There is no question that there are many issues in the Gulf countries that may appear odd or disturbing to some visitors. One has to understand that these countries have been going through a colossal change to lifelong traditions over the last four decades, and the growing pains can be often unsettling.
And yet these countries have opened their arms to millions of guest workers from all parts of the world, welcoming them with promises of decent jobs and security during their stay. For the most part, the states have lived up to their promises — just witness the extraordinary number of expats who still call the Gulf home.
In Saudi Arabia, many expatriates have come here, put their time in and gone from this country, and many still remain. For many, their journey here has been pleasant. For a few others, their thoughts have been littered by bad memories. Expatriates who have spent an extended amount of time here are perhaps best judges on what it is to be one and their opinions should matter. They may not all agree, but from their perception, we can often decipher an image of who and what we are.
This is a story of one such expatriate who has lived in this country for a considerable period of time. He shares his perception through his own personal experiences. It may agree with what other expats feel and then again it may not. But it is an unadulterated window into how others may think about us Gulf people.
He writes: “Having lived and worked in Saudi Arabia for 30 years, my observation about the management of this country is relatively positive. One has to just look at their education policy and investments made resulting in 100% literacy rate including women; one has to look at the composition of Government with more than half qualified PhDs from foreign universities. What more do we expect from the governments in the Gulf? There is no contempt, no arms, no drones, no interferences, no break-ups, no income taxes, no load shedding, no closed downs, no shut downs, no strikes, and no rowdy and disturbing public gatherings.”
I am occasionally critical of the way things are managed in our public sectors, but I have to agree with him and add more positives from my own experiences. The statesmanship of the royal family can be understood from peaceful living of people to our good relations with the rest of the world. With a sizeable percentage of foreign labour from more than 100 countries, there is no ethnic, racial or social disorder. Crime rate is among the lowest in the world, and women and children are safe on the streets. The elderly are respected and taken care of while drug addicts and the homeless and dispossessed are provided means of sustenance and are well rehabilitated within the society.
Housing and other loans of those who depart this world are written off, leaving their dependents secured in their homes or with their assets. Despite water shortages, Saudi Arabia is proud to have the world’s largest dairy farms and is self sufficient in wheat production for its domestic population.
Food and medicine is free from adulteration and is generally safe to eat, with no shortage of potable water in a desert where rainfall is minimal. Health services are almost free and available to all. In addition, providing health insurance is a mandatory for many companies.
Most people travelling from all over the world to Saudi Arabia to work or pray return safe and happy, as well as blessed. Even the westerners living there, in spite of some restrictions on their way life, love to work and stay here while taking in a good image of Islam with them back at home.
There are no extravagances expected, no lifelong debts created by borrowings from unscrupulous money lenders, no unchecked diseases, no public violence and women are in no fear of abuse.
Jobs are available for those seriously looking for work, price hikes of goods and commodities for the most part are controlled, there are no public disputes, no bribes without punishment, no exploitation of the weak or poor, and hardly any illiteracy. Also, the expatriate associate reminded me, “there is no corruption, no bogus voting, no suicides, no sleeping under open skies for lack of shelter, no sleepless nights, and no nonsense. This country is a home for everyone.”
It must be emphasised that these words were from the experiences of one particular expatriate. They may not necessarily reflect the feelings of all others. As I had stated earlier, some had left this country with a bitter taste in their mouths. But what this particular expatriate who had spent three decades here has brought up should give us some food for thought.
There is a lot of good here, sprinkled with some of the bad and if we focus on the positive, we will take this country to a far better place.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena.