Friday, March 04, 2011

Chickens coming home to roost

In the gulf war provoked by Saddam's invasion of Kuwait there was a split between those Arab governments who supported Saddam, and the GCC countries that did not. At the time the GCC countries employed Jordanians and Egyptians and others some of whom demonstrated in support of Saddam. The result was that the GCC countries expelled these foreign nationals from the country, and replaced them with Asians. That policy has continued to this day.

It is much easier to manage foreign nationals who do not claim an Arab kinship. The Asian workers are not seen as the same kind of security threat.

The Wall Street Journal takes notes and makes the case that the policy of using Asian workers rather Arab workers is feeding discontent in the region:
AMMAN—Rasmy Mahmoud Khair supported his family in Jordan for nearly 15 years by working on a farm in Saudi Arabia. In the two decades since the farm job ended, he and two adult sons have tried in vain to reconnect the family to a Saudi paycheck.
The Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC, countries—which include Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates—employ more than 15 million "guest workers," according to World Bank figures.

Arab manpower once comprised the bulk of this imported work force. Now, some 11 million of the GCC's guest workers hail from countries east of the Persian Gulf, mainly India and Pakistan. Some countries have contingents from China. The remaining four million migrants arrive from places like Jordan, Yemen, Sudan, Syria and Egypt.

Demonstrations that have gripped countries across the Middle East have been fueled, in part, by resentment over the lack of opportunity in countries across the region. But even as unemployment grows across the Arab world, jobs are increasingly going to Asian guest workers.
"The Arab employee is seen as someone who is demanding and as someone who poses a political risk," explains Muhammad Malallah, a management consultant in Amman. "The Indian employee does not. The Pakistani does not."
In 2003, Saudi Arabia announced its intention to reduce foreign residents—then some six million—to less than one-fifth of the total population. But instead of shrinking the foreign presence, the Saudis kept importing. Today more than eight million foreign workers reside in the kingdom, increasing the foreign presence to nearly a third of all residents.

Families like the Khairs have been shut out of the GCC boom. Rasmy Khair doesn't expect to work outside Jordan again.

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