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Chan'ad Bahraini

(Scomberomorous maculatus Bahrainius)

Note: This page has moved to a new address. Please click on the following URL to get there: http://chanad.weblogs.us/index.php?s=Natural(ized) changes. Sorry for the trouble.

Natural(ized) changes

Saturday, November 06, 2004

The ever-intermittent Homer of Bahraini Blog has at last re-emerged once again. He has a very interesting post today about the possible future of expats in Bahrain and the Gulf. He says:

conjecture: what if all of the foreign workers [in Bahrain], perhaps maybe on direction from their governments, were to hold a massive strike, demanding better wages, better living conditions, and most of all citizenship?

This scenario is closer to happening, and more probable than what you'd think. Apparently there are already clauses in the WTO agreement about fundamental rights for workers, and their rights to citizenship. What if tomorrow there was a strain in Indian-Gulf relationships, and their government urged the workers in the gulf to rise? On a different scenario, what if all the balushis, yemenis and jordanians were to be relieved of their jobs (because of Bahranizations), and then you have, by some estimates, up to 50,000 people that are the only people armed in the country who have not integrated that well into their surrounding society, and who are extremely pissed off? (Continued)

This is something that I have wondered about for several years now. For the short term, I don't think the governments need to worry too much. The economic strain that of the migrant workers here face means that few can afford to stand up for their rights, let alone champion the rights of others. The first and only time I have heard about foreign workers taking a stand in the Gulf was last month, in response to the accident at Dubai airport where are a wall collapsed killing 5 workers. Around 7,000 workers from the labour camps went on strike the next day, and drew up a list of demands from the management. The Khaleej Times reports:

A mob of angry and beleaguered workers of Al Naboodah Laing, the construction company in charge of the Dubai Airport's Terminal 3 project, staged a strike on Tuesday and Wednesday across various labour camps in Dubai in protest against the alleged lack of empathy shown by the company towards the victims of the tragic accident at the Dubai airport expansion site. (Continued)

Within two days however, the labourers went back to work even though it was unclear whether their demands would be met. A few days later it became apparent that they were unhappy with the compensation package for the relatives of the victims. Yet work carries on as usual, the workers don't really have much choice.

But I do agree with Homer that something like this could become huge if they received some logistical support (from their embassies maybe, or if they formed some sort of an unofficial labour union) that would help them to coordinate their actions together. The situation right now is that most of the embassies of the workers don't care about the working conditions of their citizens, so long as they keep sending home foreign exchange.

Homer goes on to suggest two possible outcomes of such action:

1. Either we refuse to comply, which results (or continues) in a strike by foreign labourers. This lead to the absolute collapse of our economy.

2.We do comply, and all the foreing workers and their families are given nationalities. This fundamentally changes the makeup, policies, and dynamics of the gulf, especially since in some places, such as Dubai, about 90% of the population is foreign. It would completely seize to be an Arabic place, and would probably be the twenty-ninth state of india.

Either way, the alternatives are scary.

Yes, outcome #1 would be scary, but I'm not convinced about the second one. I don't think the government would have to give away citizenship to every single foreigner in Bahrain (or Dubai, or wherever) at the time, but could lay out qualification rules as is the case in Bahrain. (The fact that these rules are currently being flouted by certain individuals in the Ruling Regime is a separate issue). In Bahrain one has to have resided here for 25 years before being able to apply for citizenship. It's quite a long time, but I think it should be reasonable to most people. And it will mean that "foreigners" (i.e. Indians) will be restricted to a small minority rather than a majority. And because the turnover of expat workers to the Gulf is so high, it will mean that only those expats who are established and are contributing to the economy and society will ever be able to attain citizenship.

But I will concede to Homer that over time, if the labour problem is not resolved soon, the population will quite quickly lose its Arab identity (since the flow of expats here will continue). And that would be scary. But I think that essentially, today's Bahrainis have to wake up to the reality that the world is a changing place, and they can't protect its racial/ethnic/linguistic purity by employing this irredentism forever. As long as the change comes at a pace that everyone is comfortable with, we shouldn't find it scary.

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5 Responses to 'Natural(ized) changes'

Blogger Angelo Embuldeniya (Strav) says:

regarding migrant workers' rights.... firstly i strongly believe that the government of any country specifically in the GCC should not allow foreign workers who don't have their embassy in the country to represent them.

For example, in Bahrain we have many Indonesians comining in to work here but unfortunately theres no Indonesian Embassy in Bahrain.....and Bahrain does have quite a few Indonesian domestic engineers who have committed suicide due to being harrassed both mentally & physically [sexually as well - comes with physically i guess] by their employers.... don't take my word for it.. Read the GDN....    

Blogger Scorpio says:

If you've got a second generation expat in the Gulf it's going to be very difficult to deny them full citizenship, with massive political implications for Gulf societies - particularly as the region democratises.

Singapore and Malaysian provide two models of how large immigrant populations have used political power: in Singapore the indigenous Malays now comprise a small percentage of the overall popultion and have been completely politically marginalised, with the immigrant Chinese running the place. In Malaysia in the 1950s you had the Communist insurgency, which from my understanding was largely supported by the ethnic Chinese. When the Communists were defeated the Malayas restored their dominance and through divide and rule of the Indian and Chinese communities the Malays have politically dominated the country ever since.

What's important is that in any debate in the Gulf its handled calmly without politicians screaming "security threat". Nothing's more likely to send the whole situation overboard than some guy on the make, Indian baiting his way to a position of power.    

Blogger Abdusalaam says:

It's good to know there are people out there in the middle east who are concerned about expat rights. Keep it up.    

Anonymous Anonymous says:
11/07/2004 10:58:00 pm

Expats should have rights. Residents should have rights. They should also both pay some sort of tax to the government to cover municipal, security, etc. costs.

We need to differentiate between a citizen, a resident permit and a short term work visa. We need to ensure that everyone pays their own costs. But we also should give residents the right to vote, work, etc.

Right now, we have a two tier population in Bahrain. bahrainis. And others. And although the problem is not as bad as it is in Dubai - we should clean our act up.

Bottom line, if we were such a great socity, then where are the boat people? People only come here to escape a worse fate at home. And we aint even first choice.

Time for us to wake up and rejig the way we think of citizenship.    

Blogger injinuity says:
11/09/2004 02:19:00 pm

Most of the migrant workers come to Bahrain in search of greener pastures to make a livelihood and thats about it... and I don't think any sane govt. would back a labour uprising, take your analogy for example India would never support a labour uprising in the gulf, if the relations were strained it would be easier to overthrow the govt. by sending in 1/1000th the strength of our armed forces.

P.S: Nice to see a bhraini blogger, me spent all me childhood there, have many memories there.    

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