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Post Ex-Pats in Saudi Arabia: Benign Slavery?
Created by John Eipper on 07/16/14 2:57 AM

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Ex-Pats in Saudi Arabia: Benign Slavery? (John Heelan, UK, 07/16/14 2:57 am)

Following up on Bienvenido Macario's and Anthony Candil's posts of 15 July, ex-pats working in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s also experienced a form of well-paid "slavery." An entry visa required a sponsor. After entry, the sponsor usually confiscated the ex-pat's passport and held onto it until the contract was completed. Before an exit visa could be issued, the sponsor had to publish an advert in the local papers asking if the "slave" owed anybody any money that had to be paid before the exit visa could be issued.

Female ex-pats were not allowed to drive or indeed be outside the home without a male chaperone, so many sponsors provided a car and driver whenever the female ex-pat wanted to go shopping, go to the hospital, or visit friends. Most ex-pats and their families lived in secure "compounds" in which strict sharia expectations were unofficially a little more lax. Some took advantage of this to brew highly illegal liquor (siddiqi shortened to "sid") sometimes for sale, a highly unwise business especially if some of the customers were Muslim. The first action taken by Saudi police whenever an ex-pat was arrested was to put the miscreant in prison until the problem had been sorted out. (As an example, a colleague spent two nights in a Saudi jail until freed by the sponsor for doing a u-turn on an empty freeway--empty that is except for a hidden police car.)

Western ex-pat "slaves" had a luxurious life compared to the hordes of "slaves" from the Indian subcontinent, who one would see being imported in bulk at airports. The treatment of Filipina house-servants, nannies, etc., was often harsh and cruel, a practice sometimes followed by ex-pat Saudis in the UK.

So a form of slavery continued even into the late 20th century.

JE comments: This is a dirty little (non-)secret in the Gulf.  From what I read, the UAE and Qatar give more freedom to the Western ex-pats, but workers from the Developing World are treated more or less the same as in Saudi Arabia.

(Greetings to all from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport...now featuring free Wi-Fi!  Our flight from Detroit was extremely pleasant.  We leave for Bilbao in 30 minutes.)

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