By Abdulrahman Al-Zuhayyan
Referring to foreigners, a Saudi journalist recently wrote an article for a leading Arabic newspaper titled “Why do they hate us?,” in which she put the onus on the local population. I could not agree more. However, the article did not spell out the development of the main reasons that caused this sentiment. Always, an image embodies either negative or positive meaning, and ultimately flares up a corresponding sentiment, for instance, like/hate, friend/foe, etc. Thus, behind any sentiment lies an image.
Accordingly, one may conclude that because Saudi Arabia has a negative image across the globe, people around the world actually hold corresponding sentiments toward Saudi nationals. By all means, this image has a lasting detrimental effect on the entire historical records of the country.
The two primary intertwining reasons, in my view, that have led to that unfavorable image and consequently the unpleasant sentiment s are: Saudis themselves, and the lack of enforcement of laws by relevant government agencies. Like other Gulf countries, Saudis’ outlook on life is trapped between the Islamic worldview and the modern global one.
The enculturation process administered by various social institutions had instilled in the majority of Saudis the Islamic values, such as unity, fairness, equality, compassion and other humanistic values. Practically, they are indoctrinated to believe in the possibility of either Islamic brotherhood or pan-Arabism, or both. That explains why Saudis rush to help Muslims suffering injustices and human or natural crises no matter where. Unquestionably, they sacrifice their lives and wealth for Islamic causes. In the real world, few people can actually be so benevolent.
On the other hand, the modern global worldview of life emphasizes individualism and materialism. Clearly, the first worldview puts the group first (collectivism).
Whereas the later, which is largely adopted by the rest of the world, puts the individual first.
Definitely, the two are differing worldviews about the role of a person in this life.
Therefore, in human interactions between Saudis and other people belonging to a divergent worldview, majority of Saudis look upon others from an empathetic vantage point, while the others are most likely to look upon Saudis as an easy source of wealth. This is a disadvantageous relationship to Saudis, with serious ramifications. It impacts the shaping of their image relating to the substance of their character and their perceived traits, and it subsequently affects the nature of their interaction with others in every aspect of life whether inside or outside the country.
Having said that, the Islamic worldview with its aforementioned ramifications pervades Saudi life, which can be observed in local media outlets and the enforcement of laws by government agencies. With respect to media, many Saudi journalists purport freedom of the press and its role in the betterment of society by exposing irregularities and behavioral misconducts that may occur in the communities. However, practicing journalism without objectivity can inadvertently demoralize society.
For many decades, both the local Arabic and non-Arabic press have covered some social issues and exposed behavioral misconduct, for instance, wrong practices of the religious police, women driving and conditions of expat workers. In the long run, the extensive coverage of these issues — especially expat workers — damaged the image and reputation of Saudi Arabia in the world. The first two cases (religious police and women driving) are internal issues, and they are up to the Saudis to resolve them according to their laws and traditions. However, the issue of foreign workers is the most important one. There are approximately nine million workers belonging to various nationalities in the country. And they have diplomatic missions representing their interests in the country.
As a common practice by any state including Saudi Arabia, diplomatic missions and international organizations monitor the local press and other media outlets. The Saudi press, on the other hand, covers extensively isolated appalling wrongdoings conducted by nationals against some foreign workers, with the good intention of preventing their reoccurrence.
In contrast, the local press rarely covers the exploitative practices of domestic workers; their horrendous crimes against Saudi families; in addition to the overt violation of many foreigners of the local laws and traditions in the plain view of the public. Most Saudis consider these acts as apparent demonstration of utter contempt to Saudi authorities, people and their traditions, and are constant aggravations that they have to deal with on a daily basis.
Diplomatic missions and international organizations take those isolated incidents as credible anecdotes, because none other than the Saudi press publish them. At the same time, these entities only know one side of the story, because the flipside of it is not reported by the local press. Also they are not probably motivated to know because they do not conceive the idea that many foreign workers are really hurting Saudi citizens.
In the end, Saudis appear as inhumane oppressors and the entire foreign workforce as helpless victims. Worse yet, the electronic versions of the local newspapers publish these stories of perceived oppression of the expatriates, and subsequently the readers post them on social media, and many of them go viral on these outlets.
Unfortunately, those who are planning on visiting or working in Saudi Arabia for the first time and seeking about the country and its people online, they will instantly find these stories in both Arabic and English. As a result, the newcomers will be preconditioned to hold negative views of what they have to deal with before even they land in the Kingdom.
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