By Arab News
By Nawar Fakhry Ezzi
For about three decades now, there have been many debates about the expatriates’ positive or negative contributions to the Saudi economy and society.
However, the recent amnesty period to rectify the employment status of illegal workers, which ended on Nov. 3, has sadly resulted in deportation of some expatriates who were born and raised in the Kingdom. Although many agree that the current efforts of the government are necessary for the safety and stability of Saudi society, the procedure of deportation could have been implemented in a better way. This does not mean, however, that non-Saudis are not welcome anymore to live in the country or to deprive those who are eligible for Saudi citizenship as some Saudis unfortunately claim.
Such claims are abhorrent and what is worse than the claim is the justification, as if we can ever justify discrimination or racism, which is based on a flawed argument that non-Saudis should not get Saudi citizenship because they live isolated, and remain confined to their communities and refuse to assimilate into Saudi society.
The argument goes on to blame Saudis’ unemployment to the existence of the expatriates in Saudi Arabia. This argument is not only based on generalizations, but it is also the exact argument few people in the West used against Arab and Muslim immigrants to the Western countries after 9/11 and the terrorist attacks in the UK, which at the time we called discriminatory and tried to refute. Unfortunately, sometimes we condemn others when we are the victims of discrimination while we justify it when we are the perpetrators.
Ironically, the two Islamic holy cities, Makkah and Madina, which are located in the western region of Saudi Arabia, have been a haven for Muslims from the time of the rightly guided caliphs to the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As a matter of fact, since the economic boom in the 1970s, all regions of the Kingdom welcomed an influx of immigrants and expatriates as a result of the emergence of new opportunities for people from all over the world to improve their welfare in addition to Saudis’ need for human resources to help them build a modern state. During that period, citizenship was granted to so many eligible people, especially those hailing from neighboring Arab countries. Unfortunately though, citizenship is not granted as easily now, which is depriving us from the skills, expertise and loyalty of eligible expats who wish to make Saudi Arabia their home.
Currently, expatriates from across the globe constitute 30 percent of the total population of Saudi Arabia. 10 percent of Saudi citizens are not even Arabs, who come from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Accordingly, expatriates and immigrants did not only help in building a modern Saudi Arabia when it had a small population and few educated citizens, but they also contributed positively to the Saudi culture, which is manifested in the diversity of our food, art, and even the way we look.
Living in isolation and shutting our doors to foreigners by alienating and offending them would cripple our economic, intellectual and social development in a globalized world. This great country will hopefully remain a safe haven for anyone who chooses the legal path to approach it. It has embraced people from diverse backgrounds who preserved their unique heritage while adapting to their new country. The diverse ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds of immigrants and expatriates have enriched our culture and will keep doing so if we allow them.