Saudis without citizenship: How much longer?
I remember some of our classmates in school, whom we did not know were any different to the rest of us, until the vice principle at school asked the “foreign” students to stand up to be counted. They stood, with red faces embarrassed. Theirs was the shame of not being able to officially belong to this nation because they remained without official papers to prove it.
Eight years ago I wrote an article for Al-Watan newspaper titled: “The Paperless Saudis.” I do not think a lot has changed since that time unfortunately. As one woman said bitterly: “Fifty years and still foreigners.” She told how her father, at the age of 13, emigrated from Yemen to Saudi Arabia during the reign of King Saud.
In this new country, he grew up, married, had children and severed all ties with his old country. She added: “The problem is not just a matter of citizenship. The problem is we grew up here and our loyalty and sense of belonging is to this country. We know no other home, but where we are actually seen as just immigrants, no matter how long we’ve been here. There is no law protecting us from being deported at any moment the sponsor wishes to.”
This overwhelming sense of bitterness and injustice is what distinguishes the third generation of so-called immigrants from the second generation, because they do not have a single doubt that they are the children of this country where they were born, that they are entitled to Saudi citizenship, and feel it is a fundamental right that has been taken away from them.
Abdul Mohsen is a young Saudi man by birth and upbringing, although his passport is Taiwanese. Incidentally, he has no ethnic or family ties with the Republic of China. He is suffering from this now that he is ready for marriage. He is Saudi by birth, upbringing, language and traditions, so only a Saudi girl who grew up on the traditions and customs of this country would suit him. When he proposed to one of his relatives, her family rejected him, despite his excellent education and good job because he doesn’t have a Saudi passport. Interestingly, all members of his extended family are Saudis, including his brothers, except him and his parents, despite being born in the Kingdom as well. “I thought a lot about immigrating to Canada, but I am hesitating. I lived my whole life a stranger in my own country, how I will live as a stranger in a strange country?” Said Mohsen
In addition, a Saudi woman who marries a non-Saudi always suffers, as she cannot obtain naturalization for him and their children, or even get them permanent residency, without considerable effort, if ever.
On the other hand, if her brother were to marry a foreign woman who reverted to Islam in name only, not knowing our language or anything about our country, she and her children are able to obtain citizenship very easily. This is another glaring example of the difference between being a female and male citizen in Saudi Arabia.
The stories mentioned above are the tip of the iceberg of countless wretched stories that I had heard, but they explain some of the complexities of naturalization in Saudi Arabia. These are not people who arrived yesterday and want to settle here, but people who have been here for generations, not merely five or ten years of residency. They would not leave this country because it’s their home, but have not obtained citizenship. They marry and have children, and therefore their problems and suffering will continue for generations to come unless we try to solve it effectively once and for all.
It is indisputable that every sovereign nation has the right to put whatever conditions and laws it wants relating to nationality, and in a country with a specific religion, like Saudi Arabia, it is natural that there will be requirements such as being Muslim and being fluent in Arabic.
It is also the right of the state to specify a minimum number of years of residency, in order to have the right to citizenship, because of the great number of non-citizens who currently make up more than a quarter of the total population.
However, we must deal with each case individually. There should be a fair and clear system that benefits good people, and assures everyone a safe, fair and decent life in their country.
— Courtesy of Alwatan newspaper
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