Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Living in Saudi Arabia can be a Good Choice

FOR all the attention Egypt's stricken
Hosni Mubarak received, it's certain that the death of another antediluvian hardliner in the Arab world's other great power is more significant. Insofar as the biggest and richest country in the Arabian peninsula, Saudi Arabia is the font of Islam and the producer that does most to set the global oil price. The decrepit king has come to an agreement at home, and now he's tiptoeing cautiously towards reform. However the steps are small and very slow. Plus the ruling princes are fragile, timid in the face of ultra-reactionary religious mechanism. Political Liberalization is coming but it will not come soon. It will for a long time remain an insular, medieval Islamic state. So , for expatriates from a relatively more independent and free country, is living in the Kingdom a challenge? 

You may have overheard someone talking about Saudi Arabian Government and its Laws. And you must have then developed an understanding that you would not have a life in the Kingdom to attract notice or impress others. However for a few people, living in Saudi Arabia is a good choice. I interviewed Saud Ahmad to have a better understanding about living in an Islamic State for an Indian. He is all for Sharia Law. And he says that he cherishes his life in the Kingdom. He is a Saudi-based Indian working as a Finance professional. He was born and raised in Bombay now Mumbai. 

I: How is life in Saudi Arabia for someone from India?

Saud: It is a very general question. Being from India itself means so many things. What part of India you are from. What is your religion? For a Muslim Indian with a fairly decent exposure to an Islamic lifestyle its an ideal place. For a non-muslim Indian, it is a bit of a culture shock, initially. Though I am a Muslim Indian, but based on the number of non-muslim Indians I see around me here, I am sure the place does have something for them too, which is why they're here.

I: Isn't life much better than living in Saudi? You have not talked about restrictions particularly on movement, shopping hours esp. on women.

Saud: Again, it depends on the kind of lifestyle you have lived back home and the kind you would be living in the Kingdom. Generally, and strictly on the basis of income, availability of resources, standard of life, I would prefer Saudi Arabia.
The country is big. Resources are enough to be distributed amply amongst the people. Infrastructure is good. Per capita earnings are much much higher than in any of the major cities in India. 

In my personal opinion, after living here, I believe it is a lot of propaganda carried on by main-stream media who have vested interests to malign the name of Saudi Arabia, being a Muslim country that it does not recognize the rights of a woman. This is absolutely untrue.

Saudi Arabia is governed under the premise of Islamic law, also known as Shariah. Meaning, the laws and governance is not devised by any modern man-made constitution of charter, but the Holy Qur'an and supported by the life and teachingsof Prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him) and His companions.

Islam speaks at lengths about the rights of a woman and its place and importance in the society.

I: I am a movie addict, I criticize my government.  I celebrate all forms of arts, and creative mavins. I can criticize my Prime Minister as being in-efficient and an under-performer. I openly contest the ideas of those who wear religion on their sleeves. I celebrate my ability to express, my right to speak my mind. Would you recommend this country to me?

Saud: Hell not! There is no freedom of speech here. You cannot speak against the government, the government is not democratic. Art is strictly restricted to what falls within the ambit of Shariah and is intolerant towards criticism of the government or the ruling family.

The practice is, that if you have a problem, you may raise it. Criticism should always be preceded by escalation of the concern. In Saudi Arabia, compared to India, problems are heard. Unlike the Prime Minister of India, the King meets his people and interacts with them, tries to listen to their problems.

He cares for them. Saudi Arabia has one of the world's most generous public funding programs. So, as a Saudi, would I really like to ridicule my King after all this?

I: You said that there is a room for catharsis. It's nice to learn that Saudi Nationals express what disturbs them through art and literature.

Saud: Yes, they do. Of course, it's not as brazen and outspoken as the rest of the world. But things are changing.

I: Would you rejoice the Shariah Law enforced in Saudi even if given a choice to migrate and enjoy a liberal political system of the UK, the US, Australia - where you are set free from heavy expressions of reverence towards a deity?

Saud: I am all for Shariah law but I have problems with the overburdening of self-fulfilling ideologies. I do not agree with that. Freedom of speech is not a problem in Shariah law as long as it does not hurt the sentiments of anyone, is constructive and maintains harmony in the society.

I: What is your social life like in Saudi?

Saud: It is no different than in India. I can say it's better. The law-enforcing agencies are so much friendlier than in India. 

Firstly, the few things I cannot do here (openly) that I can do, in India: 

a) Go to the movies. No theaters, but there are digital TV sets.
b) Hang out freely with my girl pals. 

It is prohibited to go out with a woman who is not your mother, sister, wife, aunt or grandmother. 

But other than this, the government has no issues with what you do. I can go to the beach at midnight and just sit facing it until sunrise without anyone asking me what I am up to.

People go out with their families to parks and beaches during weekends, play games, have sheesha, barbeque, until wee hours of the morning. The cops do not harrass you, like they do in Bombay. Young boys sit by roadsides, playing cards, having a nice evening, no one cares. Social life is very good if you follow just a little bit of what they ask you to do.There are no ACP Dhobles to smash juice centers with hockey sticks.
Which is why I say, while the rest of the world is evolving, India is in reverse-evolution mode.

I: Huh! that is ridiculously prevalent here. We somehow enjoy the rubbish that our Policewallas spill on the street. The Government and its criminal front-line machinery plus the judicial system are handicapped. As you have rightly put it, we are in reverse-evolution mode. 
Tell me about the dust storms and the temperature.

Saud: Dust Storms are quite common in summers across Saudi Arabia. During my last trip to a certain hill-station which is around 700 kms. from Jeddah. We were traveling in a sever dust storm for over 70 kms.
Cities like Riyadh are most-affected by it. Jeddah, not so much, because it is a coastal city, with the sea nearby. There are only summers and winters here. Summer lasting from March to October and winters setting in from November up until February.

During summers, peak temperatures can reach 50 degrees celsius, whereby the directorate has prohibited laborers from doing field jobs if it exceeds 50 degrees. Winters can be equally chilling reaching up to 3 degrees in some places and even snowing the in the valleys of Taif. Jeddah maintains a favorable position here between 10 degrees to 45 degrees across the year.

I: Lastly, people who would want to migrate for job purposes, give them an understanding about what kind of job market is open. What would be the salary expectation that they should keep. And what they should be prepared for financially, socially, mentally and physically?

Saud: Saudi economy is one of the world's fastest growing economies and one with zero fiscal deficit. The country is seeing large infrastructural growth in the last few years, as the leadership have decided to model the economy from being a resource-based economy to a service-based one. The country still needs a lot of development to see which is what makes it crucial for businesses and hence opportunities come flushing in, in the job market.

The Saudi job industry is becoming more and more competitive by the day because of the attention it is getting globally. People from the West, especially debt-hit eurozones are turning to Saudi Arabia for a living because of the privileges, ease of life and promising salaries.
Saudi Arabia, unlike UAE is not very expensive. Things are accessible and affordable (comparatively, and not relatively). But the earnings for someone coming from Asia or the West will still be far higher than the expenses.

Points to consider before deciding to live in the Kingdom would be that there will be no independence in social life. Alcohol is not be freely available, no going out with stranger girls. And that's pretty much it.

I: Give us a fair idea about remuneration pattern, salary expectations. Simply put, how much money can one make?

Saud: It is variable depending upon the industry you're wanting to work in, your background and then your negotiation skills. In an overview, almost every industry here is a lucrative one and experts are being greatly valued. Monthly package for a general desk job in any industry would be around SR 3500 (around Rs. 49,000). Non-Saudi freshers will have a hard time making a cut because companies are expected to give locals more opportunities, as is prevalent everywhere.

Professionals earn the most money here. Private healthcare is a really expensive affair. A doctor is highly regarded. Only skilled expats are being hired. There is a basic salary which is considered to calculate your housing and travel allowance. In most companies you are allowed an annual vacation of 30 days with the ticket expenses to your home country being borne by your employer.

Savings can be huge because there are no personal taxes here. No income tax. All you get paid goes straight into your wallet/bank. There's Zakaat (Compulsory Charity based upon principles of Islam) for companies, which is a meager annual 2.5%.

It's interesting that are no any kind of tolls either like road toll, highway toll.

India's GDP is more than twice of Saudi Arabia but the nation is burdened with taxes. Only a little bit of honesty and genuine concern towards uplifting the state of your country is what is required in a resource and talent-rich country like India.

I: Given, blue-collar and sub blue-collar workers all come from foreign countries, are they paid or treated well?

Saud: Mostly no. There's a lot of discrimination and instances of violation of rights are common. Saudi is unique in its foreign job market, in that it has a dated concept of Sponsorship where a Saudi citizen who meets certain criterion is eligible to bring in workers from another country to work under him. It is assumed that the person shall be working for him, of course, one of the criteria is that the Saudi should be owner of some kind of a business and not an employee himself, somewhere. Though, what really happens is, these Saudis put their visas on sale and this is how I and a majority of foreign workers gain entry into the Kingdom and find the jobs here. This is known as an Open Visa. The most common kind. The second way is that a company directly hires you from your home country and sends you a visa and you start working for them straightaway, once you're here. This is commonplace but at a smaller scale. 

Now calmly back to the topic, the labor industry here comprises of nationals from Pakistan, India, Philippines, but it's the Bangladeshis who run the show. Most of the municipal jobs of cleaning and maintenance of the streets, sewers, etc. is done by Bangladeshi workers. They come into the kingdom as laborers, from really poor backgrounds, with little or no formal education and are hence made to suffer at the hands of their sponsors who use them to their maximum advantage. 

The labor class, including chauffeurs, gate-keepers, etc. have a lot of animosity towards the Saudis which is largely due to their indifference towards acknowledging the basic rights of these migrants. I must say without losing breath here that this does not apply to all Saudis, it would be gross generalization. Like everywhere, there are good and bad people, but what went wrong here is that powers were vested straight into the hands of a person. Though, I must admit that things are starting to get better now. Saudis are genuinely working towards changing their attitudes and trying to blend with the expat community and prove themselves to be worth-while too. The gap is no doubt wide, but there is a silver lining, this gap is reducing every passing day.

I: On this note, let us close our conversation. It's is 3am IST and I am struggling to keep myself up. Saud, you have been really informative, and I am grateful to have your contribution to Those who would stumble upon the website would hopefully get a first-hand knowledge from what you have shared. I am optimistic and full of hope that you will enjoy your time in the Kingdom. Thank you and hope to see you soon in India.

Saud: InshaAllah. Not a problem. It would only be fair to say that it was equally rewarding to share my experiences.

Saud Ahmad is a Saudi-based Indian working as a Finance professional. Born and brought-up in Bombay, his interests range from art to politics and does not find anything wrong making a living out of Writing and taking cute pictures of and for you. You can find some of his ramblings on his defunct (in his own words) Blog. Also, you can connect with him on his Facebook Profile

No comments:

Faraz Salat

My photo
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Admirer of all things that make up a global human society.