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Foreigners, forever - The Battle of Blood

Today is momentous – I turn 21 and our 86 yr old King returns home after receiving treatment abroad.

To welcome him, foreign workers were busy embellishing the street with the national flag..

As the Middle East emerges out of the cave of repression and climb towards the cliff of change, as we endeavor to write our future with a fountain pen, like a fountain pen, without pressure.I wish we do not exclude a portion of our population in the process – technically, local-foreigners.

The concept of foreigners in the Arab world is as archaic as the old establishment, a notion that only people with pure Arab blood can maintain the collective identity. Sure, Ben Ali and Mubarak’s blood was pure as snow. And they sold their souls in exchange for power, favoring foreign interest in lieu of their nations' ; surely blood didn’t guarantee their loyalty!

In most Arab countries,citizenship is inherited through the father. If you’ve a Saudi father, you’ll be fully represented in Saudi Arabia even if you spent half of your life abroad.

But if you’re a child of a Saudi women married to foreigner, you’re a foreigner just like your father.

If you’re a foreign women married to a Saudi man and you’ve given up your original citizenship, you’re a Saudi unless the marriage ends in divorce.

If your Saudi father married a woman in another Arab country and left you, you’re stateless!

If your parents immigrated to Saudi Arabia and lived for 30-50 years. You’re a foreigner, forever!

I fall into the last category of foreigner. A third culture kid. TCKs identify themselves as ‘x’ nationality living in SA. I feel dismissed when I say I am “Arab-Asian”. The term is socially surreal !

Out of nearly 27m people, 8m are foreign workers; almost 1.5m with their families but there’s no approximation on how many families has been living here for decades. Stats on foreign children are sketchy; around 10,000 children are born to foreign parents yearly.

My family is ‘sponsored’ by a local since they legally came to Saudi Arabia from South Asia in the 70’s.
We renew our Iqama or valid permit every year by paying a fee (tax). As my father turns 60 our iqama may not be renewed, hence we lose our legal status.Unless we tap into the Grey areas of bureaucracy for alternatives.

Without iqama,everyday activity becomes impossible.Even bank accounts are frozen as expiration date nears.

3rd culture girls are a generation in danger of living in a permanent state of transiency. There’s no permanent resident system and due unfavorable attitude towards inter-marriage and lack of acceptance of cultures in each community, parents eventually marry daughters off in their passport countries.

Girls often suffer from silent depression when they grudgingly leave their home - unwittingly faulting parents for their plight!

In 2005,the government introduced an ambiguous point-based naturalization process in which, I don't get any ‘points’ for growing up at a historical site, for spending locally on goods made by local companies, for spending my vacations exploring local territories, for teaching local girls English and Accounting, for showing confused locals a moderate version of Islam.

No points for my dad spending his career in saving local companies from collapsing, generating millions for them (with no share for him),voluntarily training locals, and introducing state of the art practices in each firms for 35+ years.

But there’s 10 pt for having Saudi relatives. However,scoring all the points does not guarantee anything.

Even if you obtain citizenship, socially, you’re a counterfeit citizen.

Nobody prefers half-bloods!

National identity will not be diluted by giving ‘foreigners’ greater representation in the country. National identity is not stationary; access to various mediums has already altered national habit and attitude.

It’s economically and socially advantageous for Arab societies to include people from diverse background in the political and decision making process and talk less about blood. The supposed foreigners are people who have great admiration for this country and its identity. TCK’s don't want to be naturalized for the financial benefits of citizenship; instead it’s about dignity, it’s our affinity with our birthplace and our desire to give back fully to our country, it’s about paying respect to our national flag without feeling ethereal.

At the end, we all live in border-less times!

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.



Potter's picture

We all live in borderless times!

Wow! Farhaa, this is a brilliant piece (and it just gets better and better with each revision.) You really strengthened the section about the plight of third culture daughters suffering dislocation and depression if forced by marriage to repatriate to their parents' home of origin. Those heartbreaking transitions must result in a lifelong sense of disorientation; not really belonging anywhere.

This is such a timely piece given recent events in the Middle East. As a spirit of change grows and spreads across your region clearly your point that we live in borderless times is borne out.

Last Friday there was a rally here in Portland, OR, in support of the public employees in Wisconsin. Rally organizers read a statement sent from Egypt expressing solidarity which was received with enthusiastic cheers!. Borders are being challenged globally. Certainly the women of Voices of Our Future are a proud part of a hopeful move toward a sense of global citizenship. Thank you for your substantive contribution to that dialog!

Farona's picture

I learned how to revise from

I learned how to revise from you ;- ) I keep on revising until it pleases my eyes!
Girls go through very painful transitional process. It’s unexplainable; I have seen my own classmates going through depressive years until they finally manage to negotiate their lives. It also creates a lot of hurdle for women planning career and education.

We just really don’t know how many variables to consider while making these core decisions – it’s mentally excruciating.
Wow ! a message of support from Egypt read out at a Portland rally in support of Wisconsin public sector workers !!! It’s so amazing when cross-cultural relations are formed by people rather than by state actors!

VOF is a magic! I am humbled and inspired every single day !

vivian's picture

"Nobody prefers half blood".

"Nobody prefers half blood". What a piece and also learning about your homeland.


''Every woman have a story at every stage of Life''

Liz4peace's picture

You make us think

Very interesting piece, Farona! Here in the US we have our own immigration issues, but you really shed light on what it means in Saudi Arabia - especially for women. I can't imagine growing up, spending my life and career in a country, contributing to its prosperity, and then finding myself stateless, for all practical purposes, because I've lost my job or married the "wrong" man. Hopefully the changes sweeping the Middle East will force SA rulers to take a closer look at this issue. Immigration is a ticking time bomb in the Gulf states, which rely so heavily on foreign labor.

Farona's picture

Thank you for your thoughts,

Thank you for your thoughts, Liz! ;- ) I am a bit aware of US immigration issues as well.

In Saudi arabia, whenever we talk about immigration, we mostly focus on men. But along the lines many young women are suffering. The problem is the current system treats all foreigners the same way, whether you have lived here for decades or if you just migrated for seasonal work. It really does not distinguish! Most ME countries heavily rely on foreign labors; there’s always a talk about foreign workers sending remittances at home resulting in an outflow of capital from the country. For an economic argument’s sake, nobody talks when local spend billions abroad during vacations which also results in outflow. The country looks deserted in summer vacations! Nobody talks about the lower prices passed onto consumer because of low wages paid to workers.

The sponsorship system should be scraped, it doesn’t help locals, and it doesn’t help the foreign workers – only benefiting the sponsor entity. The entire system looks like modern version of slavery. Not everybody abuse the system but the loopholes within the system encourage workers and the sponsor to take advantage of each other.
I know women who lost their citizenship just because she did marry the wrong guy! Some got into endless bureaucratic nightmare, just because she married the wrong guy.

Peace ;- )

Liz4peace's picture

Keep us posted

Hi Farona,

I think it's important to tell these stories - with names changed to protect the innocent. Here in the US, anti-immigrant activists always use the line, "They're breaking the law", but they never stop to question whether the law is humane, moral, or even effective. It's easy for a bunch of men in power to dismiss this issue, because immigrants don't have the right to vote.

Maura Conlon's picture

Your voice burns bright and

Your voice burns bright and true for what the future of full, embodied, embraced and celebrated citizenship might look like in the future. I hope the King reads your piece which is full of compassion, wisdom, hope, yes, and heat! You are a natural leader, Farona. May your words continue to flow. Your body of great work continues to grow.
Congratulations :)


Maura Conlon-McIvor, Ph.D
author, founder and social change psychologist
celebrate life/tell your story/live your heart's legacy

Farona's picture

I am ever grateful to have

I am ever grateful to have you with me on this journey….;-) It’s a constant learning process! Don’t give all the credit to me..You have been a true inspiration! I don’t think I could have gathered the courage to write this without both of your support , I constantly took two steps forward, one step backward while thinking to write about this topic. I took into account national interest and sidelined my own hesitance – and finally wrote!
In order to have a dialogue it’s important to explore the counter-arguments and that’s what I wanted to present. We cannot solve an issue just exploring one side of the argument, be it economic or legal.

I have seen far too many women struggle - it’s enough!

Much Love <3

Ruun Abdi's picture

What a powerful piece you

What a powerful piece you wrote! Congratulations my dear for a well written piece.

I never knew all this were present in SA, and through your writing I came to know more and more everyday. I always though all countries were the same when it comes to giving citizenship to people who stayed in that country for quite some time (i.e. a defined number of years before someone receives citizenship) but as it seems even if you stay for many years in SA and you are a foreigner well you still be and have to renew your Iqamah. Mostly i hear there were Somalis who immigrated to stay in SA but soon they will be deployed back to their burning country but never knew why all this happens.

Thanks my dear for lightening the issues that need to be cleared as some of us might not know the actual cases in your country.

Lots of love,

lajone72's picture

Rings true!

Your piece spoke to me because the US is arbitrarily trying to decide who is "human enough" and who is not when it comes to handling issues with immigration to this country. We don't own any borders and this piece spoke volumes about that central truth. I learned so much from your piece and your voice is incredibly strong. All the world to you, Farona!

Peace and Love!

Farona's picture

Thank you for reading my

Thank you for reading my piece! I love reading about other countries’ immigration issues, in the Middle East – it’s also about women’s ability to pass citizenship to her children as well. It’s a complex intertwined issue. I really like to explore the issue from different angles, for too many years, we have focused one tool to talk about immigration policies – ‘Fear’ and
‘Unemployment’. We as women can provide a new perspective on the issue.

Appreciate your thoughts and your motivating words, means a lot to me ;- )

Peace & Much love !

Sharese's picture

So powerful.

Wow Farona! I had no idea that this was the view-point in Saudi Arabia. However, I must say I am not surprised. Although it seems to be at a different level (legally speaking) definitely the idea of always being a foreigner even if you are indeed a citizen whose ancestry goes back generations is still a reality here in the United States.

I have many friend's who citizenship is brought into question because they don't look like the majority of people that govern our states (notice I did not say the majority of people... as the government demographic does not represent the people of the USA). This is to say the non-white, non-christian.

Unfortunately this view of citizenship as a skin tone or facial structure or how one practices their religion or what one does in the privacy of their home is something that permeates many places throughout the world.

Your plight seems to be a tough one. I think viewing oneself as a global citizen and therefore not exclusive to one or another geographical and political entity is someone freeing. However, I understand that since our world is politically not there yet, it does not make the fact that you have renew your citizenship every year and that your citizenship is constantly called into question any easier.

I do stand beside you in global sisterhood. So do many others here on WorldPulse. This is what, I feel, makes this community so beautiful. We are all one. Global Sisterhood.

Much Peace and Love to you.


Farona's picture

Global sisterhood !

Thank for sharing your thoughts, Sharsee ;-) interesting to know a bit more about immigration issues in your country. SA and USA have one thing in common! May be we as nations can explore and learn from each other ;- )
From my own experience, it’s not entirely about the way you look or dress but more about where you originally came

from. A lot of migration into this country happened in the 80’s, during the industrial/construction boom. Some have always lived in gated communities and hence have little knowledge of each other’s culture.
Many aspire to live close to the holy mosques in Makkah and Madina, in fact, many would say they love living here because of the proximity to the two holy mosques. There’s a deep spiritual connection that often gets erased from the conversation. People have very deep spiritual connection to this land.

It’s also interesting that Saudi Arabia didn’t use to celebrate national day just a decade ago, Muslim identity took more precedence than national identity. Yet, the system was very discriminatory from the beginning. I always wondered what’s wrong with celebrating national day. I used to encourage children like me to honor national day. But back then it was really considered odd.

According to religious belief and text - language, color and race are no criteria for unity and privilege.

I guess we grossly misinterpreted the term national and Muslim identity. Some just like to hold strong beliefs but rarely put them into action, even their actions entirely contradicts what they supposedly like to show they believe in. It’s really complex.

I have always seen myself as a global citizen; many like me see themselves the same way. Everyday is a negotiating process with all our multiple identities ;- ) In midst of it’s all, I feel happy identifying myself with all my identities.

I love being on pulsewire – it’s a gateway to the global sisterhood! Each one of you enrich my knowledge and inspire my soul

Peace and Love!

warona's picture

mmmmmm! Great piece Farona!

My dear,

Heloooooo! You know, i ;ve just learnt that countries differ a lot. Blood line! This is so amazing Farona.You know in Botswana life is so easy. A motswana woman married to a foreigner ,yes as she changes her status as well her identity will change.But in the long run, if the lady is divorced or mistreated she can always come home and arrange with the relevant authorities so that she reposes her father ' s name.She will be accepted well in the community without any problem, she is our child, why would we throw her away.

Batswana can marry anywhere, and can also mix with all tribes.As long as the intendees trust each other. Yes there are chinnes families here, indians, americans,african brothers marry african sisters like batswana.But here in Botswana our population is so small so people have been encouraged to make more chlidren. The problem of infections by the monster Aids has been so high. So thats the reason why people became so reluctant in making babies, despite the PMTCT programme, risking your health and life with unpredictable situations, who can afford the loss.Already we have been grieved by this disease.

Great for unveiling this gal.Its so touching dear!

All the best


Anyway i just want to thank our government who works so compassionately for its citizen.Thanks for our president.

"success will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time " And when confronted conquer with love

Maura Conlon's picture

Global Citizen

Hello again! So great to read all these posts.

I think so often we hear the term "global citizen" which is one I totally embrace. But what the heck is a global citizen?! I believe you give us a helpful definition when you point to one's ability to navigate multiple identities with an eye to how all that wisdom can help create a new future, so like rising above the identities while embracing them at the same time. Kind of like a paradox. Honoring past while creating future. If more and more of the world's peoples could do this, there would be less war and conflict. More hope and Peace. So thanks for pointing to that.

As for myself, when people ask, "Where are you from?" Instead of saying, "Oh. Portland, Oregon," I answer like this: "My grandmother was born in Ireland but she moved to New York. My parents were born in New York but they moved to California. I was born in California but now I live here...." Somehow we are all pieces of those we story our lives forward.

Thanks for inspiring us around the issues of identity, place, future.

Maura Conlon-McIvor, Ph.D
author, founder and social change psychologist
celebrate life/tell your story/live your heart's legacy

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