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SAUDI ARABIA: Graphic media campaign against abuse of migrant workers

December 11, 2008 |  9:52 am

A South Asian maid on a leash, kneeling down in a doghouse. A chauffeur tied to a driver’s seat with a bit in his mouth.

Saudi Arabia recently chose an array of shocking images to place the abuse of migrant workers in the spotlight. 

The media campaign, called Rahma, Arabic for mercy, strikes a sensitive chord in Saudi society by pointing out that the ill treatment of one’s employees is against the teachings of Islam.

The campaign includes ads run in local newspapers under the title "Don't Strip Me of My Humanity," and TV spots aired on Saudi satellite channels.

One clip (above) shows a group of elegant Saudi women chit-chatting around a dinner table. A South Asian maid appears in the room and the hostess starts scolding her in front of the guests. She calls her "abnormal" and tells her, "get out of my face."

The video finally zooms in on the sad face of the domestic worker. 

Another one-minute video shows an Arab businessman scolding his maid, then denying his servant money and refusing to grant his employee some time off to see his daughter in the hospital.

The clip finally depicts the businessman praying to God for compassion before ending with a sentence that reads: "He who is not merciful, will not be afforded mercy" by God.

Showing mercy toward people in subordinate positions is an important virtue for Muslims. Saudi Arabia follows Wahhabism, one of the strictest branches of Islam. A special religious police force ensures that Saudis publicly perform their religious duties.

The campaign was launched last month by a private local firm to denounce ill treatment of migrant workers as an anti-Islamic practice, according to Kaswara Khatib, managing director of Full Stop Advertising, which is behind the initiative. 

Khatib recently told the English-language Saudi daily Arab News:

We sometimes forget that those who we deal with as helpers are actually human beings. We are obliged to treat them well. Why ask them to do things that we can’t bear ourselves? If we have mercy on them, then Allah will have mercy on us.

The Kingdom is regularly stigmatized by international nongovernmental organizations for its poor human rights record.

Earlier this year, the New-York-based watchdog group Human Rights Watch, said the conditions of domestic workers sometimes amount to slavery.

-- Raed Rafei in Beirut

Video: A TV spot aired on Saudi satellite channels to raise awareness against the abuse of migrant workers. The video shows a group of Saudi women having dinner. The hostess addresses her maid with disrespect in front of her friends. The video fades out with a sentence that reads: "He who is not merciful will not be afforded mercy."