The decision by the Council of Ministers to grant non-Saudi mothers of Saudi citizens permanent residency status in the Kingdom without the need for a sponsor will give many mothers the basic rights and privileges enjoyed by Saudi women.
However, the decision has prompted demands from Saudi women married to foreigners for giving their children similar rights as they are denied the right to take the nationality of their mother.
A soap opera, which hit the airwaves in Ramadan, accurately described the situation. “Sons of Safiya” is a story of two siblings - a Saudi man, played by Saudi actor Hasan Asiri, who decides to marry a foreign woman, and his sister who is married to an Egyptian.
The contrast between the two becomes evident when the sons of the male sibling get their full rights as citizens of the country while the sons of his sister are denied even their basic rights.
The Egyptian’s children are discriminated against when it comes to education, health and employment, despite government instructions to give the same privileges enjoyed by citizens to children of Saudi mothers and foreign fathers.
The soap opera ends when the Saudi woman is forced to leave the country for good and move to Egypt with her husband.
Sons of Saudi mothers from foreign fathers usually are harassed at school. They often become targets of physical and verbal abuse. These children are stereotyped because of the nationality of their fathers, reflecting negatively on their psychological health.
Muhammad Ali, an Egyptian citizen born to a Saudi mother, said, “I feel sorry for the children of foreign fathers and Saudi mothers because they see discrimination at school, in workplace and even health centers.” Ali said he was continuously taunted in school. This harassment made him hate going to school.
Manal Muhammad, a Saudi mother married to a foreigner, said, “Whenever I look at my daughter I feel sorry because she is facing an uncertain future. Sometimes I question why she does not have any rights although she was born in this country. I ask myself, what if I died tomorrow, what future is in store for my daughter? Why do we have to wait until she is 18 to get the citizenship? Her future is really bleak.”
Muhammad questioned why children are legally linked to their fathers while the role of their mothers is ignored. “It is as if their only role was to give birth,” she said.
Muhammad is happy about the decision favoring foreign wives of Saudi men and she hopes to see a similar decision to protect the rights of children of Saudi women married to foreigners.
Masouma Naser, another Saudi woman married to a foreigner, said the majority of women in her situation had been spinsters who could not find any suitors in the country.
She said these women did not commit any crime when they married foreigners. She said, “Most of these women were advised to postpone having children because of the pain and suffering their children will face. Many of them said not having a child with a foreign husband is always the best way to deal with the situation.”
The decision to grant foreign wives of Saudi men permanent residency status was happy news for Aneesa Mahfouz, a Yemeni national. Her Saudi husband abandoned her and her children after eight years of marriage. She is now under the sponsorship of her brother and lives on charity from good doers.
She said, “Granting us iqama without a sponsor will relieve us of many burdens. My drug addict husband left me. Now I can protect the rights of my children with the understanding that I will be able to live the rest of my life in Saudi Arabia.”
Fawziya al-Rimi, another Yemeni national, said, “The decision gives me the freedom to live in Saudi Arabia. I have been living here for more than 25 years. Despite the difficult life I have here I cannot leave the Kingdom without my children. The decision will solve a lot of problems for me.”
Hussein al-Shareef, head of the National Society for Human Rights in Makkah province, said the decision is a positive step. He said foreign wives suffer in many ways in case of divorce or the death of husbands.
He called for granting more rights to the sons of Saudi women from their foreign husbands.