Monday, July 07, 2008

The Saudi-Filipino Democratic Deficit

How bizarre the transnationalised Filipino experience. Speaking with some colleagues over at the Polsci department, I learned that the Ghanan and Nigerian hackers my old company battled with everyday may have come all the way to the Philippines to train. Apparently, our people provide world-class cyber criminal expertise. So there I was, a Filipino policing our sites - trying to watch out for transnational prostitution and pedophilia, working with a staff from all corners of the globe, battling with Africans who may have been trained in Southeast Asia. Whew.

Last week I found out about this Arab News article written by Abdullah Al-Maghlooth praising Filipinos in Saudi Arabia. Red's Herring posted the item at Filipino Voices. Al Maglooth writes:

Saudi Arabia has the largest number of Filipino workers — 1,019,577 — outside the Philippines. In 2006 alone, the Kingdom recruited more than 223,000 workers from the Philippines and their numbers are still increasing. Filipinos not only play an important and effective role in the Kingdom, they also perform different jobs in countries across the world, including working as sailors. They are known for their professionalism and the quality of their work.

Nobody here can think of a life without Filipinos, who make up around 20 percent of the world’s seafarers. There are 1.2 million Filipino sailors.

So if Filipinos decided one day to stop working or go on strike for any reason, who would transport oil, food and heavy equipment across the world? We can only imagine the disaster that would happen.

In an exercise of futurology, let us imagine a Saudi Arabia without its 1 million Filipino workers. More importantly, what would this absolute monarchy look like without all of its 6-7 million migrant labour? The symbiotic relationship between the Kingdom's foreign workers keeping the balance and stability of the Saudi society will be broken.

If migrant labour were to leave en masse, nobody will be left to man Saudi industries. The co-opted middle class - all feeding off the riches of the Saudi rentier state - will be galvanised into action. There will be mass discontent among the likes of Mr. Al-Maghlooth as he is forced to really work hard for his living. Social forces - i.e. the nascent working and middle classes as well as civil society types best embodied by (moderate) Islamists - will be unleashed to topple the Saudi political tyranny. The reign of King Abduallah and his 10,000 or so princes will come to an end. Saudi Arabia, doubtlessly the political linchpin of the Middle East, and the geo-economic linchpin of the world, will finally join the twenty-first century.

A democratic Saudi Arabia will probably try to gain better control of its oil industries, and may have some ambition to unite the fragmented heart of Islam. For this to happen, all of the Arab world's migrant labour will also have to leave. The GCC alone has most of its nationals working for their States - highlighting the fact that there are no independent social forces to challenge the State's supremacy.

External powers, however, will not sit idly by and allow such events to happen. Superpowers to West and the East will make sure that all of the Middle East do not do another Iran.

Ha. So. Imagine a world without migrant Filipinos.

No comments: