Of Ethiopians, Bangladeshis and Saudis

Lately, there have been news items about Ethiopians committing crimes and infiltrating the southern borders of the Kingdom. Many writers in the Arabic press have gone ballistic and while commenting on these incidents, have said things that have clearly hurt the sentiments of the Ethiopians residing in the Kingdom. Recently, in fact, the Ethiopian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia issued a statement in an attempt to clarify the situation. However, even after that, the criticism of Ethiopians continued.

There has been a counterattack by some Ethiopians and this paper has received many letters which were not only highly critical of Saudi Arabia but which also contained abusive comments about Saudis and Muslims in general.

And that is precisely what I would like to say to everyone, whether Ethiopian, Bangladeshi or Saudi: We must not jump the gun, resort to unfair generalizations and hurl accusations at each other

Khaled Almaeena


I am a very open and accepting person. But false and bigoted remarks do upset me. And, like some of the Saudis writing in the Arabic press, many of these Ethiopians went overboard!

How it used to be


The Arabian Peninsula is separated from the Ethiopian mainland by a narrow strip of water, and bilateral relations go back to the time of early Islam when the first group from Makkah went to King Najashi to seek refuge from persecution. Throughout history and before borders were defended, a flow of people and goods from both sides went back and forth uninterrupted.

Ethiopians have always been a part of the Jeddah scene. I remember, as a young man, groups of Ethiopians playing table tennis in Al-Nahda Hotel where many Italians also resided. Jeddah then was a small and sleepy town and people got on well with each other. A fistfight was a scandal in those days!

However, with the oil boom and development projects, more people came to live and work in the Kingdom. The population of Jeddah also increased and interactions between citizens and residents at times caused misunderstanding.


Then came the boom


With the boom came new problems of sponsorships, salaries, non-fulfillment of contracts and a host of other difficulties. And often when these problems surfaced, they were blown out of proportion and caused distrust between members of the community.

Let me assure my Ethiopian brothers that those of us who know are aware of the good qualities of the Ethiopian people and have respect for them. The majority of Ethiopians are law-abiding citizens just as the majority of Saudis are not greedy and unscrupulous sponsors!

The present situation is similar to that faced by another nationality which at one time was unfairly portrayed in the local media — the Bangladeshis. Again there were a number of crimes committed by some members of that community and some Saudis went gung-ho and were not only critical but said things that really hurt the feelings of our Bangladeshi brothers.

Many Saudi writers have presented a positive picture of Bangladeshis. Just look around and see who keeps our cities clean and tidy as we brazenly throw refuse and litter with delight! Our lack of civic sense makes their work harder. Our lack of empathy causes them despair. And they not only work in menial positions, but are professionals in every field. We owe them our heartfelt thanks.


A little advice


Everyone makes mistakes and in every community there are good and bad people. And I wish to state clearly that the Saudi Gazette will not allow any unfair criticism of any particular community. We do not like generalizations and will not permit any community, from any part of the world, to be maligned in this newspaper.

Just as I am against all Saudis being condemned for the unfortunate behavior of a few, the same goes for my dealings with other people no matter where they come from. My advice to all Saudis is not to apply the principle of collective guilt or hate en masse. If someone from my community makes a mistake, I should not be blamed for it — I am not my brother’s keeper!

There are many Saudis who make mistakes and break laws both in this country and abroad. Are all Saudis to blame? If some sponsors commit unlawful acts does the whole of Saudi society deserve to be held responsible?

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II, was once asked if he hated Germans. He replied: “I never hate in plurals!” A wise and appropriate response from a great man who later served as President of the United Sates from 1952 to 1960.

And that is precisely what I would like to say to everyone, whether Ethiopian, Bangladeshi or Saudi: We must not jump the gun, resort to unfair generalizations and hurl accusations at each other. Personally, I and many of my countrymen appreciate everything that these two communities have done for our country. And I wish to reassure them that an incident or two in no way tarnishes the image of their honorable communities.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on March 22, 2013.

Khaled Almaeena is a veteran Saudi journalist, commentator, businessman and the editor-in-chief of the Saudi Gazette. Almaeena has held a broad range of positions in Saudi media for over thirty years, including CEO of a PR firm, Saudi Television news anchor, talk show host, radio announcer, lecturer and journalist. As a journalist, Almaeena has represented Saudi media at Arab summits in Baghdad, Morocco and elsewhere. In 1990, he was one of four journalists to cover the historic resumption of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Russia. He also traveled to China as part of this diplomatic mission. Almaeena's political and social columns appear regularly in Gulf News, Asharq al-Aswat, al-Eqtisadiah, Arab News, Times of Oman, Asian Age and The China Post.

Last Update: Friday, 22 March 2013 KSA 17:02 - GMT 14:02
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