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The "Expected" Explosion in the Gulf..!

Byline: Jameel Theyabi

The above headline may seem daunting and notable, but it reflects a truth which the Gulf governments are aware of and forget either willingly or unwillingly. To this day, the expatriate labor has not represented a significant pressure on the Gulf countries, but is bound to trigger major problems in the future. This calls for these countries to ratify a clear-cut policy based on solutions that secure their rights as countries on the one hand and the rights of workers on the other. In addition, these countries should sign clear and precise legal agreements with the countries of origin of these workers, in order to avoid the attempt of some countries to consider their citizens who work and reside in the Gulf as immigrants, not expatriates.

To my knowledge, there is a difference between the status of the expatriate worker and the immigrant according to international customs. The expatriate worker returns to his country once his employment contract expires, without any demands. The immigrant, on the other hand, is entitled to ask for political and social rights, including the acquisition of citizenship.

In the Gulf, there are some foreign workers, namely of Asian origin, who have bad living conditions, as institutions and companies overlook the laws and regulations governing the rights of workers according to the Labor Law. This calls for improving employment conditions and studying their status and future repercussions.

During the past year, the Conference of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) focused on the issues of change and reform in the Gulf, under the title of "The Arabian Gulf: Between Conservatism and Change". It included a paper by Bahraini Khawla Mattar, a researcher who is responsible for the declaration of principles and basic laws at the International Labor Organization, titled "Attempts to Curb Dependency on Expatriate Labor: A Vicious Circle".

Dr. Khawla explained the importance of the file which has yet to explode - presenting useful information and large figures. She said that the expatriate labor in the Gulf represents 60 to 70% of the workforce, with this figure rising to 90% in low-wage sectors.

During the conference of the "The National Identity in the GulfC*Diversity and Common Belonging" in Manama a few months ago, the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Abd al-Rahman al-Atayia said that the expatriate labor in the Gulf is "hybrid" and that a large part of it "is ignorant, performs service work and is mostly non- productive". Hence, its components pose a threat. He also called for the need to change the social attitude towards women's work. Al-Atayia means that the unemployment rates (especially among women) in the Gulf countries, which are rich in oil and gas, points out that half of the Gulf society is paralyzed by the willpower of governments and societies.

At the domestic level, there are serious social, cultural and behavioral impacts left by the "uneducated" foreign labor on the Gulf citizens, coupled with an embedded culture by some Gulf citizens, such as the dominance of tribal and fanatic values that do not conform to the course of development witnessed by the GCC. There is also the "culture of taboos" and the lack of the "culture of work," which makes the relationship between the citizen and the foreign worker subject to many up and downs and weaknesses, especially since the largest proportion of workers is uneducated and untrained. Some of them commit immoral acts, and this has created a big gap in any positive communication between both parties.

Though this dossier is a volatile "time bomb", some Gulf governments are still lenient in dealing with this thorny issue, as they still cling to the concept of depending on foreign labor in critical sectors and vital facilities. Thus, doing away with this labor becomes extremely difficult. Besides, there is a local social culture that has produced the phenomenon of "pride" and boastfulness, whereby some citizens pride themselves with the number of workers they have, in reference to a "high" social and economic status. This takes place through trading with the visas and bringing in hundreds, or even thousands, of workers in order to benefit from the annual taxes upon the renewal of residence permits. Consequently, many "random" workers have ended jobless on street corners and in front of stores - in rather dire conditions. As a result, these workers would be willing to participate in any subversive acts of revenge against these countries, under the pretext of asking for their rights and improving their conditions. What happened in Kuwait two years ago is an example of this.

The Gulf countries should deal with the foreign labor in a serious and objective manner. They should also clearly implement the law, monitor it, and bring to account those who violate it, before these workers trigger a "catastrophic" chaos with "security" and political repercussions, especially in light of a "demographic" gap in some of the Gulf Council states where the foreign workers outnumber the local citizens.

2009 Media Communications Group

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Publication:Dar Al Hayat, International ed. (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Sep 14, 2009
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