Page last updated at 12:12 GMT, Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Saudi campaign against maid abuse


The TV campaign has been run across Saudi-run satellite channels

By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC Arab Affairs Analyst

A Saudi Arabian campaign against the abuse of domestic workers in the country has sparked controversy.

There are an estimated 1.5 million foreign domestic workers in Saudi. Many complain of abuse.

Critics say the ads misrepresent Saudi society. Rights activists say abuse is common, and acknowledging it is a first step towards solving the problem.

A report by Human Rights Watch earlier this year said some foreign workers are treated like slaves.

The adverts appeared on Saudi-owned satellite channels and newspapers.

A television advertisement, the first of its kind, shows a Saudi man shouting angrily at a foreign maid for failing to iron his clothes properly.

We are obliged to treat servants 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
Qaswara al-Khateeb
Fullstop advertising agency

Another sequence shows the man in his car honking and yelling racist abuse at an Asian man.

The sketches end with him praying, asking God for help and mercy as a caption appears with the words "man la yarham, la yurham (He who shows no mercy, will receive no mercy [from God])".

This is the slogan of the Rahma (Mercy) campaign which has appeared on Saudi-owned satellite channels , MBC and Rotana, and some newspapers.

The print version of the campaign, which appeared in the London-based Al Hayat, showed a maid held inside a kennel with a dog collar around her neck, and a foreign chauffeur harnessed like a horse with a Saudi woman holding the reins.


But major Saudi newspapers have refused to publish the advertisement, apparently because for them, it was too shocking.

(Copyright: Fullstop Ad agency)
A campaign image showed a maid being fed from a dog bowl

Some writers and journalists have called for an end to the campaign because they believe it shows Saudi people as cruel and heartless.

Journalist Terad Al al-Asmari, told Islamonline, that the campaign overlooked abuse of domestic workers in other societies.

"It could lead to hatred between foreign labour and the Saudi citizen," he argued.

A Saudi academic, Dr Moutlaq al-Mouteery, criticised airing the campaign on satellite channels. Dr Mouterriy wrote saying that "discussing domestic problems on satellite channels turns them into a scandal [for Saudi Arabia]".

The director general of the Saudi advertising agency, behind the campaign, Qaswara al-Khateeb, defended the media drive.

"We sometimes forget that those who we deal with helpers are actually human beings," Mr Khateeb told the Saudi newspaper Arab News.

"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."

Mr Khateeb told the BBC that the campaign was financed by a big Saudi corporation, but he refused to disclose which, adding that the backers did not want the message of the campaign to be associated with any particular group.

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