Thursday, September 21, 2006

Our Greatest PR Assets

Added here with a very interesting and worth reading article on expatriates from an eminent Arab intellectual, writer ( Khaled Al-Maeena, Arab News)

Khaled Al-Maeena

Few experiences are as satisfying as a good conversation with an intelligent person or people. What is essential of course is the right ingredients. Foremost among these is the other party or parties. They should be pleasant, knowledgeable, tolerant, not highly opinionated and also have a constructive attitude. I say this because as a young boy, I often sat with my grandfather and listened to him, his friends and business associates discuss every subject under the sun. Later, I sat with my grand uncles and other elders so I was lucky to acquire very early a taste and a liking for good, healthy, serious conversation. All of us these days have our own friends and associates but, unfortunately, not all of them are able to carry on and sustain good conversation or concentrate on topics that are relevant to our society and its needs. Considering the state of the world today and most of the news we hear, we need to communicate with one another and be able to discuss a wide range of topics openly and freely. One person that I talk to some times is the Saudi writer Ali Al-Shiddy. We occasionally talk on the phone and I find that what he has to say comes from a deep concern and love for his society and his country. And as with all those we love, he is not blind to the faults and shortcomings of his society and his country. All the topics and issues he thinks about and raises are relevant to what is happening around us. In our last conversation, we talked about establishing an association here in the Kingdom to be known as "Friends of Expatriates." We both agreed that such an association would benefit all involved and we were also in agreement that the need for such an association has never been greater than it is today. The fact is that we have millions of expatriates living among us. The sad truth is that we hardly know them and they hardly know us. If we know them at all, it is probably only from work; we know very little of their lives and ideas and similarly they don't know much of ours.
Many of these expatriates are well-educated professionals and technical people. Yes, they have come here to make a living and, in most cases, to do jobs that Saudis are either unable or unwilling to do. But let us not forget that we have asked them to come here; indeed, they could not have come to the Kingdom without our help and sponsorship. While we are being frank about this, let us be completely frank. Expatriates have played a vital and pivotal role in the development of our country. Our country would not be where it is today without their talents, dedication and skills. We owe them our gratitude. They come from many different countries and represent many different nationalities. Probably the first wave of expatriates who came to what is modern-day Saudi Arabia were the Americans who came with Aramco in the 1930s. They bore the heat, the lack of comfort and facilities and scoured our deserts for oil. They found it of course in quantities even they did not dream of, and with the oil was built the foundations of the Kingdom today and the life that we enjoy.
In the 1950s came professional people, many from Pakistan and India. Doctors, engineers and technicians, they were soon found throughout Saudi Arabia. In our first economic boom and later on came workers from the Philippines, South Korea, India, Pakistan and many Arab countries, especially school teachers from Egypt. All were asked to come here in order to do something specific. Not to be forgotten are the thousands who have come here as simple workers; without them and their sweat, the plans and visions of engineers and builders would never have become reality. Yes, Saudi money paid for what they did but money without ability and hard work can do nothing. There is no doubt that many expatriates did very well in the Kingdom; most of them worked hard and deserved their success. Of course, there were troublemakers as well; however, as I look at the expatriate community today, I see a very organized group. Many of their educated people have set up welfare centers, help centers, medical aid centers, etc. Foremost among these are the Filipino groups followed by the Indians. And even among Indians, there are subgroups such as those from Kerala who have organizations to help the needy and unfortunate in their own community. I look very closely at their attitude toward their less fortunate brethren and I see one which we should ourselves emulate.
The overwhelming number of expatriates here conduct themselves with dignity and take pride in what they do despite their many problems. Unpaid salaries, bad treatment by employers, abuse and injustice. Very few of them have recourse to our legal system and this is a situation which urgently needs to be addressed. Whether we like it or not, many expatriates will be here for a long time. So as Ali Al-Shiddi said we should try to make them happy and comfortable which in turn will make them work more productively. Let us not look down our noses at them for they can be a very strong and vocal political and social force when they return to their countries. They have lived here and they know what life here is like. They can be ambassadors for us; they have years of first-hand experience of living and working here. We should not deceive ourselves; in many cases, the media is waiting for these expatriates when they leave. And while we spend millions of dollars to improve our image, we could save a lot of money by creating a congenial and pleasant atmosphere here. Much could be done along these lines by interacting with existing expatriate communities, focusing on history, culture, music and other traditions. I believe one of the best ways to do this would be through an association such as Ali Al-Shiddi and I discussed. We ought to take great care to use the expatriates in our midst as our first line of information defense. It has not been done before but its time is certainly now.

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