Bahrain labour minister warns of ‘Asian tsunami’
A Bahraini minister has warned of an “Asian tsunami” because of the reliance of “lazy” Gulf Arabs on foreign labour to carry out even the simplest tasks, in an interview published on Sunday.
Labour Minister Majid al-Alawi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the presence of almost 17 million foreign workers in the Gulf, mostly from the Asian sub-continent, represented “a danger worse than the atomic bomb or an Israeli attack”.
“I am not exaggerating that the number will reach almost 30 million in ten years from now,” he told the pan-Arab daily.
Alawi has called for the residency of foreign workers in the oil-rich Gulf states to be limited to six years but the leadership of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council has not followed up on the proposal.
“The commercial lobby in the Gulf thwarted the project which was in the final phases before being implemented,” he said.
Alawi said that Gulf nationals were “lazy” and “spoilt”, relying on imported labour for the simplest of tasks.
“A lord with billions in Great Britain cleans his own car on a Sunday morning, whereas people of the Gulf look for someone to hand them a glass of water from just a couple of metres away,” he said.
“If the Gulf governments do not watch out for this tsunami of foreign labourers, the fate of this region is very worrying,” he said.
In October, Alawi called for the Gulf’s “sponsonship” system to be abandoned, saying it left foreign workers at the mercy of the individuals or institutions which employ them.
He called for government to oversee visas and work permits to protect the rights of foreign workers, in a region which human rights organisations have often accused of abusing employees in slave-like conditions.
AFP – 28 Jan, ’08
There you have it. It’s official. We – the Arabs – are lazy, greedy and incompetent. Said by the sitting Minister of Labour. The same minister who had his plans to limit the expatriate entry-level worker’s presence in the Gulf to a maximum of 6 years thwarted rather spectacularly by the Board of Directors of the Arabian Gulf.
The passion which was evident in his 6-year-stint plan has not left him, in fact he is now passionately warning of another ‘Asian Tsunami’ which will result in a complete demographic change in these countries. In his latest salvo, it is akin to him gleefully poking eyes and saying ‘I told you so’.
Mansour Al-Jamri, the editor of Al-Wasat in Bahrain agrees with him. In his column this morning, he outlines the legitimate danger [translate] this situation can result in. Al-Jamri suggests that foreign labour we customarily have and as their visas suggest, should not be classified as temporary due to their semi-permanence in our communities. He contends that what we really have is full-scale emigration. And this, denotes the possibility of them soon demanding their human and political rights.
Whether we like it or not, international conventions give them those rights. After all, quite a lot of them have already surpassed the requirements to gain the citizenship in the country they chose to work in even by using local constitutions and laws.
When this happens, a big political problem will occur for our communities. This concerted and sudden demographic change left unchecked and uncontrolled will lead to social disharmony at the very least. In Bahrain, we are already experiencing this phenomenon with the supposed “immoral” naturalizations.
What’s the solution then? Just stop development and force a cultural change in the community to be more productive and less dependent? Of course not. A raft of changes must be adopted to change our way of life; inclusive rule, transparency and accountability will go a long way into forming a new society and even a new culture. Social responsibility will prevail and hopefully these problems will slowly come under control.
Whatever the proposed solutions; however, citizens must buy into them for them to have a chance of success. Unfortunately with the prevalent feeling of disenfranchisement that a lot of our fellow citizens feel, this new utopia will not materialise even with the promise of them ultimately being better off. Just like most people, they are concerned with the here and now, rather than accede to medium or longer term panaceas to these problems.
Without a real intrinsic structural and courageous change, the situation might spin completely out of control and the Gulf Arab will be completely marginalised. As Al-Jamri suggests, it is not too far fetched to have India exerting its major power in our countries by proxy. It will apply inordinate political and cultural influence by virtue of the millions of its citizens gaining citizenships, or even just continuing to live and work in our countries without any measure of control and without investing in the local population’s education and rehabilitation. Al-Jamri suggests that India’s political influence might well develop into making our countries a part of a “Commonwealth of India” soon, as its former citizens will gain positions of responsibility in both private and public sectors, even rising to ministerial positions within the Cabinet.
The situation is quite serious. Since 2005, Bahrain’s population has increased from 720k to over 1 million (if the CIO’s figures are to be believed). Foreigners have risen from 38% to 49% of the population. With the limited resources that Bahrain has, and more importantly, with the haphazard and unstudied policies we seem to be adopting, Bahrain most definitely will be at the forefront of Dr. Majid Al-Alawi’s tsunami.