A video which surfaced online showed a man, who is assumed to be Saudi, abusing a south Asian migrant worker after catching him eating in day-light during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
“You dog! In Ramadan?” he screamed at the visibly terrified worker before slapping him across the face. The man then demanded the worker to stand up, as he continued to shout at him.
Many had reacted angrily to this on social media under the hashtag: #ManSlapsWorker.
— عبدالكريم الغدير (@3bdalkremalghde) June 14, 2017
Translation: such irrationality has no place in Islam. This man’s actions have nothing to do with Islam.
While people on social media condemned the abuse, few called for reformation of rights for religious minorities, or for those considered vulnerable workers – usually employees of non-Arab backgrounds.
Meanwhile, some social media users suggested it is up to the state to punish the worker for eating, adding that the man should have taken the worker to the authorities instead of taking the law into his own hands.
Others initially tried to claim the video to be a prank, though many have refuted the rumours.
The conservative Saudi kingdom shows little tolerance to anyone eating in public in Ramadan, regardless of whether they are Muslim, or have extenuating circumstances that excuse them from fasting.
However, migrant workers are at a significant disadvantage.
It is illegal to eat or drink in public during Ramadan in Saudi Arabia and some other Arab countries, but expats caught doing so in the kingdom are vulnerable to abuse at the hands of their employers, while facing deportation and violence at the hands of the state.
In 2013, the Saudi ministry of interior released a statement threatening expats who are caught eating or drinking with deportation or being dismissed from their jobs. The ministry had also urged employers to pass on the message to expats.
While the person who abused the worker has not yet been identified, and it is unclear as to whether he is the worker’s employer, the way in which non-Arab workers are generally dismissed as second-class citizens of the Arab world puts them at risk of violence.
This means they are at higher risk of being victim to the detrimental effects of the Kafala system, deported or abused, than their Arab counterparts.
The controversial sponsorship regime, known as the Kafala system, is widespread across the Gulf and other parts of the Middle East and North African region.
The system puts the employer in control of the visa status of workers, leaving them subject to deportation at any moment in time. It often, though not always, leads to workers being treated as property of their employers – leaving the worker vulnerable to exploitation.