Gulf states are seeking to buy people's silence through state hand-outs while unskilled foreign workers are living in conditions 'unacceptable to cats and dogs,' according to a leading Bahraini newspaper editor.
Dr Mansoor al-Jamri, co-founder and Editor-in-chief of Bahrain's daily Alwasat newspaper, drew loud applause at Qatar's Doha Debates when he said Gulf states sought to buy people's silence through state hand-outs. 'The governments have a philosophy based on oil wealth, but instead of letting it trickle down to the people they use it to silence the elite or to by-pass their citizens.'
He said that in Bahrain the average salary in the private sector had dropped by 15% in recent years and more than half the population had been waiting to be housed since 1992.
Speaking of the wretched housing which so many foreign workers from the Indian sub-continent endure in Gulf states, Dr al-Jamri said they had to live in conditions 'that cats and dogs would not accept.'
He warned that if these workers, who make up the vast proportion of unskilled labor, continued to be treated like third class citizens, their inability to share in the decision-making process or have a right of domicile would ultimately lead to the intervention of international bodies in the affairs of Gulf states.
Dr al-Jamri was speaking at the latest Doha Debate, a unique public debating forum in the Middle East, whose 350-strong audience voted 75 per cent to 25% in favor of a motion that 'Gulf Arabs Value Profit over People.'
He told the mainly Arab audience attending the debate, to be broadcast on BBC World News on November 22-23, that token trade unions existed in Bahrain and Kuwait but that they were deprived of powers of collective bargaining and the protection of international labor organizations.
His colleague on the panel, Dr Najeeb al-Nauimi, a former Qatari Justice Minister and later lead counsel defending Saddam Hussein in Iraq, condemned governments which summarily deport not just unskilled, foreign labor but teachers and sometimes doctors.
'Oil prices and cheap labor are the basis of our economies,' which depend in turn 'on the silence of our citizens,' he said.
Dr al-Nauimi warned that the Indian sub-continent was forging ahead by opening up its societies to a working, middle and upper class with rights. 'We are (just) citizens of the Gulf and represent a marginal class, marginalised by the political process.'
Speaking against the motion, Sheikh Mohamed Ahmed Jassim Althani, former Qatari Economic and Commerce Minister, argued that Doha had pioneered ambitious social services emulated by its neighbours.
He said life expectancy had increased over the last 25 years from an average 55 years to 75 years, although he accepted that the workforce was abused.
'But remember they also get abused at home. I do not defend these employers, but the state is taking all kinds of measures to enforce the regulations.' said Sheikh Mohamed Ahmed Jassim Althani
Dr Tarik Yousef, founding Dean of the Dubai School of Government and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that Gulf states provided free housing, free healthcare and free education along with guaranteed employment in the public sector.
'The rapid economic modernization of the Gulf states is ahead of the rest of the Arab world and is being emulated by them.' He said
He said the appropriate labor laws existed but the problem lay in enforcing them.