding? We are no different than the rest of the world and today we face similar challenges. This concept that we are different than others is perhaps what is ailing our society and preventing it from moving forward among nations. Statistic after statistic indicates that we lag behind many developed nations when it comes to social care, education and welfare. In the field of education, health care, and many others, are we indeed leading with our brand of a unique society? So much potential growth has been hindered by such views, as I see it.”

Jamal, a doctor running his own clinic, felt that the current citizenship laws were sound enough. To change them may disturb the fragile balance of existence between locals and expats. “Do we want to become like Dubai, where one has to strain his vision to catch sight of a working local?”

“Folks, I am not suggesting that we do away with our laws,” I interrupted. “What I am asking instead is to do away with the hurdles that potentially qualified residents face today and expedite the process of their obtaining citizenship.

“Let me be more specific. A Saudi widow with children whose expatriate father had passed away faces a range of problems, as her children are not automatically granted citizenship. The process can be long and agonizing, as we all know the workings of our bureaucracy. According to some news reports, we often hear of one child of such circumstances being granted citizenship while another is denied. How can that create a harmonious atmosphere in which to raise your children? And what potential damage is created in young minds?

“Take another instance. I know of an Indian national who has lived and worked in our country for over 30 years. He was married to an Indian lady in Saudi Arabia and all three of his children were born here. Over the years he has been diligent in his job and in providing for his family. He has been free of any criminal activities and to his credit has trained many Saudis, some of whom today are executives in his company.

“He tells me this is his home, and he feels out of place when he visits his relatives in India. There is no sense of belonging to his homeland after such a long separation except for the formalities of annual visits. Today he is a worried man, as two of his children have reached the age when they will have to pursue a university education, and he doesn’t know where to send them. Canada and the USA are potential candidates but the distance and cultural differences will surely unnerve this tight-knit family. He wants to become a citizen, but apparently lacks the number of points as laid out in the citizenship laws.

“Why not facilitate his desire to become a Saudi? We gain more than we lose by improving our cultural diversity rather than bottling it up. Many of our tastes and needs have been fashioned by immigrants of yesteryear, and yet we cling to this false sense of a unique or special society. Let us not deny the fact that most of these expatriates are making an important contribution to the machinery running our country.

“Let those who have contributed to the growth of this country and who so wish to, pledge their allegiance to our flag. They have already done so with their blood, sweat and tears.”

— The author can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena