The ‘Bidoon’ of Saudi Arabia: Generations of discrimination

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Descendants of nomadic Bedouins, the Bidoon or stateless Arabs, have lived on the margins of society for generations. With no Saudi citizenship, the Bidoon are unable to register marriages, enroll in the public education system or seek medical treatment.

Despite the discrimination that has characterized their past and present, they hold on to the hope of a better future in which they have the same rights and liberties other Saudi citizens enjoy, Al-Watan daily reported.

Nomadic Bedouins roamed the Arabian Desert for centuries, but when Arab states were formed, governments asked everyone living within newly-established borders to register for citizenship, something many nomads failed to do. Today, the Bidoon and their children live as outcasts in the only society they have ever known or lived in. Their struggles are no secret as they abide in the alleys of the Eastern and Western regions of the Kingdom.

Despite their pitiful state, the Bidoon continue to hope that the government committees and concerned parties tasked to rectify their situation, will expedite the process of issuing their Saudi nationality. However, according to the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), the speed of these government procedures is too slow and more decisive action is needed.

A visitor to Hafr Al-Batin can drive a few miles away from the city center toward a rural area called Al-Ashish where the sorry state of how the Bidoon live is immediately apparent. Many families live in homes made of zinc and wood. In some cases, tents are the only protection they have from the harsh desert climate, but behind these humble homes lie untold stories.

Badr Al-Shammary has lived his entire life without a country he can call his own and now his son is in the same situation.

“I am from this country! I was born here and here I will be buried,” said Al-Shammary, who applied for Saudi citizenship over 25 years ago when his father started the seemingly never-ending journey of getting state recognition. Al-Shammary has 8 siblings, all of whom were granted Saudi citizenship.

According to Al-Shammary, the biggest problem the Bidoon struggles with is finding gainful employment and even if they can find a job, they are poorly compensated for their work.

“Our salaries are very low. My salary, for example, does not exceed SR2,000 a month in a private company. We even struggle with health insurance and being admitted to a hospital. Our problem prevents us from moving away from Hafr Al-Batin to other cities in the Kingdom or even performing Haj and Umrah,” he said.

Al-Shammary’s son, Waad, is married with 3 daughters, the eldest of whom is only 4 years old. Waad said his daughters will only be admitted to a school if he can get approval from the municipality and this approval will only cover their education up to the second level.

“My own marriage was not recognized from a legal standpoint and was done communally,” he said.

Saud Ahmad Al-Zaoubai, 40, said the only thing that helps his family is a temporary resident permit, which he and his father have to periodically renew while following up with the endless procedures of acquiring Saudi citizenship.

Prince Miteb Bin Abdullah, minister of National Guard, said the turmoil following the Iraq War and the terrorism of extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda, crises in which the Bidoon helped the Kingdom, are proof of their loyalty. Prince Miteb went on to say Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah himself supports expediting the process of granting Saudi citizenship to the Bidoon.