Khaled Almaeena’s brilliant article of last Sunday is by-far one of the most appropriate and timely opinions that I have read in quite sometime. Mr. Almaeena and a friend of his, Ali Al-Shiddy, a writer, discussed establishing an association they would call “Friends of Expatriates,” and they both agree “that such an association would benefit all involved . . . that the need for such an association has never been greater than it is today.”
The commentary, which is too good to NOT read in full, states, in part:
“The fact is that we have millions of expatriates living among us. The sad truth is that we hardly know them and they hardly know us . . . Yes, they have come here to make a living and, in most cases, to do jobs that Saudis are either unable or unwilling to do. But let us not forget that we have asked them to come here; indeed, they could not have come to the Kingdom without our help and sponsorship.
. . . Expatriates have played a vital and pivotal role in the development of our country. Our country would not be where it is today without their talents, dedication and skills. We owe them our gratitude . . . Probably the first wave of expatriates who came to what is modern-day Saudi Arabia were the Americans who came with Aramco in the 1930s. They bore the heat, the lack of comfort and facilities and scoured our deserts for oil. They found it of course in quantities even they did not dream of, and with the oil was built the foundations of the Kingdom today and the life that we enjoy.
In the 1950s came professional people, many from Pakistan and India. Doctors, engineers and technicians . . . In our first economic boom and later on came workers from the Philippines, South Korea, India, Pakistan and many Arab countries . . . All were asked to come here in order to do something specific. Not to be forgotten are the thousands who have come here as simple workers; without them and their sweat, the plans and visions of engineers and builders would never have become a reality . . .
There is no doubt that many expatriates did very well in the Kingdom; most of them worked hard and deserved their success. Of course, there were troublemakers as well; however . . . Many of their educated people have set up welfare centers, help centers, medical aid centers . . . to help the needy and unfortunate in their own community. I look very closely at their attitude toward their less fortunate brethren and I see one which we should ourselves emulate.
The overwhelming number of expatriates here conduct themselves with dignity and take pride in what they do – despite their many problems. Unpaid salaries, bad treatment by employers, abuse and injustice. Very few of them have recourse to our legal system and this is a situation which urgently needs to be addressed.
Whether we like it or not, many expatriates will be here for a long time . . . we should try to make them happy and comfortable which in turn will make them work more productively. Let us not look down our noses at them for they can be a very strong and vocal political and social force when they return to their countries. They have lived her and they know what life here is like. They can be ambassadors for us . . .
Oh. My. Gosh. How powerful Khaled Almaeena’s statements are! I am ready now, today, to put my name on the sign-up roster. We can hold the first gathering of this association at my house and I’ll bake brownies! When the “Friends of Expatriates” group becomes a reality, it would be a privilege to participate. And an honor, at some point in the future, to return home to the United States as a Public Relations Ambassador for Saudi Arabia!!!
We should not deceive ourselves . . . while we spend millions of dollars to improve our image, we could save a lot of money by creating a congenial and pleasant atmosphere here. Much could be done along these lines by interacting with existing expatriate communities, focusing on history, culture, music and other traditions. I believe one of the best ways to do this would be through an association such as Ali Al-Shiddi and I discussed. We ought to take great care to use the expatriates in our midst as our fist line of information defense. It has not been done before but its time is certainly now.