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Racism in the middle east: ignorant, delusional and presumptuous

As the world witnesses another tragedy committed by the unjust hand of racism, we are reminded yet once again of our world’s cruelty and unfairness. George Floyd is one of the latest victims of society’s failure, but, unfortunately, he probably won’t be the last; not in America or any other country. However, while everyone is now focusing on the racism and discrimination thriving in the Americas, it is important to use this opportunity to shed light on the racism that black people face all the time in the middle east. 

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The kafala law

Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Lebanon have all adopted an exploitative system called the kafala system. This system requires all unskilled laborers migrants to have an in-country sponsor who is usually their employer.  Therefore, this sponsor is directly responsible for the employees’ visa and legal status. Such a system creates easy opportunities for the exploitation of migrant workers.                                                                                                              

Moreover, most of the labor workers are black folk who work in slave-like conditions. Their poor treatment is a result of deep-rooted racism that allows the existence of such a system in the first place. 

Furthermore, this system allows the employer to take the passport of the migrant workers and abuse them with little to no chance of legal repercussions.

Even in Arab countries where the kafala system isn’t applied, refugees and non-Western migrants are routinely abused by the state and their host community. To the instance where founding aid agencies became a necessity for protecting them. 

The portrayal of black people in the media

Black folks are only portrayed in the media as comedic relief, an outlaw of some kind, or help.  They are never given any other role or viewed as people with their own life, dreams, and desires. Therefore, perhaps instead of feeling common empathy for their fellow humans, many think of black people as sub-human and thus less deserving of basic rights and protections.

Moreover, it is not a rare occasion for TV presenters to taunt dark-skinned people and call them ‘doormen’ or ‘maid’ regardless of their real occupation. Similarly, comedy shows often garner cheap laughs off jokes about dark skin people all the time. 

However, the real offense lies within the blackface practice that keeps appearing in modern middle eastern media. It features white or light-skinned people caricatured as those of African descent. Thus, instead of employing dark-skinned people, white or light-skinned people darken their skin via theatrical make-up. 

This misrepresentation of black people has lethal consequences in the real world. The consequences black people are still facing to this day.

Other Displays of racism 

Even among citizens of Arab nationality, many face different shades of racism depending on the shade of their skin. to this day, many black-skinned Arabs face ongoing bullying and scorn.   

For instance, Members of Egypt’s Nubian community are often portrayed in the media only as servants and scapegoated for street violence.

Moreover, Saudi nationals of African descent are often viewed as “inferior” in the eyes of society. A UNHCR report proved that black Saudis experience discrimination in employment and education, which is why they have fewer employment and education opportunities than other citizens. Hence, according to the IGA Director, there are no black Saudi TV presenters, university deans, judges, senior government officials, or diplomats. Furthermore, The CDHR Director reported that Saudis of African descent are subject to “stigmatization and social segregation”. Though there are no legal prohibitions against black Saudi nationals or formal discrimination against them in health care or education, they face this stigma all the same.

Another blatant display of racism is using the Arabic word for “slave” often colloquially to address black Africans in the Middle East. 

Also, another example is Jordan deporting 800 Sudanese refugees for demonstrating against the UN refugee agency in 2016.

Every country in the world is guilty of harboring racism. However, the only true way to actually start combating it is to admit it exists. Of course, it is easy to post on social media and condemn other countries when such issues surface. Though in order to really make a difference and help out, everyone needs to step back and admit the cruel reality that society’s ignorance is infecting black folk and other minorities. 


Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Saudi Arabia: Treatment of racial minorities, particularly black African Saudi nationals, by society and authorities (2012-2013), 16 January 2014, SAU104729.E, available at [accessed 31 May 2020]

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