The Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia is not one pilgrims or foreign tourists normally visit. Set against the Persian Gulf, it is the heart of the kingdom’s oil industry. Unsurprisingly, it is also home to most of its migrant workers whose labour populates this sector.
Other than migrant workers, mostly Pakistani, Indian, Sri Lankan or from one or another poor labour-exporting nation, the Eastern Province is also home to the majority of Saudi Arabia’s Shia population.
Perhaps because of this diverse mix, the province has also been the place where the government has chosen to launch a programme called ‘Ehna al-Ahl’ or ‘We are one family’.
According to an article in the Saudi Gazette, this programme, which organises performances in the region’s malls and arranges for the distribution of brochures, is meant to enhance national cohesion and denounce extremism and divisions. The programme is supposed to last throughout the month of Ramazan.
It can be safely assumed, however, that the Pakistanis labouring in the Eastern Province are not part of the ‘one family’ whose cohesion and lack of division is a priority for the kingdom.
Among them is Mohammad Ilyas who works as the head of budgeting and finance at a multinational steel company. For several months now, Mr Ilyas has been trying to obtain an exit permit that would enable him to visit Pakistan. As some may remember, a confusing directive by the Saudi government several months ago stated that Pakistani workers living in Saudi Arabia would only be permitted to visit Pakistan once every year.
A few weeks later, however, the Saudi government said that the directive had been withdrawn and that Pakistani workers could go back home for visits multiple times as they did in previous years.