The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Arabian Peninsula:
Capitalism’s Contradictions in a Nutshell

Jan 7, 2014

The following is an article translated from Lutte de Classe #157, the quarterly published by Lutte Ouvrière, a Trotskyist organization in France.

The fact that two oil sheikdoms, Dubai and Qatar, have been chosen to host, respectively, the 2020 World Expo and the 2022 Football World Cup, has furthered the idea that these countries are emerging powers, wooed as such by many Western countries’ heads of state and by officials from institutions like FIFA, the International Football Association. Still, despite a visible economic development, their actual power is limited by their small size and population. And they remain, as ever before, heavily dependent on imperialist countries.

Both countries, like the other oil sheikdoms of the Arabian Peninsula, put immigrant workers under a kind of guardianship and, at times, massively expel them—as was the case these last few months in Saudi Arabia.

A String of States: The Result of Decades of Imperialist Domination

A map of the area that lies between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf shows a patchwork of states of different sizes. There is Saudi Arabia, a huge country compared to Bahrain, an archipelago only twice the size of the city of Detroit; or Qatar, roughly the size of the Detroit metropolitan area, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a federation of seven states—among them Dubai and Abu Dhabi. In the past, the situation was at times very different. Beginning in the 7th century, the peninsula became a single entity. As the source of Islam, Arabia played a leading role in establishing the Arab-Muslim empire—only to be marginalized in later times. The Arabic language and script and the Muslim religion were so many links between the population of the peninsula and the people living in neighboring countries. From the 16th to the 19th century, the Ottoman empire ruled over a good part of the Arabian Peninsula.

However, with the collapse of the Ottoman empire, the Middle East fell prey to the rivalries of imperialist countries. As a result, the region was permanently fragmented into states run by a variety of local cliques. The British started acting as the region’s policeman early in the 19th century. They sought to enforce the law around the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, a key zone on the road to India—which remained the most precious jewel of the British empire. To guarantee a secure maritime trade, the British tried to arbitrate the conflicts opposing the small sheikhdoms established on the Gulf coast that lived off pearl-diving and piracy. The area around Abu Dhabi was known to the English as “the Pirate Coast,” until, in 1853, they and the Emirates signed an agreement providing for a “Perpetual Maritime Truce”—after which these undersized states came to be called the “Trucial States.”

France, Germany and other countries, including Czarist Russia, also had designs on the Middle East. After the French army’s expedition of 1861, the French stationed thousands of soldiers in Lebanon and cut Lebanon out of the Ottoman empire. They controlled large-scale trade and French banks owned 60% of the Ottoman empire’s debt. But Germany’s influence was quickly growing, as was demonstrated in the 1880s, with the plans for the construction of a Berlinto-Baghdad railway. These plans upset the British, all the more since the plans mentioned the possibility of extending the railroad from Baghdad to Kuwait and the Persian Gulf.

Toward the end of the 19th century, the British set up genuine protectorates in the Gulf area. These were run by little local kings, who came from wealthy families and whose ambition was to consolidate their own local power thanks to the support of a foreign superpower. The Gulf became a pacified British lake of sorts. Pearl-diving flourished again—but the pearl trade was mostly in the hands of Indian and British businesses.

In the zones where the Ottomans retained some influence, the British preferred behind-the-scene maneuvers. Government agents would secretly supply arms and money to those leaders who relied on the support of the London government—against those who remained faithful to Istanbul. However, when compelled by circumstances, the British brought out their big guns. In 1901, the British navy shelled pro-Ottoman troops in Kuwait to defend their local protégé who had just carried out a coup. Then, during World War I, famous archaeologist-and-spy T.E. Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia) crisscrossed the region between Sinai and Mecca to fuel the Arab revolt against Turkish domination. But, contrary to what they led their local allies to believe, the British had no intention of supporting the emergence of a strong Arab nation. On the contrary, they were favorable to a multisided division that would help the British maintain their rule. In 1920, the British and the French redrew the map of the Middle East to their advantage, leaving nothing for the Germans, the Ottomans or the Russians, who had all been sidelined by the outcome of the war. Under the terms of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, France was awarded Syria, Lebanon and Germany’s share of the oil wells of Mesopotamia (25%), while the British received Egypt, Iraq, the Gulf Emirates, Jordan and Palestine (where they played on a further division between Arabs and Jewish settlers).

France and Great Britain agreed to leave the control of central Arabia and the holy sites of Islam to an ambitious emir, Ibn Saud. London would have preferred another solution, but Ibn Saud presented the advantage of having his own militia, the Ikhwans (Arabic for “brothers”). His troops were galvanized by strong Arab nationalist feelings and by Wahabbism, a fundamentalist branch of Islam. However, there was a condition: Ibn Saud was to leave Yemen alone, and, more importantly, he was not to get involved in Aden, a strategically important passage in the southern Red Sea. When the Ikhwans, who didn’t understand why the holy war had come to a standstill, rebelled against Ibn Saud, British planes helped Ibn Saud crush the rebellion in blood.

In the years that followed, British imperialism imposed its rule over a good deal of the Arab world—and carefully maintained the existing divisions. In the Gulf area, pearl-diving declined when the Japanese came up with the cultured pearl. But the loss of this activity was largely compensated for by oil. Oil wells had already existed in Mesopotamia (renamed Iraq) in 1927, when a huge oil deposit was discovered near Kirkut. In 1932 and 1938, more oil was found in Bahrain and Kuwait. The concession contracts to exploit this oil went to the British oil companies.

But a young and powerful imperialism arrived on the scene and started making headway. It was the United States of America. Ibn Saud was attracted by to the newcomer. The oil deposits of Eastern Arabia were discovered by U.S. companies that were also granted operating contracts. The economic and military importance of “black gold” was already obvious during World War I. In World War II, it became a vital supply for U.S. tanks and British ships and airplanes. Roosevelt signed an agreement still in use today: the Quincy Agreement. This document was named after the USS Quincy, the ship which was taking the U.S. president back home after the Yalta Conference and aboard which Ibn Saud was invited to ink an agreement guaranteeing U.S. access to this oil for the next 60 years. In exchange, the U.S. army guaranteed the security of the state run by the Saud family.

The Quincy Agreement was later applied to the sheikdoms established on the banks of the Arabian Gulf. The U.S. superpower’s aim was to guarantee its oil supply and, at the same time, to maintain its control over a region known for political instability (the Middle East) and for its role in international trade (the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean).

Like its rivals, U.S. imperialism was eager to have a finger in every pie and soon struck a new alliance. The U.S. took advantage of the perspectives offered by the creation of Israel and the immigration to the area of Jewish survivors of the genocidal extermination carried out in Germany and Central Europe. These people had nowhere to go since Europe, and England in particular, had barred them from entry. Ships like the Exodus were not allowed any berth and were forced to go from port to port. The refugees on board could not leave the ships. In the end, this suffering was used to the advantage of the imperialist powers and their Zionist allies. The only perspective offered these survivors was to fight the Palestinians for their lands. The Middle East was consequently further divided and the United States came out of the process with a new ally in the area: the state of Israel found itself isolated among a whole array of hostile Arab populations.

The states of the Arabian Peninsula took on a much greater importance when the Shah of Iran was toppled by revolution in 1979, thus depriving the United States of one of its reliable allies in the Middle East. The U.S. army built new bases in the peninsula and presently has around ten of them (three in Kuwait, plus bases in Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain and Oman). In 2005, the Quincy Agreement was renewed when Saudi Arabia’s king met with President Bush during a visit to the United States.

The interdependent ties existing between the oil sheikdoms and imperialism are quite unusual. As early as 1903, English Admiral Curzon declared to the emirs: “It’s about our trade as much as about your security.” It is even truer today: The leading circles of these oil-rich countries are wealthy beyond their needs. They do not need subsidies from the multinationals; they need military protection. Through this “protection,” imperialist countries can continue to control the region, which has 60% of the known—and certified—oil reserves and is a hub through which a good deal of the world’s maritime traffic passes. For imperialism this control is vital.

The Chess Game of the Imperialist Powers

There is a lot of talk today concerning the involvement of Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the conflict in Syria and their financial support of the jihadists. Both countries try to have their own influence in the region and each has a television network (Al Arabyia and Al Jazeera), whose broadcasts reach the entire Arab world. Their rivalry serves the interests of present-day imperialism, which sticks to the recipe elaborated by the British and used by them with success for over a century, that is, to foster divisions in the Arab world. The fact that imperialism is not confronted by a single state, which would be in control of all these resources, be it only at the scale of the peninsula, is a prime advantage. Second, the existence of half a dozen dynasties and state machineries with partly diverging interests allows U.S. diplomats to have several irons in the fire. They can support one against the others, and encourage them to apply policies that suit imperialism. In other words, the imperialists remain the masters of the game.

Saudi Arabia is the biggest, richest country of the area and the only sizable military power. Qatar is also rich—relative to its small size and population. It has the highest GDP per inhabitant in the world and has been trying to find its own way and a little more autonomy since the coup staged by a modern-oriented emir against his father in 1995. Qatar tried to differentiate itself from Saudi Arabia and to protect itself by inviting the U.S. army to take over the military base of El Oudeid, financed by Qatar. The Americans have indeed showed some concern after the September 11, 2001 attacks, carried out by 19 people, 15 of whom were Saudi citizens, and by the murderous attacks in Saudi Arabia itself. The U.S. government decided to transfer its air force base and its Forward Headquarters for the Middle East and Central Asia (CENTCOM) from Saudi Arabia to Qatar.

The Emir of Qatar and his relatives maintain a relationship with Israel. At the same time, Qatar supports the Muslim Brotherhood and those who claim agreement with the Brotherhood’s political line—including the present governments of Tunisia and Turkey, Hamas in Gaza. But it has dissolved the Qatari branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. This apparent contradiction is easily explained: supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which criticizes the political orientation of the Saudi monarchy and has an international following, is an attempt to increase Qatar’s outreach. Another apparent contradiction: the Emir of Qatar has offered the Afghani Taliban offices on premises very close to the base used by the U.S. Air Force to bomb Taliban positions in Afghanistan. In fact, the U.S. military did not oppose this offer, as it turned the Emir into a potential mediator. The Emir has already been involved in problematic situations: for instance, he played the go-between for Khadafi and Sarkozy in the negotiations that led to the liberation of the kidnapped Bulgarian nurses in 2007. French President Sarkozy showed his appreciation, ending all taxes on Qatari investments in France.

The religious influence of the oil sheikdoms fits within the framework of their divisions. They all claim to adhere to a strictly orthodox or fundamentalist Islam. Their legal system is based on Sharia, the Islamic Law. Through various charities or through wealthy donors, the states finance fundamentalist communities throughout the world. The Saudis and Qataris say they share the same Wahhabist version of Islam, but in the real world, they are competitors. They have printed their own versions of the Koran, and Qatar has tried to establish new pilgrimage spots. They both support rival fundamentalist currents. The Saudi rulers attack the Muslim Brotherhood but support the Salafists—and the Egyptian army. And because they fear Iran and Iranian influence, they are against the recent rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran.

But another Gulf sheikdom, Oman, approves of the rapprochement. Last March, it secretly hosted the first round of negotiations between the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the U.S. State Department.

The different states of this strategic region are run by people who belong, at the same time, to anachronistic castes and to the international jet set and bourgeois circles. This setup gives imperialism many opportunities to outmaneuver Muslim terrorist currents as well as to calm things down when there are hotbeds of tension (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Palestine), by using various back-stabbing tactics in pursuit of their goals. These states can be seen as comic-opera monarchies, but if their outbursts of violence are worthy of the Middle Ages, they are performed with state-of-the-art weapons. With all their contradictions, they are the product, as well as the symbol, of imperialism’s worldwide domination.

Fast-growing Economy, Globalization, Extraction of Hydrocarbons … and Exploitation of Immigrant Workers

Thanks to the increase in the price of oil, the Gulf countries are richer than ever. The sheiks of Kuwait or Saudi Arabia have become the modern examples of the billionaire “nouveau riche.” In the space of a few decades, they traded in the camel and the traditional tent for Rolls Royces and air conditioned castles. In the 1970s, they invested billions of dollars—the so-called “petrodollars”—in the United States and Europe. But some of them started developing their country’s infrastructure. First of all, because they wanted to cater to the needs of a growing population of better-off people; and, second, because they were preoccupied with their country’s future and the exhaustion of their oil reserves.

As early as 1970, the leaders of Saudi Arabia, for instance, or Dubai, launched giant programs to build pipelines, ports, modern towns and airports. Until recently, Jeddah’s airport was the biggest in the world, partly because of its proximity with the Saudi holy sites that attract tens of millions of Muslim pilgrims each year. These rulers were despotic sheiks but, as far as economic development was concerned, they aspired to become enlightened planners. They all strove to have a “vision,” coupled with a proactive strategy aimed at better land use and a more diversified economy. During the last three decades, there have been noticeable accomplishments in finance, real estate, trade and transportation. Saudi Arabia has even managed to become an exporter of agricultural products, despite its extremely hot, dry climate.

The region’s main airlines—Emirates Airlines and Qatar Airways—have become major players in the industry. The oil dollars made it easier for their countries to build the necessary infrastructure and they benefitted from their situation as stopovers between SouthEast Asia or the FarEast and Europe or the Americas. Also, unlike the neighboring regions, the six oil sheikdoms enjoy a political stability that guarantees security for business.

Tourist resorts and industrial compounds mushroom in desert sands or even on the sea. Despite the problems posed by adverse natural conditions, construction is as frantic as before the 2008 financial crisis. Dubai is perhaps the most spectacular example of this craze. This tiny Emirate, one of seven United Arab Emirates, has become a worldwide center of re-exportation, right behind Hong Kong and Singapore. In 1966, the somewhat belated discovery of oil on its territory gave Dubai a huge financial lever. However, the Emir was told from the outset that the oil reserves were limited. The decision was made to invest in infrastructure. In 1972, an international airport was built, along with a big container port; in 1983, a huge shipyard sprang up and immediately ran at full capacity thanks to the war between Iran and Iraq.

Then, there was the gigantic artificial port of Jebel Ali. Today, it is the ninth most important container port in the world (and hosts the biggest U.S. overseas naval base). Jebel Ali is also a free trade zone where foreign entrepreneurs are exempted from paying any income tax or customs duty, can own 100% of their company, do not need an Emirate company as a partner and are allowed to send all their profits out of the country. It remains the most important free trade zone in the world and employed up to 150,000 workers at the height of the shipyards’ activities. The Persian Gulf is a high traffic area with more than 20,000 ships going yearly through the Straits of Hormuz. In Dubai’s industrial zones, most companies are involved in storage and transit, but a good 35% of them operate manufacturing facilities.

Many other companies have established themselves in the countries of the area: the indispensable seawater desalination facilities, petrochemical plants, steelworks, cement plants, ceramics factories (including the world’s biggest manufacturer of floor tiles). Also operating in the area are pharmaceutical companies, agribusiness enterprises, glass works, etc. They are attracted by minimal administrative costs, a low tax burden, the proximity of a huge port and new markets, plus low-cost gas. Indeed, the global aluminum industry has to a large extent been relocated to the Gulf area because it offers low-cost electricity (from oil-fired power plants) and because the expanding markets of Asia and Australia are not very far away.

Since the 1990s, the family of the emir of Dubai has bet on luxury tourism. It was quite a gamble as Dubai has few natural or historical attractions and it suffers from very high temperatures in the summer. The capital is now covered with skyscrapers and huge commercial centers, which are at the heart of this tourist activity. They are designed to attract European tourists, including a number of stars who buy apartments, and to make the life of expatriated executives easier, and also to allow rich Iranians or Saudis to go slumming there. The authorities are not too fussy about Islamic laws and alcohol is tolerated in private houses and in numerous public facilities. The first success resulted in more and more immense projects.

Since 1999, the city is home to the Burj al Arab hotel, shaped like a sail boat, 100 stories high. To secure the building’s foundations and to enable it to resist the winds of the desert, 250 pillars of concrete were sunk deep in the sand. Another striking project was completed in 2005, Ski Dubai, an enormous dome-sheltered ski slopes made of snow, while temperatures outside soar beyond 100 degrees F.

The population of Dubai City doubled in seven years and another enormous tower, Burj Dubai Tower, was in the works when the 2007-2008 crisis hit. Construction was postponed or cancelled, and tens of thousands of immigrant workers had to leave the country. Burj Dubai was not finished until 2010, in a slightly smaller version, thanks to the money put into Dubai construction by the emir of Abou Dhabi, first 10 billion and then 20 billion dollars. Dubai keeps growing and has 10 million visitors a year.

The oil sheikdoms all aspire to a similar type of development. Abu Dhabi plays host to famous museums (the Louvre and the Guggenheim). Qatar has invested in business tourism and the “knowledge economy.” Its capital, Doha, wants to be the #1 convention city in the world and spends a fortune trying to attract famous speakers. It is also very active in the world of sports and the media. This small country developed more recently (during the 1990s), because it was richer in gas than in oil. Gas was long neglected by oil companies because they didn’t have a method to transport it easily. It was commercialized on a large scale in liquid form in 1964, but really made a breakthrough only around 2000, thanks to the high price of oil. Also it is now popular because it supposedly creates less pollution. Qatar has the third largest known global reserves of gas (after Russia and Iran) and benefits from the embargo on international trade with Iran. It actually pumps part of the gas it sells from the same field as Iran, the “North Dome.”

In this area, wealth is partly determined by the amount of oil and gas `underground. But there would be no wealth at all without the workers who extract, transform and transport this raw material. There would be no buildings, no colossal ports or stupendous bridges without the millions of workers who build them. There would be no huge commercial centers nor clean and well-stocked airports without the workers who clean and stock them. And there would be no manufacturing companies and no storage facilities without workers to do these jobs. Hydrocarbons have attracted huge amounts of money, especially when the price of oil reached new highs in the 1970s, at the instigation of the big international oil companies. But money is not enough even if it is indispensable in the capitalist economy. For it to be transformed into capital, there must be an available workforce, a proletariat. The wealth of the Gulf countries is due to the huge numbers and hard work of millions of workers from many countries.

From the outset, the oil industry hired immigrant workers because of the Gulf countries’ small population and because the authorities bought social peace by granting their nationals well-paid jobs and good benefits in the civil service. These nationals became a kind of privileged population. In Qatar, the country with the highest GNP per person in the world, the average wage of Qatari nationals (that is, 250,000 people out of 2.2 million inhabitants) is roughly $12,000 a month. On top of this, they get free education and free electric power. In Saudi Arabia (30 million inhabitants), the picture is slightly different. One third of its 20 million nationals are estimated to live in poverty. Some families with numerous children might have to live off a salary of a few hundred dollars per month. These people are not well-off, but they are in no way ready to accept the conditions that are imposed on the ordinary foreign workers.

There are foreigners from all over the world in the Gulf countries: wealthy Indian or Iranian wholesalers, businessmen, senior executives or technicians from Western countries, prostitutes from Eastern Europe, mercenaries from Jordan, Pakistan or Colombia. The attitude of the authorities of the Gulf area toward foreigners is the same in each and every country: non-nationals are submitted to a “tutoring” system, called kafala. A foreigner has practically no hope of ever being assimilated. It is next to impossible for him or her to qualify for citizenship, even after many generations. Each and every foreigner must have a tutor who is in charge of him/her, his future company, his passport, etc. In fact, the system treats ordinary workers very differently from other foreigners. Their local kafil (“tutor”) is often their own boss or the agent who found them their job—he is often a foreigner himself, and might even be from the same country as the workers he is in charge of.

If the agent’s activity is recognized as a “local” business, he can become a kafil. He then acts as a substitute to the local kafil who is reduced to the role of front man. The kafil can forbid workers from leaving the company or the country. Some bosses take advantage of this situation to lower the wage mentioned in the workers’ contact, and to impose interminable working hours (especially in construction, even when there is a heat wave), with no real job security. Wages are between $185 and $250 a month for most unskilled jobs. A lot of maids—one third according to various associations—are beaten, or even raped, and have workdays that never end.

Various press reports have described the harsh conditions imposed on immigrant workers in Qatar or Dubai. They are crammed into sordid shacks, a long way away from town centers, with no air conditioning. They are expected to work between 13 and 15 hours a day, even though, legally, it should be 8 hours a day; wages are always less than promised and are often withheld for months. Most workers are flown in from Southern or Eastern Asia, or from Africa. According to which country receives them, the worst-off are Ethiopians, Malagasies, Filipinos, Nepalese, Chinese … and, less frequently, Arabs.

With the first Gulf War (1991), the bosses brought in huge numbers of Indian or Pakistani workers to replace the Egyptian or Palestinian workforce. Saverglass or Arc International pay their Asian recruits (Indians or Filipinos) between $300 and $500 per month and house them in barracks next to the workplace.

In most oil sheikdoms, the authorities forbid foreigners to engage in any type of union activity. Strikes are systematically repressed by expelling participants. Nevertheless, there have been a number of important industrial actions over the years. Last May, the strike at Arabtec, a Dubai-based construction company, involved thousands of Indian, Pakistanis and Bangladeshi workers. They wanted the company to give out food aid and to stop imposing unpaid overtime hours. In January 2011, 5,000 strikers demanding a $50 dollar a month wage increase and a paid round trip to their home country stayed out for two weeks. But the strike was crushed by arresting and expelling 71 Bangladeshi. In 2008, thousands of strikers demanded Arabtec give them a big pay increase, plus two paid round trips to their home country each year and the reimbursement of prescription drugs. In 2007, this same company was hit by the best known movement of immigrant workers, during which between 10,000 and 40,000 workers went out for 10 days to try to get a 20% pay increase. In 2006, a strike on the construction site of the Burj Dubai Tower was marked by riots. These workers, paid only $125 to $250 per month, demonstrated and ransacked cars, offices, and constructions facilities.

Taking measures to improve the status of immigrant workers, suppressing the kafil system and hiring more labor inspectors are regularly debated topics. But, meanwhile, things get worse. The Gulf countries cannot survive without immigrant workers, especially unskilled workers. But that doesn’t deter them from inventing finicky regulations, aimed at making sure the immigrants’ jobs are not secure, frightening them from taking action and preventing them from getting organized. This unabashed approach is often presented as the authorities’ answer to the concerns of local citizens.

In the past few months, Saudi Arabia carried out a real witch hunt targeting foreigners. Because of the high rate of unemployment (roughly 30 %) among young Saudi nationals, the government has pushed employment for its own citizens, to “Saudize” the workforce—an idea that has been around for over 20 years. In 2011, a law was passed forcing companies with more than 10 employees to have 5% to 30% Saudi nationals on the payroll. In April 2013, the government decided to strictly apply the law and to check people’s compliance with the kafil system. Many immigrant workers were out of this system because they had changed jobs. They were given three months to straighten out their situations, then, four more months. But since last November, the government has cracked down on immigrants without these legal documents. There are approximately 10 million foreigners in the country, a third of the population. And perhaps six million of them are illegal. Since last April, four million have apparently been regularized. In many cases, requesters had to pay a few thousand dollars to a new “godfather” to get the proper papers. Nine hundred thousand others left the country when they received an exit visa; and tens of thousands were expelled—like the Ethiopians who demonstrated against these measures. The Minister of the Interior declared he was determined to track down and expel the remaining one million illegal immigrants. This policy has made things even more difficult for the immigrant workers who are fined and ill-treated by the police. The word lynching has even been used to describe the behavior of some Saudi groups. The most vulnerable among the illegal immigrants have gone into hiding. As a consequence, some construction sites have come to a halt and bus lines have had to be closed down.

To a greater or lesser extent, the same contradiction affects each and every country of the ArabianPersian Gulf. They badly need immigrant workers, but they openly super-exploit and abuse them. These immigrant workers represent a permanent danger to the state because they have nothing to lose but their chains! In 2008, Bahrain’s Minister of Labor showed that he was well aware of the danger when he declared that the presence of 17 million foreign workers in the Gulf countries created “a situation that is more threatening than an A-bomb or an Israeli raid.”

He was right. Workers cannot expect their situation to improve spontaneously. Their emancipation can only be based on their own struggles. Their potential power is huge. There will soon be 30 million of them and they are already a solid majority in Qatar, Kuwait, and Dubai. The immigrant workers of the Arabian Peninsula are near to one another, geographically as well as in terms of their living conditions. They have next to nothing in terms of rights, but that’s not different from what existed in Europe and the U.S. during the 19th century. The big difference is that today’s workers are forced to live in 19th century conditions, right next to the 21st century luxury of the bourgeoisie. That makes the opposition all the more striking.

The Gulf workers need to build their social and political consciousness, and the awareness of their strength, going beyond their ethnic diversity. They will undoubtedly, through organization, find a way to go beyond the fear instilled in them by a carefully maintained insecurity. The ensuing struggles will inspire a greater awe than the highest towers they have built, because such struggles open up the way to a promising future.