With Ethiopians, we have a long history together Last updated: Sunday, November 17, 2013 6:17 PM

 

 Mahmoud Ahmad
 
We have all seen the recent tragic events unfolding in the neighborhood of Manfuhah in Riyadh with illegal overstayers rioting and terrorizing people on the streets. They smashed cars and trashed public properties.

The scenes of riots, blocking roads, trashing cars and terrorizing pedestrians and residents, are actions many Saudis and expatriates living here in the Kingdom have not been subjected to as they are a rare occurrence. 

What triggered these riots that started in Riyadh and spread to Jeddah, in Al-Sharafiya district, and Makkah, in Al-Mansour street, is the police crackdown on neighborhoods that housed illegal expatriates in large numbers. This is the official statement given by authorities. Sadly, however, Ethiopian nationals are once again in the news as the main nationality behind these riots.

I had written an article some months ago urging people not to encourage Ethiopia-phobia and once again today, I urge people to differentiate between the people who are residing in the Kingdom as respected legal Ethiopian expatriates and those who sneaked in through the borders.

The riotous behavior is from a minority that sparked violence against people and police and blame must be limited to those who started it. Other Ethiopians, legally residing here, had nothing to do with the action of a small section of Ethiopians. The rioters represent no one but themselves only.

Many of the people that I have spoken to in Riyadh and Jeddah asked where the police and passport department officials were from the beginning? Why was the number of illegal overstayers, from any nationalities, allowed to grow to such a large extent? Where were the raids earlier? What is happening on our borders and why was it not monitored strongly in order to deter illegals from coming through?

Yet it is not too late for authorities to act now and they must act within the boundaries of law and humanity to target infiltrators who entered the country without a visa. It is within the country’s right to deport illegals. The security of the country, citizens and legal expatriates living peacefully in the Kingdom is a red line.

One thing I criticize here is the action of some citizens who interfered in the police action. Whatever the reasons, citizens should not get involved for more than one reason. They are not trained, they will put their lives and others’ lives in danger and will make the police’s job more difficult.
We have seen in video clips that have been circulating online and in media the level of violence from some ‘normal’ people carrying stones, bricks and iron and wooden bars. They beat the illegals, who too were carrying light weapons and butcher knives.

There were stories from Saudis in Manfuhah saying their homes have been attacked and illegals were terrorizing them with butcher knives and because of them the were out of control.

Police issued more than one statement urging people not to interfere and that their role was only to alert authorities for troublemakers.

The Ethiopian ambassador, speaking to a Saudi private TV channel, said that Ethiopians in Manfuhah were targeted by Saudis and they suffered most of the injuries. He said that though the illegals had some demands and were seeking their rights, the manner in which they were sought was wrong.

He blamed both sides for the riotous behavior. Authorities should examine whether there were genuine demands or was the Ethiopian community triggered to react violently to some violent acts.

Another video circulating was that of illegals in Riyadh seen throwing rocks at cars and then beating up a poor Pakistani who happened to be passing through the troubled area on a bicycle. Someone from the top of a building in the neighborhood taped the sequence of incidents.

It is known that these illegal residents, from all nationalities, have been working in the construction sector and contributing to the nation’s development. Fine, then the passport department and Labor Ministry should force the contracting and construction companies to hire all those working illegals and provide them with iqamas in order to finish their projects.

The same way Saudis contributed to the visa problem and this current mess in the first place, they have also contributed to this problem directly by renting apartments to illegals. Authorities should punish the Saudi building owners and the real estate offices that rented housing units to illegal expatriates.

The punishment should include seizing the house. Authorities should also strengthen the role of the neighborhood mayor and give him more power. Everyone in the neighborhood should be accounted for, of course for security reasons.

The same way as local banks freeze the accounts of people who do not update their information, authorities should force building owners not to renew contracts until the tenant’s information with the neighborhood mayor office is updated. It is about time we put an end to this practice of renting out apartments without legal papers for money.

At the end of the day, violators are not criminals. Dealing with violators should be done within the boundaries of law that protect their dignity and humanity. The majority of them came to the Kingdom because of need and not to spread crime and violate law. As for Ethiopians, we have a long history together. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) asked his companions to migrate to Ethiopia because there was a king that was just, fair and merciful. 

– Mahmoud Ahmad can be contacted at mahmad@saudigazette.com.sa