Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Egyptian maids for Saudi families
Levantine (French speaking) Egyptians traditionally looked down desert beduins, but since the discovery of oil in Saudia, this attitude is increasingly difficult to maintain. A recent agreement between the Governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt to send 120,000 Egyptian young women to work as maids for Saudi families punctured any pretense that may have remained.
First to protest were Egyptian professionals working in the Kingdom, who fear that Saudis will stop respecting and employing them. “We all know what maids are exposed to in the Kingdom. We’ve heard a lot about maids being abused by their employers and the fact that they experience sexual harassment,” declared Hassan, an expatriate doctor. The Egyptian press called the accord “a scandal” and “part of a plan to humiliate Egypt.” The issue has even reached the Egyptian parliament.
I remember my friend Mr Sultan Latif, an Egyptian teacher working in Bauchi school. It was in the early nineteen seventies. He was a very sociable person and living alone in Northern Nigeria for two years was causing him a lot of suffering. But he needed to save money to marry off his daughter. There were other Egyptian and Pakistani professionals in Bauchi, hating the place and the natives. While English expats kept themselves busy organizing formal parties and amateur theatre, the Lebanese played cards and had native families, I found satisfaction in learning Hausa and writing in the local paper, doing research work, designing and building infrastructure, studying the cattle trading systems of the Sahel and trying to make money off them (should I have persisted in Bauchi, I daresay I would have made 100,000 dollars (1970 Dollars, not 2007 dollaricos) in less than a year. Fulani cattle sellers had different ideas of cattle worth than the meat factory, a cognitive dissonance that I started to exploit. But I am the man of a thousand golden opportunities, all of them thrown by the way, always moving anxiously to the next one). Egyptians are a rule lacked curiosity, were lazy and hated the place.
The painting shows a scene of Oriental domestic slavery. Economic, plantation slavery was unknown in the Middle East.