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How Saudi social media combated a racist cartoon

JEDDAH: Al-Hayat newspaper cartoonist Nasser Khamis’ racist depiction of expatriate workers as rats taking over private sector jobs sparked a huge backlash among social media users and human rights activists.
The caricature shows a Saudi employee carrying the burdens of “low wages and lack of opportunities” and hanging on a rope while the rat (foreign workers) is trying to cut it.
It sparked nationwide condemnation in social media from Saudis and expats alike. The National Society for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia tweeted that the caricature “degrades human dignity and violates religious texts.”
Dr. Saleh Al-Khathlan, the organization’s vice president, said what Al-Hayat did was contrary to the values and principles of the rights enshrined in the international conventions and charters ratified by the Kingdom.
Twitter users who specify Saudi Arabia as their location expressed outrage over the cartoon.
Mohammed bin Eissa Al-Kanaan (@moh_alkanaan) tweeted: “Expats are not rats! This is a despicable description and a decadent caricature!!”
User @AlSadahG tweeted: “Al-Hayat newspaper must apologize to all expats residing in the Kingdom, as they are not rats nor the reason behind economic issues ravaging the country.”
Faris Al-Torki (@farooi), head of the Youth Businessmen Committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the cartoon was “a very offensive caricature to our expat brothers and they should definitely not be depicted as rats!!! Many of them taught (us), treated us and contributed to building our home with us.”
Abdullah Al-Alami (@AbdullaAlami) tweeted: “If we’re not careful, we may lose our expats to UAE & Qatar, ranked in the top 10 countries for expats in lifestyle & earnings.”
Khamis, who has worked for 12 years at the newspaper, told Al Arabiya News Channel: “I do not find the caricature offensive, because it concerns a particular category of foreign workers that are harmful to the country and are confronted in all countries around the world, in the US, Jordan, Kuwait and the Gulf in general.”
Khamis said the caricature carries several meanings and can be seen from multiple angles, and some people read it in a biased manner.
“We are in a situation where courtesy and political correctness are intolerable, and we must face all harmful categories in the country,” he said. “Indeed, all expats are our brothers.”
He said harmful foreign labor hinders Saudi workers throughout the private sector: “I consider it harmful to the country and disrupts the citizen’s employment.”
He urged critics of the caricature to look at the subject from the citizen’s angle, not that of foreign workers.
“We are suffering at home from unfair dismissal and expats — some of them, not all — who fight Saudis,” he said.
Khamis acknowledged that Saudi Arabia benefits from many foreign workers and vice versa.
He declined to comment when contacted by Arab News. Al-Hayat did not immediately respond to a request for comment.