Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Both the US and UK are urging their nationals to get out of Saudi Arabia and fast. The Financial Times doesn't think folks will respond, however (subscription only).
Economists and diplomats say the latest attack is unlikely to produce an exodus of the 6m to 8m foreigners - around a third of the total population - who are vital to Saudi Arabia's economy. Of these about 100,000 are thought to be Europeans or North Americans.

The reaction after past bombings and shootings in Saudi Arabia has been that while those most closely affected have often left, most have calculated that the risks are still outweighed by the benefits of good jobs in an economy powered by high oil prices.

Some analysts believe the apparent escalation of the attacks and the targeting of foreigners could change the equation. "This is different," a US economist at a Saudi bank said on Monday. "It is quite a disturbing attack for Western expatriates . . . Companies already face a difficult time recruiting. They will face a harder time."

But he added that families were likely to wait until the end of the school year before deciding whether to stay.

A Western diplomat predicts "some shaving of numbers" as families decide not to return after the summer but "no mass exodus".
The numbers on foreign workers in Saudi Arabia mentioned here are a bit deceiving. The FT implies that they could pick up and leave if they wanted to but the lure of cash keeps them there. This is largely true of the relatively small number of foreigners attached to the Saudi oil industry, but certainly not the case for the millions of foreign workers in less prestigious parts of the Saudi economy.

According to the United Nations Population Division, there are over 5.3 million "migrants" in Saudi Arabia -- over a quarter of the country's total population. These numbers are lower than FT cites but still quite substantial, especially considering the large number of children in the fast-growing Saudi population means foreign workers are well over half the labor force -- some put the number as high as two-thirds. The vast majority of these are workers from other Arab and South Asian countries doing the scut-work of life -- maids, personal servants, cooks, etc. Although Saudi Arabia offically banned slavery in 1962 (1962!?!), these workers continue to live in what amounts to much the same thing.

And you don't hear much about these foreign workers in the daily news.

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