Monday, May 30, 2011

Expatriates and Loyalty

As an ex-pat living in Saudi Arabia, all too often I hear complaining about the treatment and attitudes of each other from both Saudis and foreign workers. I was taken aback when I first read the following op-ed piece written by retired Saudi naval officer, Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.

During my early years, I saw very few expatriates — Americans working for Aramco, Germans working for Phillip-Hollzmann, Indians and Pakistanis working in hospitals and the Alhassa electric company.

But by the end of 1973, the Saudi demography changed forever. Oil prices rose sharply and the Kingdom had the biggest economic boom and the largest infrastructure projects in modern history. The mega projects during the 1970s required hundreds of thousands of skilled and non-skilled workers. The doors of Saudi Arabia were wide open.

Now, we have 8 million expatriates, Muslims, non-Muslims, Arabs and non-Arabs. Expatriates entered our closed doors and closed society. In the past some small towns never saw a foreign man or woman except in some magazines. Nowadays, every home, hospital, company and school has many expatriates.

But, how about the loyalty of the 8 million expatiates to the Kingdom? Should we be worried about them? During the past 20 years, the loyalty of the expatriates was put to the most stressful test. The first was in August 1990 during the invasion of Kuwait. Then there were sudden terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia a few years after the 9/11 attacks in the US.

In both cases, the expatriates showed an amazing and genuine loyalty to the Kingdom. During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, only very few expatriates left the Kingdom and some left because they already had scheduled their leave and simply took it earlier or extended it. But, we have to understand their motives. And during the peak of the war, we saw expatriates from the Arab world, Philippines, India, Pakistan and Western countries who were ready to die for Saudi Arabia. And nobody forced them to stay. Some Saudi embassies abroad received calls from former employees who worked in the Kingdom, and they offered to fly to the Kingdom to defend it. No one asked them to do so, but they stayed loyal to our Kingdom.

Former Saudi Aramco employees in the US were the most effective public relations means for the Kingdom when Saudi-American relations were shaky after the 9/11 attacks. And later on, during the terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, the cooperation of the expatriates with Saudi authorities won the admiration of every Saudi. I asked one Indian engineer why he wanted to defend Saudi Arabia during the liberation of Kuwait. I consider Saudi Arabia is my country, he said. And I once spoke to an American classmate of mine who works for Saudi Aramco of why he didn’t leave the Kingdom during the terrorist attacks, and he said, I would not leave Saudi Arabia till they tell me to leave. His loyalty is to Saudi Arabia.

The other beautiful side of expatriates in the Kingdom is that they are the ones who built the country. They came over because we wanted them to. They did not board a boat and land illegally on Saudi beaches. And if we want some of them to leave then we have to do a lot of changes in our habits. We have to change our work ethics. Why do we, the Saudis bring a nonskilled worker just to make coffee in a company office? Why do we have a lot of street sweepers? We can reduce their numbers by simply not throwing any garbage in the streets. We even can decrease the number of workers at McDonald’s restaurants if we pick and clean the tables after we finish from a big Mac Meal.

I am the biggest supporter of employing Saudis, but we have to get rid of some habits from our social system. Our fathers and grandfathers worked at humble jobs and were not ashamed of it. Now we have 8 million expatriates, the Saudis must win the hearts of the expatriates by thanking them for their work. A smile can make a big difference. This is in particular to the maids and nannies. I know some nannies in some Saudi homes are mistreated, but there are nannies who travel all over the world with their sponsors. Giving an expatriate his salary on time is the most important part of the relations. He has a family to feed back home. Also Saudi mothers have to share the responsibilities of raising the children and Saudi men have to be the main family driver, not someone from a faraway place. With 8 million expatriates, we should expect the frictions because of a few bad apples. Saudis and expatriates shouldn’t let the bad apple spoil our relations. Embassies in the Kingdom should also put more efforts to help their citizens. As for the loyalty of expatriates to the Kingdom, well, to some expatriates, our Kingdom is the only place they know and love.

— Abdulateef Al-Mulhim is commodore (Retd.), Royal Saudi Navy. He is based in Alkhobar and can be contacted at:
The article can be seen in its entirety along with part of a panel discussion on this topic on this SUSRIS page. For a short bio and links to more thoughtful articles by Al-Mulhim, please see this SUSRIS link.


  1. I think it depends what 'kind' of expat one is in Saudi that determines your treatment. Unfortunately what passport you have makes a big difference.

    Also if the expats left, Saudi Arabia would collapse, Saudis do not work.

    Expat or not, youll find just about any muslim willing to defend Saudi Arabia because of Makkah and Madina <3

  2. I still don't see SA as a haven, when it keeps women in a second class position...maybe 10th class. What do the Expatriates think of that?

  3. And for all this loyalty what do they he said...abuse, unpaid salaries, severe restrictions on their rights to move about freely (im thinking unskilled laborers here, housemaids etc). Not to mention, not allowed to be in the country unsponsored...not sure why these people are so loyal given that very rule right there.

  4. Seems as if some of the SA social rules were changed more of them could work at the jobs of the expats.

  5. On top of it, Saudi unemployment is becoming a problem. the Saudis need to learn to do some of the ex-pat work for themselves. Women want to and men will have to whether they want to or not I think.

  6. Hi Susie,
    I just read another blog, and its author was speaking to non-commenting by blog followers. I don't have anything to say about your post, but I wave and smile so you know I was here! :-h :-)

  7. "SweetlikeChocolate"i agree with your point of view, but with some points of my opinion.
    yeah i accept about treatment for "what kind of Expat one is", also agree to "Passport makes a big difference"apart from this "Same country Passport holders with bio-ethics & prior-origin, color will also effect & determines the treatment"
    and of all U r wrong about any muslim defending, i saw some who at the word of "SA" and "Saudis" get so frustrated and glance made can feel the punch on our face. yeah this is a fact.. accept it or not..

  8. "coolred38" yeah if you say about LOYALTY mmm may be more than loyalty it has to be "yes man" and do all the work given without a hush and just keep on make the boss happy and accept/nod to whatever said, do all types of jobs and keep him/her happy.. You are the best.. you get everything.
    this way many unskilled are placed in skilled positions, there are those with least qualification but are placed at higher placements.. just because of "yes boss/mada"always at your service with qualification of "Creaming & backbiting" you agree or not it's fact.

  9. gone thro'this article.. well said "some /few bad apples". it has to be "some/few Good apples". "see/greet expats Smile on their face" but with "poison intheir minds and hearts" (not included - cause it's hidden inside).

  10. there's lot of coments not posted.. well what's the fun.. giving a option to "post a Comment" except for a very very few.. others words never comeup

  11. Thanks for posting the article, Susie. The unemployment issue is getting critical in Saudi. Unfortunately, it will take decades of re-education and the development of a work-ethic for Saudis in order for anything to change.

    The kingdom would definitely collapse, and very quickly if every expat left.

    I often wonder what the Saudis and other Muslims would do if the same laws that they employ against expats, women and “lesser” Muslims would be brought against them in non-Muslim lands.

  12. The author of this article is partially correct. Many of us expat workers will defend (and did do our part during the Gulf wars) the Kingdom. The frustrating part of being employed in a Riyadh hospital during the first Gulf War was continuing to work when the entire, 100%, Saudi administrative staff took off to parts unknown (to safety) and left us expats to care for the Saudi patients. And we did. We did not stay for money, for jobs, we stayed to take care of the sick, the helpless, the orphans, the injured as our hearts told us to do. The Saudi's abandoned their own people, the hospital patients, and would have sacrificed the expat hospital staff for their own safety and comfort. They returned after the war was over. Those specific Saudi's were, and are, cowards. I have no respect for them whatsoever.

  13. Well I am Saudi and I have never thought of driving cars.. You see dear Susie
    You see Obama.. Does he drive the car by himself ?
    No he does not..
    Then can you ask yourself why is that?
    And believe you will get my point..

    By the way are Muslim Susie !
    Just a question I'd like to hear the answer as soon as possible..

  14. Hi Anonymous @ 9:47PM - If your point is that heads of state around the world are probably all driven by chauffeurs, of course that's true - I can't see any of them driving themselves around and I would be surprised if they did! If you are comparing women in Saudi Arabia as being in the same situation as these heads of state, then I would have to disagree. Women in other countries have driven safely for many years, so it is NOT a safety issue. So I'm afraid I did not get your point if you would care to explain. And as far as religion, I have not embraced Islam and don't see it happening for me. I am probably closest to Buddhism but don't claim to be a Buddhist either. I was raised Christian. I consider myself spiritual instead of religious, and I'm very comfortable with that.

  15. Also to Anon at 9:47PM - I forgot to mention about your initial comment that you are Saudi and have never thought about driving cars. I understand that and no one forces people to drive cars, however you must agree that there are women in KSA who DO desire to drive cars yet they are denied this right. They are forced to rely on men in their families, or to hire drivers to do something for them that they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves. So you don't care about driving, but what about all the women who do? The economics of this issue alone are devastating for many Saudi families, not to mention the state of khulwa it places women in and the thousands (millions?) of foreign men it brings into the country to drive around half the population of KSA that is crippled by this dumb policy.

  16. To Anon @ 5:24PM - I had to turn on Comments Moderation because I don't want crap comments on my blog, comments that are advertisements, or in other languages, or that are rude or insulting or even threatening. Because of this, sometimes it may take a while for comments to post to this blog. I don't sit at the computer 24 hours a day watching for comments to come in.