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A call for the replacement of expats with Saudis in the retail sector is prompted out of necessity rather than discrimination, says Arab News.
January 4, 2011 1:53 by shafeer
In most countries, a call from a prominent economist to expel foreign workers and replace them with nationals would be met with accusations of racism. But that accusation cannot be leveled at Saudi economist Abdul Rahman Al-Homaid. His call last week to replace foreigners in the retail sector with Saudis is prompted not by fantasies of national purity but by necessity.
As we have pointed out before in these columns, there is a ticking time bomb in Saudi Arabia. It is called unemployment and it threatens to explode with potentially devastating results unless defused. Because of the population growth rate — the highest in the world — every year for the next 20 years an extra 400,000 jobs will be needed to meet the demand from young Saudis coming onto the labor market. That is just the men! The consequences of them not finding work could be serious — economically, politically and socially.
For that simple reason, there are no taboos. There cannot be the same sentiments as elsewhere. Saudi Arabia has to put its own interests first. It is not racist to call for foreigners to be replaced by nationals, which would be the case in France or Germany or the US, because there is not the overriding imperative there of finding jobs for a burgeoning population. They actually need foreigners to fill jobs.
Al-Homaid’s suggestion would be a major leap in Saudization. But so far, the simple truth is that Saudization has not worked well. Indeed, it has hardly worked at all. The figures prove it. Last year’s census showed not only a major increase in the country’s population. It showed that the expatriate population had grown accordingly. There are now 8.5 million expatriates in the Kingdom, the highest number ever. Plans to reduce their number by 1.2 percent a year have clearly failed.
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