Season of Migration from the Oil Lake: The Economy of Hatred in the Gulf States

D. Rashed Alrasheed ( is Fellow at the Richardson Institute, Lancaster University and author of COVID-19 and the Hatred of Expatriate Workers in the Gulf States

In 2020, the spread of the epidemic in the Gulf States among expats has led to an increase in hate speech towards them. According to Human Rights Watch, COVID-19 had spread rapidly among foreign workers in the Gulf States because they live in small, indecent and unsanitary housing. The Gulf governments have not been able to follow measures of social distancing among expatriates because their places of residence are overcrowded and they live in isolated and poor areas.

With the outbreak of the epidemic, health authorities in the Gulf countries have published through newspapers and TV channels the numbers of new infections among foreigners and citizens in order to alleviate the citizens’ fears. However, the publication of statistics in the media to distinguish the spread of the epidemic between expatriates and citizens has led to an increase in hate speech towards foreign workers. Although there are political and social reasons for xenophobia, economic factors have a major impact on the growth of hate speech against expat workers.

Amidst the decline in oil prices and the financial transitions during the COVID-19 pandemic, a large audience from the Gulf community do not backup the employment of expat due to the stereotypical positions that expatriates predominate the job chances and drain national resources. The economic reason of xenophobia in the Arabian Peninsula can be seen as the rivalry for labor market between expats and citizens due to scarcity of economic resources. In this meaning, the scare of unemployment among citizens considered a main factors of xenophobia. The lack of jobs feed anti-expat sentiment a mong citizens, and this hate may help to demonise and lay off the foreign workers.

Some Gulf countries, such as Kuwait and the UAE, have facilitated the deportation of expatriate workers by giving early leave and settling violations of illegal residence in order to prevent the spread of the epidemic and modifying the demographics by reducing the proportion of expatriates. One of the negative repercussions of the COVID-19 is the layoff of a large part of expatriate workers in the public and private sector in order to reduce the economic burden, for example, Kuwait Airways laid off 1,500 foreign workers, while Qatar Airways decided to reduce foreign workers by 20%.

The economic transformations faced by the Gulf states as a result of the COVID-19 and the decline in oil demands have led to xenophobia. Many Gulf citizens believe that job opportunities the private and public sector should be given just for citizens rather than expatriate workers. The Gulf citizens want llocalization of jobs due to the rivalry for resources, taking the consideration the austerity programs adopted by the governments, which raise xenophobia among citizens. Therefore, the competition for jobs, services, and material resources among expatriates and citizens led to the emergence of the problem of social integration in Gulf societies.

In general, there is an orientation towards the localisation of labor market and the expelling of expatriates in the Gulf States. This tendency, strengthened by the raise in hate speech towards expats, may be enhancing quick and great shifts in the Gulf’s economy. However, the leaving of expatriates’ workers may damage the major sectors of the economy, such as the possibility reduction of employment, the burden on the real estate market and probable price pressures in the post-COVID-19 condition. On the other hand, Gulf citizens have lost their competitiveness in production, especially since expatriates are more disciplined, their salaries and lower rights within the sponsorship system. Ironically, Gulf citizens do not prefer working in the private sector due to lack of salaries and job security.

Further reading

Lucia Ardovini: Gulf States and Islamist Responses to COVID19: A Changing Relationship

Rashed al Rasheed: COVID-19 and the Hatred of Expatriate Workers in the Gulf States

Sanaa Alsarghali: The ‘State of Emergency’ or the ‘State of Exception’: Bahrain and COVID19

Guy Burton: Rising Powers and the Gulf monarchies during the COVID19 Pandemic

Justin Gengler: Information, Peer Comparison, and Social Interdependence: Theorizing the Impacts of COVID-19 on Gulf Domestic Politics

Marc Owen Jones: Disinformation Superspreaders

Simon Mabon: Dialogues in Pandemic Politics

Jacopo Scita: The Impact of COVID19 on China-Persian Gulf Relations: A game changer or a spotlight

Steven Wright: COVID-19 and the Global Energy Market: Implications on International and Domestic Policies

Karen Young: Twin Crises Deepen Gulf States’ Policy Competition and Independence

Luciano Zaccara: The Impact of COVID19 on Iranian Politics

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