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.