Is There Racism in Saudi Arabia?

I was asked by a reader of my blog on whether there was racism in the Kingdom. I’ll answer from what I have seen or observed but encourage others more familiar than I and who are in the Kingdom to please comment on this topic. It is easy to confuse racism with discrimination and it must be clear on whether the focus is racism/discrimination among Saudi to Saudi or Saudi to third-country-national (TCN) or from the perspective of a TCN towards a Saudi.

Saudi to Saudi: One will hear a lot of disparaging remarks about the Beduin or “Bedu.” The Beduins are viewed mostly as the ethnic tribal groups of the Kingdom. Jokes and comments will be made in regards to Beduin among Saudis similar to the kind of comments one hears in the states about “Rednecks.” The Beduins are generalized as uneducated, uncouth, sometimes dangerous and lack sophistication. Many Saudis from Naj’d or Hijjaz may speak of someone in an offhand manner by simply stating “oh, they are bedu’s….” Also on the topic of what could fall into the racism category among Saudis is ones lineage such as how many generations has their family/tribe been in the Kingdom. Or if a family has “mixed” blood such as someone or a few someones may have married a non-Saudi. Even if a Saudi has married someone from within the GCC there could still be comments made “oh, they are not true Saudis, her grandmother was Egyptian.” Does this fall under racism?

Saudi to TCN: In this capacity one would certainly see what could be best categorized as discrimination in my view more so than racism. After all, if in Saudi Arabia and not a Saudi, then the TCN is a guest and it is the Saudis who rule. Depending on a TCN’s nationality and position in the Kingdom, there could be what one would view as a caste system in place. For example, the Kingdom has a campaign going on right now reminding its citizens that housemaids are people too and should be treated with respect and kindness. Obviously if there were not problems such a campaign would not exist. And it is also a fact that the pay of foreign workers in the Kingdom will vary depending on the nationality of the worker even though an American or New Zealander or Filipino or Saudi would hold the exact same position, their pay varies contingent on nationality.

TCN to Saudi: In my experience I do not believe I have seen racism from a TCN towards a Saudi but I have observed discrimination. Some TCN’s come to Saudi Arabia for the opportunities they can receive but in actuality are not happy where they are. They would rather be anywhere else but the Kingdom and as a result, it is usually among this group you would hear consistent “Saudi bashing.”

There are differing levels of racism/discrimination in mixed marriages between Saudis and non-Saudis. I’ve become unaffected anymore when someone may ask me “how could you marry a Saudi?” And even my husband has been asked by other Saudis “How can an American marry a Saudi after 9/11?” When two individuals from diverse cultures and customs merge their lives together there is always going to be a barrage of various questions ranging from the absurd to the very logical and practical.

I’m not sure if I really answered the question posed by a reader to satisfaction. I hope so!


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