By Mariam Nihal
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, like its neighboring Arab states, does not grant citizenship to those born in the Kingdom. This leaves expatriates and children born in the Kingdom in an eternal state of internal conflict struggling to find an identity.
Expatriates who have lived in Saudi Arabia for more than a decade complain they are denied the right to buy property or acquire Saudi citizenship. Their children who are born and raised in the Kingdom also feel they are wronged as they often feel discriminated against, even in their home countries.
Most of the young adults who spoke to Saudi Gazette — between the ages of 20 and 30 — said they continue to feel like they are constantly on the move, with no sense of belonging or feeling of acceptance.
“Whenever I go back to Egypt, they ask me where I am from. I was born in Saudi Arabia, my dad and his parents came here 65 years ago. I have an Egyptian passport but when someone asks me where I am from I do not know what to say. I am born in Saudi Arabia, but my passport says Egyptian? I know Saudi Arabia better than Egypt, my home country. So my friends call me an agnabi (foreigner),” said Sarah Abubakr, a 28-year-old marketing consultant in Jeddah.
She said she would like to see the matter debated at the municipality level. Sarah’s mother tongue is Arabic and she feels sponsorship laws are gradually becoming tougher in accordance with the Kingdom’s labor laws. “Why can’t the government grant us permanent residence? … I have to live at the mercy of my sponsor,” she added.
“If we did not love Saudi Arabia, a million of us would not be here. We got married here, raised our children here and even have grandchildren here, Alhamdulillah. But the fear of being evicted from this nation at any time creeps in more often than not. It reminds me of the stark reality that my existence here is dependent on my sponsor. I cannot transfer it to a company because I do not work here and my husband’s job is not permanent. Just like all expat jobs, we live in a constant dilemma with a life full of apprehension,” said Asma Kalea, a 54-year-old housewife from Manila who also lives in Jeddah.
Ahmad Ali, a 45-year-old Lebanese businessman, told Saudi Gazette that millions of expats leave their home countries to help advance the Saudi economy and yet they do not get a chance to become a part of this nation. “You can live here for 50 years and still be a nobody. Your sponsor can tell you to pack up and leave whenever he wants. I am better off than most professionals here but I believe people from other walks of life working in labor and blue-collar jobs should all have a chance to live here with dignity, respect and full independence. I should be able to call my family here without having to beg my sponsor and pay him half my wealth,” he said.
Ghalia Nasser, a 25-year-old Indian fashion designer who was born and raised in Jeddah, returned to India eight years ago when her father lost his job. She said she felt remorse and betrayal as she still tries to find a sense of identity. “I feel like the people of Palestine. I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. I am still loyal to the Kingdom as all my childhood memories are from there. Now I can’t even visit the country whenever I want to without a visit visa or a mahram (a male relative with whom marriage is forbidden). To date I feel and say Jeddah is home. I may be in India but my heart is in Jeddah,” said Nasser.
Ramia Ramzi, a 24-year-old student, was born in Al-Khobar and has been living in the Kingdom ever since. “Three generations of my family have been here — my grandfather, father and now my son. But I am worried we may have to go back if my husband loses his job unless the Saudi government delves deeper into the issue to help people like us. I am one of them no matter what they say,” said Ramzi.
Samahir Ali, a 25-year-old student from Eritrea, faces a similar dilemma. “My parents have spent their life working and living in this country because they love it so much. My mother says it is because of Makkah and Madina. My father loves to work in a familiar place that offers the real essence of Islam. We could go back, but my parents get very sad whenever they think about retiring. I know this is home for them but sadly there is nothing we can do about it,” he said.
On marrying Saudis to acquire Saudi nationality, Siya Kareem, a 22-year-old British national who lives in Dammam, said many women who convert to Islam want to marry Saudis to be able to live here. She finds the trend disturbing.
“I have said it so many times but I doubt I would marry a Saudi just for the passport. But can you blame me? I never want to go anywhere else, be it the East or the West. I want my children to grow up here and live a good, moderate and Islamic life just like I did. Nevertheless, if I am denied my right I might have to find a way around. However, then I would be labeled the manipulative British woman who ‘trapped’ a Saudi,” said Kareem.
Fatima Kamel, a 26-year-old administrator, told Saudi Gazette that unlike her parents who were born and raised in the Philippines, she feels she is Saudi as she was born in Jeddah.
“My parents are Filipinos and I was born and raised here — how can I not be anything but Saudi? Yet, I have no right to call myself a Saudi because of my passport. I understand the government’s apprehension in giving us all citizenship because they feel most foreigners send most of their incomes back to their home countries. But what about those of us who wish to work, live and remain here? Does that not show I am loyal enough? I cannot understand why we are denied the passport when I have the right to one,” Kamel said.