This summer has seen riots of Bangladeshi cleaners in Kuwait who had been cheated by companies who had hired them from their home country to the Gulf. ‘Troublemakers’, as strikers had been called in the media, had been ‘calmed down’ by teargas and batons, and numerous had even been deported to their home countries with vague promises of later payments of outstanding wages with the help of their Embassy. The glitter and glamour of this week’s opening of Dubai’s Atlantis and other projects of hubris in this artificial world of the ‘few rich’ are entirely backed on the sweat, sorrows, and tears of underpaid and underprivileged laborers, as well. The situation of the workforce of, in particular, South Asia in Kuwait and all the other Gulf States is an enduring scandal which has eventually to be addressed properly by international intervention.
In last week’s Doha Debate, broadcast by BBC, the audience voted 75 percent in favor of the motion that ‘Gulf Arabs value profit over people.’ Dr. Mansoor Al-Jamri, co-founder and Editor-in-chief of Bahrain’s daily Alwasat newspaper admitted that foreign workers from the subcontinent have sometimes to live in conditions “[t]hat cats and dogs would not accept.” He warned that, if the situation of treating certain foreigners as third class citizens’ international bodies might ultimately intervene in the affairs of the Gulf States. “[T]he governments have a philosophy based on oil wealth, but instead of letting it trickle down to the people they use it to silence the elite or by-pass their citizens.”
What a shame! I had been among the more privileged ‘Western’ academic workforce in Kuwait for a couple of years and experienced only great hospitality, civilized manners, a society shaped by deep religious feelings. Is it compatible with the faith when underprivileged laborers are discriminated and even treated such as slaves?
Last week, the hard-hit Kuwaiti stock exchange was shut by an unprecedented court order. Stock exchange had fallen by 43% since June. Some investors criticized this directive and urged their privileged countrymen to stop acting like ‘spoiled babies’. It is sad but interesting to see that, in a conservative country such as Kuwait, gambling had abounded and greed has led to complete ignorance of strict religious rules. To make matters worse, the country’s democracy is, once again, on the brink of failure. Three Islamists, Salafist members of the Parliament, are about to grill His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah who has let the controversial Iranian cleric Mohammed Al-Fali, a persona non grata, into the country. It is said Al-Fali had offended Kuwaiti’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population by insulting some of the Prophet Mohammed’s companions. The old sectarian quarrels between Sunni and Shi’a in the small Gulf country, which might even lead to an unconstitutional dissolution of the Parliament.
Religious zeal on the one hand and greed and exploitation on the other: a sign of mere demise of the societies in the Gulf States.