Time to end uncertainty
By: Sabria S. Jawhar
As we witness a surge in young Saudi men and women obtaining free university education abroad thanks to the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, we should also be mindful that not all young people in Saudi households are given equal opportunities.
Today, children of Saudi women with non-Saudi husbands face a difficult road not only in receiving an education equal to their friends who have both a Saudi mother and Saudi father, but also to compete for well-paying jobs available to returning grads.
But if the reports of the Ministry of Higher Education’s latest plan involving the scholarship program are true, then we may see the playing field leveled where children of non-Saudi fathers may finally get a break.
The ministry is considering granting university scholarships to children of Saudi women and non-Saudi fathers. Terms and conditions — not disclosed by the ministry — must be followed. However, if the terms and conditions are not vastly different from what Saudi students must meet then it should be relatively easy to qualify for assistance.
The move by the ministry, if approved, follows a government decision last year that granted foreign mothers of Saudi children permanent residency and allows them to receive educational and health services originally reserved only for Saudi citizens. The decision also gave non-Saudi mothers “Saudi” status in the workplace to accommodate Saudization and allows them to enroll in university education programs.
The potential move to allow children of non-Saudi fathers access to higher education, followed by granting more rights to foreign-born mothers of Saudi children, marks a continuing effort by the government to better merge mixed families —– those with a foreign-born parent — to better assimilate into Saudi society.
But even if Saudi society hasn’t seen the writing on the wall, government ministries have. The trend of Saudi men and Saudi women marrying foreigners is gaining momentum. It will soon not be a novelty, but common for a foreign-born parent — whether the mother or father — to be part of Saudi society.
In 2013, an estimated 13,000 Saudi women married foreign men, a whopping jump over the 8,553 marriages to non-Saudis in 2012. Yemenis continue to top the list of foreign men marrying Saudis, but there also has been more Americans, Britons and Turks marrying Saudi women.
Given this trend, it makes sense that we stop discriminating against children of Saudi mothers just because their father is not Saudi. Integrating children of Saudi mothers into the scholarship program and also giving rights to foreign mothers will create an enormous step toward mitigating discrimination against mixed-nationality families who face daily discrimination in jobs, traveling, inheritance and medical services.
A natural progression would be for Saudi Arabia to emulate the UAE and eventually give citizenship to children of Saudi mothers and non-Saudi fathers. This would grant such children equal rights and eliminate the humiliating need for Saudi mothers to obtain visas for their children every time they want to travel outside the country.
Once the government recognizes that children of non-Saudi fathers receiving equal educational opportunities can contribute to Saudi society, the citizenship issue should be resolved. It’s right that the government makes incremental improvements to ensure that discrimination is eliminated, but it should also consider that progress at a snail’s pace will force families to seek a better life elsewhere, which in the end will rob Saudi Arabia of future generations of young people available to make the Kingdom great.