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A Case Of False Alarm: Ramifications On The Sociological, Economic, Demographic And Cultural Aspects

24 June 2016

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

Recently Al-Watan Arabic daily reported some interesting statistics on the current status of the population in the Kingdom. Quoting information gleaned from sources in the General Authority for Statistics, the paper said that ''the report states that the Kingdom's population has reached 31.5 million, of which 21.1 million are Saudis constituting 67 percent of the population. There are 10.4 million expatriates constituting 33 percent of the population.''

A further breakdown was provided for statistics in key cities in the country, with population estimates in Jeddah and Jubail indicating that the number of expatriates residing in these two cities outnumber their Saudi counterparts. Accordingly, there are 2.13 million expats in Jeddah while the number of Saudis are 1.9 million. In Jubail in the Eastern Province, the number of expatriates stands at 243,000 while that of Saudis is around the 205,000 mark.

The disclosure of these statistics drew an almost immediate response from the president of the Ethar Forum for Research and Social Studies, an NGO that regularly provides reports to government agencies. Mohammad Al-Subaie, the president, bluntly stated that the high population of expatriates in Jeddah and Jubail was alarming.

He cautioned that ''to have more expatriates than nationals in a city will have many negative ramifications on the sociological, economic, demographic and cultural aspects. The culture of certain expatriate communities already dominates Jubail and is manifested through clothes and food. The people of Jeddah also have the right to preserve their identity. If there is no control over foreign cultures, the identity of the people of the city will dissipate. Plans must include having less mixing of Saudis with foreigners coming for work, Haj and Umrah.''

As an added measure, Al-Subaie said that the Kingdom must take measures to control the population of expatriates in its cities as part of its master plan of Vision 2030. The numbers should be balanced especially with ''the launch of Jubail 2 and the Industrial City in Ras Al-Khair.'' Al-Subaie felt that the current numbers in Jubail have already contributed to the erosion of Saudi traditions with the ''significant diversity in Jubail's shopping malls, streets and restaurants, and in the manner in which people dress.'' Jeddah too must be protected from ''the growth in the non-Saudi population because it threatens the identity of the city,'' Al-Subaie added.

Now I am not sure what Mohammad Al-Subaie's professional credentials are and on what basis he came to such conclusions. Neither do I have an inkling of what led him to be appointed as the president of the research center. However, after reading his conclusive remarks in the paper, I could not remove the distaste it left in my mouth. To me, such comments smack of xenophobia as they seek to create alarm bells when none should exist.

How can a supposed Saudi professional and head of an organization that is occasionally referred to by the government make such outlandish remarks that smack of racism? Is the presence of expatriates threatening his existence, because it certainly does not bother me? On the contrary, it is through the integration of expatriates and the adoption of their culture and practices that the city of Jeddah has such mass appeal to Saudis from all over the Kingdom. Ask Saudis living in small towns or villages where they would like to visit during their holidays, and the first domestic destination is invariably Jeddah.

The Eastern Province was blessed to have the presence of a large contingent of American expatriates who came in large numbers decades ago and helped set up the oil industry. Along the way, they introduced their culture and way of living which Saudis found refreshing and progressive. Above all, Saudis living in the area admired the simplicity and directness of dealing with their American counterparts.

And, finally, how could Al-Subaie invoke Saudi Vision 2030 since what he has said is completely contrary to the spirit and objectives of the plan, which is actively promoting foreign investment, increased tourism from abroad and issuing green cards to expatriates working in the country? Does he not understand that all of this is meant to lead to the greater integration of expats and Saudis?

If Al-Subaie feels threatened because he believes that his own traditions are being eroded by the presence of a large number of expatriates, then he should understand that his culture and tradition do not represent all of Saudi Arabia, and if he is not happy with the way things are with foreigners around, perhaps he should move back to the town or village where he came from and where he may feel more secure.

The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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