Throughout history, slavery has played a significant part in Saudi Arabia, and the “remains” of this are the many “Afro-Saudis” who today are suffering both verbally and in some cases physically from the racism that still exists in the Kingdom.
OPINION | BY RUNE FRIIS
The raise in migration to Europe over the last years has been the trigger of many racists coming out of their closet, claiming that they only want to protect their own values and their own culture. But what defines racism? In short, racism is when you feel that your own race is superior to another, and the characteristics you connect this “race” with are stereotypical.
Saudi Arabia is a country with many millions of foreign workers. According to Saudi Expatriates, one third of the population in Saudi Arabia consists of foreign workers, where the vast majority is from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Egypt. Most of the men work in the public sector as builders or other low-ranked jobs, while most of the women are working as maids or cleaners.
Throughout history, slavery has been a big part of the Kingdom, and the “remains” of this are the many “Afro-Saudis” who are also subject to a lot of racism, not only by the Saudis, but also by the Saudi Legislation which, according to HRW, doesn’t give them equal rights as other Saudis. They are denied serving as judges, diplomats and many other official positions, and in the court of law it is often the racial superior party that wins. It even goes as far as two people in Saudi with the same educational background can get paid differently, and the salary they will get depends on their skin color.
These people are the ones suffering from being abused both verbally and in extreme cases also physically, due to racism.
As I mentioned before, the Kingdom once had a tradition of using slaves, and even though slavery hasn’t been approved of officially since 1960, many of the foreign workers, who are working in private homes, are being treated like slaves. Some are even castrated so their “owners” know no funny business is going on when the slave is alone with the owners’ family. The slavery itself is very obvious to Saudis, and you can buy and sell slaves online these days, just as we can buy and sell used clothes online in Western countries.
It’s not uncommon that these workers, who are in private homes, are set straight with physical violence. One story that stands out is about one of the Saudi princes who a couple of years ago brought one of his helpers to a London hotel where he was beaten so badly that he died from his injuries. When it comes to female maids and cleaners, they are often subjects to sexual as well as physical abuse from the head of the family. This is not something that only happens in Saudi, but according to the Danish Broadcasting Channel is happening in various countries around the Middle East.
Being a foreign worker in the public sector is somewhat better than working in the private. The working conditions are not good. A working day can easily consist of 15 hours, with 10 of them in the heat of the sun. The salary is only to make a living, and often the promise of sending money back to your family in your home country is hard to keep. It is the manager of the project you are working on that decides when you can leave the country again. They collect personal documents such as passports from all the workers when they arrive in Saudi, and keep them safe until the worker is so used and exhausted that he isn’t as productive as a new worker would be. As a public worker you can complain if you have anything to complain about, but often it causes you more trouble than keeping your mouth shut.
The slave-like conditions are not hidden at all, so why doesn’t the international community do anything about it? As with all other human rights questions regarding Saudi Arabia, the Western World is more hesitant than what good is. This is of course because Saudi Arabia still acts as the closest allied to USA, and of course because of their desert full of oil.
Nothing to do with racism?
One Saudi, whose identity is known by The Turban Times, tells us that he’s seen foreign workers being treated worse than sheep before their slaughter. However, the source tells us, he also believes that the vast majority of Saudis doesn’t want this kind of cheap foreign workforce and that only the rich elite is benefiting from it. He continues:
“I don’t believe that people here are as racist as people make them out to be. It has nothing to do with race or skin colour, but more with the fact that we don’t want so many foreign workers in the country – we already have so many! When focusing on racism in Saudi Arabia, Western media often share only one side of the story. What about the part that tells that the majority of crimes that are committed in Saudi Arabia are actually committed by foreigners? Or the part that tells that 80% of the immigrant workers are illiterate and not needed? Drug smuggling and ghettos appearing here and there are also something the people of Saudi Arabia don’t like.”
There is, of course, always another side to the story, but claiming that the workers are not needed in a country that wants to build and expand its cities and cultural sites is nothing close to reality.
One conclusion to why racism is such a big problem in the country could be that the Saudis have gained a complex of superiority, due to their history of keeping slaves in the households. Whatever the reason, however, one thing is clear; despite most of them being Muslims, the love and compassion Islam preaches is apparently not for the foreign workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s only and do not represent those of The Turban Times.