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Life Arts    H2'ed 5/18/11

The Gulf Cooperation Council's Dirty Little Secret: Modern Slavery

By Press Release  Posted by Mac McKinney (about the submitter)       (Page 2 of 3 pages) Become a premium member to see this article and all articles as one long page. (View How Many People Read This)   No comments
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JAY: So just a little bit about the conditions now of the South Asian migrant workers.

HANIEH: You can't describe them through anything more than a very severe kind of exploitation that resembles, in many cases, forms of slavery. Actually, just yesterday there was an Indian man who committed suicide in Dubai by jumping off the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa, which I'm sure many of our viewers today will have seen when it went up with much fanfare. These kinds of construction projects, these fanciful projects, are built on the back of construction workers that face very severe forms of exploitation [in] many cases. For example, in Dubai, workers will be paid 50 to 70 cents an hour. They work ten hours a day, six days a week. They live in labor camps where the conditions are quite atrocious--you have sewage flowing in the streets, no paved roads, people packed into--many people packed into individual--into small rooms. So these kinds of conditions lead to events like the suicide yesterday. But they're not isolated to the UAE; they occur across the GCC.

JAY: And one of the practices--I understand it correctly--is that employers take people's passports. So even if they want to go, they're virtually prisoners in many ways.

HANIEH: This is true, particularly among the lower rungs of the migrant working class in the Gulf. And you see, what this does is it enables this system of control to really develop where the migrant worker has no agency, no control over their situation, and it leads, unfortunately, in many cases, to the kinds of suicides that we saw yesterday. Just to point out, for example, these are not just male workers; these are also female domestic workers, which lack--and are even more isolated than male workers.

JAY: And what happens if the female migrant workers become pregnant?

HANIEH: Well, you--there are a number of cases going on at the moment in the GCC of female domestic workers who have been raped by their employers. There's a case in Saudi Arabia, I believe, where a domestic worker had her hand--or had nails hammered into her body when she asked for her pay. Just last week there were 2,300 Indonesian workers, mostly domestic workers, some of them who had been raped by their employers, who were deported from Saudi Arabia and have arrived back in Indonesia. So these kinds of conditions are really indicative of the types of exploitation that we see underlying the development in the GCC region.

JAY: Now, the object of all this was to have a docile-like, slave-like workforce that couldn't fight back. And I guess to some extent they've achieved that. But in spite of that, we see big protests in Bahrain, we saw some protests in Saudi Arabia. Who is protesting if in fact the economic conditions, at the very least, seem not bad for most of the nationals?

HANIEH: Well, Bahrain is a bit different from the other GCC states in the sense that you see a Shia majority and you see more of an exploitation against Bahraini workers. They still constitute part of the working class in Bahrain. So you do see poorer Bahrainis. And the same also in Saudi Arabia. So you do see differences within the national population, within the citizen population, that are reflected in these kinds of demonstrations and are overlaid upon the kind of sectarian or ethnic differences that also exist within these societies.

JAY: Meaning that the Shia generally are not as well-off as the Sunnis.

HANIEH: That's generally the case, although it's very, very important to emphasize that the opposition groups, in Bahrain in particular, have been working to emphasize that this is not a sectarian conflict, it's a question of democratic struggle, where Shia and Sunni are together, opposed against the monarchy. But as you pointed out, the bulk of the working classes in these societies still are migrant workers, and this means that it's difficult for them to engage in any kind of protest action because of their temporary status. If they go on strike, for example, which is illegal, they can be deported at the first sign of any kind of protest action.

JAY: When we interview people from Bahrain that are--been involved in supporting the protest, I asked: is there any attempt to link up with the migrant workers there? And it seemed to me that they have, somewhat, disdain themselves for the migrant workers. The democracy movement in Bahrain doesn't take account for any rights for migrant workers. Is there any movement on that?

HANIEH: Well, one of the strategies of the ruling monarchy, Al Khalifa monarchy, in Bahrain has been to nationalize particularly Pakistani and other workers, often in--who work within the police forces or the security forces, in order to strengthen, if you like, the Sunni component of the society. So this is one of the reasons why you do see tensions between the citizen population and the migrant worker population within these countries. But we have to always remember that migrant workers are very--living in a very precarious situation. It's very difficult for them to join any kind of protest action, because they lack any right to residency in the country as soon as they lose their jobs. This is a very, very important point to understand. You lose your job, you're out of the country.

JAY: Now, the current situation amongst the Bahrain resistance is mostly been greatly suppressed. People are still being arrested. They're doing house-to-house searches. We understand they've gone to hospitals and arrested protesters in the hospitals. What do you think are the prospects for what may come next in Bahrain?

HANIEH: Well, I think the legacy of these demonstrations is still to be seen. They certainly have not succeeded in quashing the desire of the people for some kind of democratic transformation. And I know across the whole region, not just Bahrain, but across the rest of the GCC states, there are meetings, they're talking, there's op-eds, there are people speaking about the need for a fundamental transformation. And particularly if the revolutionary processes move forward in places such as Egypt and Tunisia in particular, it will have further roll-on effects, further impacts on these GCC states.

JAY: And can you imagine a role for migrant workers in these movements? Or is it simply--it's just too impossible for them?

HANIEH: Well, I think there's two sides. I wouldn't at all want to give the impression that migrant workers are unable to be part of these kinds of struggles. But I think in order for that to happen, there has to be also--we have to see campaigns and movements that are transnational in effect. For example, in some of the sending countries, we do see attempts by migrant workers to organize. For example, in the Philippines there's a very impressive organization, Migrante, that works around the rights of Filipino workers, particularly domestic workers in the GCC. And this does have an effect. So these kinds of trends, national forms of organizing, I think, will continue to unfold and develop. The other side to this question, though, is what does the--or to Arab unions, what do the Arab working classes in other states do around these migrant workers. I think it's very important that the trade union movements, the worker movements that we see across the region in the Middle East, need to link up and work very actively to defend the rights of these migrant workers. And, unfortunately, this has not been something that is being given a priority or a high profile by many of the trade unions and left-wing organizations in the region to date.

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I am a student of history, religion, exoteric and esoteric, the Humanities in general and a tempered advocate for the ultimate manifestation of peace, justice and the unity of humankind through self-realization and mutual respect, although I am not (more...)
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