Saudi Arabia, like other GCC nations, has been the haven for low skilled and blue collared workers coming from poorer countries of Middle East, Asia and Africa. Yemen is one country completely war ravaged, pervaded by disease, hunger, unemployment and poverty. There are estimated 2 million Yemenis working in various locations of Saudi Arabia. However, winds of change are palpable in KSA and crown prince’s “Vision 2030” policy includes two key elements affecting the millions of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia – punishing monthly residency fees introduced last July and a new “Saudisation” policy that forbids employment of foreign workers in 19 job categories.
This is the reflection of Mohammed bin Salman’s vision for a “Saudis first” economy. One can evaluate that this trend of neo-nationalism has been trend set by Donald Trump of “Americans first” and have inspired several other nations such Australia, Saudi Arabia and others.
However, the question arises what was the need for all these? Was unemployment rising among the Saudis? If not, why they had to blindly follow what Americans did in a dynamics completely different from United States?
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The result is the loss of jobs for tens and thousands of Muslim workers from around the world whose remittances were the only source of income for their families back home.
Needless to say there would be many Indian families too that has suffered for this new nationalistic rule of the kingdom. However, the country that is affected most with this rule implemented is Yemen.
The Yemenis who return to the home because they are debarred from working in Saudi Arabia find themselves in a country breaking apart in a grueling war between the Houthi movement and a Saudi-led coalition – a conflict that has already killed more than 10,000 people, left millions on the brink of starvation, plunged the economy into crisis and led to an epidemic of cholera and outbreaks of diphtheria.
From the point of view of Saudi Arabia, the “Vision 2030” speaks of shifting the oil dependent economy to a more dynamic economic setting. In setting out to achieve it, cheap supply of labor will be required and Saudis themselves cannot fill that requirement. Thus, borrowing foreign and cheap labor is quintessential to carry through the vision of Mohammad Bin Salman.
This “Saudis first” attitude, in fact, is a nationalistic fervor to deviate the minds of the people from the misadventures and strategic failures of Saudi monarchy on various fronts in the region and beyond. Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is trying to create some tectonic shift in the country without a proper vision, a goal and a definitive, long term and sustainable purpose which can bring in chaos and upheaval in the country and beyond.