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On Kuwait’s sponsorship system U-turn 19, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait, Opinion.
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The FT has a good article discussing Kuwait’s u-turn on abolishing their kefala sponsorship system. The day after it was announced by the Labour Minister that Kuwait would get rid of the system by February 2011, the announcement was rescinded by the same Ministry.

The key issue is that abolishing the system directly affects swathes of Kuwaitis. Currently, nationals of Gulf States can set up a massively lucrative businesses importing workers from abroad. Given the lack of oversight and the culture sadly prevailing across much of the GCC, wages are regularly unpaid, holidays canceled, gratuities reneged upon and far longer hours of work demanded. Yet, as I noted in a recent post about Qatar’s kefala system, businessmen voting to get rid of this system is like Turkeys voting for Christmas: unlikely.

The repeal of the whole system would redress the balance in employer-employee relations significantly and – essentially – hit (in this case) Kuwaiti businessmen in their pocket. When Bahrain announced that they were abolishing their kefala system their business lobby erupted with anger. The same happened in Kuwait and the same in Qatar. Instead, loop-hole-ridden, half-hearted reforms are enacted that are a shadow of what was initially promised.

It clearly does not matter to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia that they are on the third and worst tier of the U.S. State Department’s watch list for human trafficking: is it truly unfair to say that by definition the majority of Kuwaiti businessmen care more about their profits than the human rights of the workers they import? Alas I’m not sure that that is such an outlandish statement.




Happy New Year 1, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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So it’s 2010. How very strange. Here’s hoping that everyone has an interesting, productive and entertaining 2010.

I start this year in Doha and assume that I’ll end it in London, though it’s hard to tell. Come ‘this’ post in 365 days I wonder what I’ll be blathering on about? I guess by then I’ll have written a few tens of thousands of words on my PhD (or at least, I better have..) and will have met at least one Qatari foreign minister official-type person, thin on the ground as they are.

This year, thinking briefly in retrospect, I’m most pleased with my article on migrant workers in Kuwait, my Iranian-British relations piece for RUSI and – should they ever be published… – the two book chapters that I’ve written for edited works. Here’s hoping that things continue to progress in a similar fashion.

My blog has – thanks to your kind and appreciated patronage – been going from strength to strength. Viewing figures (if that’s the correct phrase) has been going up at a 45 degree angle month on month from around 550 per month in January 2009 to 7400 in December 2009. This kind of trajectory is extremely pleasing and it’s got me hooked for, I would guess, the long-term. Please keep your comments coming, they’re always interesting and just about always useful and insightful! So far, since the start of the blog (I can’t isolate yearly figures) I’ve written 466 posts in 36 categories with 1,498 tags generating 338 comments, in case you’re curious.

Anyway. Once again, a merry new year all around.


Migrants the only losers in Dubai 8, December 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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As much as Dubai is suffering at the moment from its crippling credit crunch, one must never lose sight of the fact that Emiratees will be fine. They will not go without their Porches, Range Rovers or trips to the South of France. The ones that will be suffering the most will, as always, be the migrant workers from Asia and North Africa. There are already stories of tens of thousands being laid off. Do you think that there is any – any – chance whatsoever that these workers will receive their owed back-pay or end of contract gratuity or severance pay? None. Khaaalis.

This is the reason that people should be angry with Dubai. Not because some greedy bankers in London have lost (yet more) money nor that the get-rich quick bankers and accountants from Essex who went to Dubai for no tax, cheap booze, the tackiest of houses and sex on the beach have lost their jobs, but because of the devastating knock-on effect that this will have on remittances and dirt-poor families in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, the Philippines….

Hat tip: Abstract JK

Viciously racist cartoon in Qatari daily paper 7, December 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, The Gulf.
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Some weeks ago Qatari  Gulf Times published a vicious, stereotyped cartoon referring to maids killing babies.

Domestic worker issues are prevalent in many of the Gulf States. When I refer to ‘issues’ I am referring to widespread violence, mistreatment, contract infringements and more frequent than you may expect examples of rape perpetrated on workers brought over often from South East Asia. Indeed, so arduous and essentially awful is their treatment at the hands of their Gulfy employers (i.e. a minority of ordinary Gulf families) that there are daily reports of worker suicides by, for example, drinking bleach, to be found across Gulf daily newspapers. The key here is to think of just how awful their life must be for them to find the option of drinking bleach as preferable.

The US State Department maintains an annual people trafficking tier system ranking countries across the world. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran are in the US’ third and worst tier of offenders. Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are one tier up on the Tier 2 watch list. There is, therefore, unequivocally a sizable problem region-wide.

Many of the excuses that are trotted out in mock/quasi defense of the flagrant abuse of domestic workers stem from essentially apocryphal stories about maids and babysitters attacking or killing children in their care.

This cartoon, therefore, is viciously making fun of this situation. Satire is an useful tool to be aimed at the pompous and powerful. These people have neither of these things: they don’t even have their own passports. It is wrong and utterly risible and reprehensible of this cartoonist (mo7md@raya.com) to design and for the Gulf Times to print this cartoon. It is not even as if the cartoon is that smart or witty: read the caption.

“Your mum shouted at me today just becauseI [sic] broke a plate. An I am going to strike back. Count on me you brat, you won’t sleep at home tonight! You will stay at Al Sadd Children’s’ Emergency. Open your mouth now. This dish I havemade [sic] will make you dizzy for hours.”

This is clunky, poorly written, poorly punctuated and lifeless English, written by someone with a shaky grasp of the language, trying, I assume, to be cutting and mean to a wholly disenfranchised and downtrodden segment of society. What a guy.

Satire: biting, mean, vindictive and harsh satire, I have no problem with. Yet, – it bears mentioning once again – the key is who it is aimed at. For the Gulf Times to sanction this piece promoting however slightly the myth that persists and is to some degree responsible for violence faced by domestic workers problems in the region, vilifying the utterly defenceless workers that raise most nationals’ children in the Gulf is, essentially, a disgusting and bullying decision. Shame on them.

Kuwait’s daily shame 2, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait.
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I’ve just returned to Kuwait for only the second time since I lived here some years ago. Alas, the papers are still full of despair-ridden stories of migrant workers in Kuwait. Page 6 alone of today’s Al Watan describes an Indian maid and two Philippine maids drinking Dettol, Colorx and various pesticides in attempts to kill themselves. Only the Indian maid was successful. One can only imagine just how epically awful conditions must have had to have been to drive these workers to kill themselves by – of all painful and horrific things – swallowing highly concentrated bleach. I fervently hope that their employers (or owners, as they may see themselves) pause and think about just why these human-beings did this. Alas, I doubt they will.

Dubai police chief: ‘end sponsorship” 25, June 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, The Emirates.
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Dubai’s Chief of Police has called for the  ‘old’ and ‘outdated’ system of sponsorship that is responsible for the country’s legion of foreign workers to go. The kafala system, as it is known, is widely seen as one of the prime causes of the systematic abuses that are found with migrate workers throughout the Gulf. Under the current system workers are contractually as well as effectively tied to one employer whose job it is to hire workers from abroad, process their paperwork, arrange their accommodation and medical insurance. This has led to wide-spread abuses with employers seeking to cut costs where ever they can often to the detriment of living and pay conditions. Additionally, employers usually and illegally confiscate employees’ passports so can not move on.

The Chief’s comments do not come, however, from a humanitarian stand point. Indeed, he sees the current system as simply being a burden for Emirati employers. No changes are expected it the near future.

Bahrain was the first state that mooted changes to this system a month ago. However, the Bahrain business lobby soon set about reducing any changes to the bare minimum. It remains to be seen what, if any, changes will come out of the other end of this process.