The Spark

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

Saudi Arabia Attacks Immigrants

Dec 9, 2013

This article is from the November 22nd, 2013 edition of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

The police and the Saudi authorities have carried out a huge repressive manhunt aimed at immigrant workers within its borders. In Saudi Arabia, immigrants number more than eight million people, of whom two million are considered “illegal.”

These workers, who are mostly Africans from Ethiopia, Mali, Guinea, and Eritrea – even just counting those whose papers are in order – make up a considerable part of the working class in Saudi Arabia, a country of 27 million inhabitants. While the exploitation of immigrants benefits the Saudi ruling class, these workers are stripped of all rights.

The journal Le Pouvoir aux Travailleurs (Power to the Workers), edited by comrades of l’Union Africaine des Travailleurs Communistes Internationalistes (The African Union of Internationalist Communist Workers), describes their situation:

Certain kafeels (contractors) are businessmen bringing in foreign workers to sell their labor to small businessmen. They have been able to amass fortunes on the backs of these immigrants. When their clients are small merchants, these contractors take a certain percent out of their revenue. If their clients are workers, this contracting system almost resembles slavery. The workers have no rights and are at the mercy of the kafeel. The immigrants can be exploited by the kafeel directly or given to other exploiters, but in either case, the workers pay the kafeel a fee for smuggling them into the country.

Apparently the Saudi rulers propose to end the right of kafeels to rent out their workforce to a third party. And yet, for the moment, the kafeels are not the ones getting arrested. The workers were threatened with two years in prison and fines up to $27,000, if they didn’t follow a royal order “to leave the territory by Nov. 3rd at the latest.”

Starting the next day, the police began to hunt the immigrants who stayed. On November 9th, they locked down the poor neighborhood of Manfouha, in the capital Riyadh, where many immigrant workers live with their families. Hundreds of policemen and members of special security forces came to arrest people. Riots broke out. Government sources say three people died, dozens were wounded, and 561 people called “troublemakers” were arrested.

After this police violence, many illegal immigrants have stopped trying to hide and have been forced to turn themselves over to the authorities. Abandoning most of their possessions, they board motorbuses by the thousands and are driven to deportation centers. The journal Jeune Afrique (Young Africa) wrote that Saudi police have arrested 33,000 immigrants since November 12, of whom 17,000 await expulsion in these centers.

The major powers like the U.S. and the European countries remain completely silent about these acts, in order not to offend the sensibilities of the feudal rulers of Saudi Arabia. To show their confidence in the Saudis, the U.N. General Assembly elected Saudi Arabia a member of their Human Rights Council on November 12.

What a sinister farce!