There is a veiled threat on Pakistan to take back its expats from the Gulf countries, by the UAE and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), apparently to blackmail the Islamic country into accepting Israel.
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The UAE, under the benign blessings of KSA, did so on August 14, 2020, ironically, Pakistan’s Independence Day. Now, KSA has decided to employ its own citizens as Imams to preside over prayers in major commercial complexes, reports Saudi Gazette.
In fact, the move is aimed at slamming the door on a million Pakistani Muslims from engaging in essential services in KSA. The woes of Pakistan do not seem to end as the UAE has already canceled over 3000 Pakistan job visas and given them to India instead.
It has been learned that the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Call and Guidance, and the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs are working on the plan to Saudize jobs of imam and muezzin (caller to prayer) at prayer halls of major commercial complexes.
The government considers these complexes very important since they are the façade of the Kingdom and a destination for tourists. The directions have been given to agencies supervising the major commercial complexes to appoint Saudi imams and muezzins.
Those operating commercial complexes shall communicate and coordinate with the ministry concerned in the selection process of imams and muezzins, and complete the legal procedures, with a condition that those responsible for these complexes shall have to take care of meeting the financial liabilities while hiring Saudi imams and muezzins.
“There are commercial complexes where expatriates (read mostly from Pakistan) from various nationalities are hired as imams and muezzins in the prayer halls,” the report reads.
There is a growing chasm between Pakistan and KSA, which had forced the Pakistan PM Imran Khan to dither from attending the Malaysian summit of Muslim nations in December 2019. Pakistan drifted from the KSA on August 6, 2020, as the oil-rich nation refused to share Pakistan’s position on Kashmir.
This enraged the KSA crown prince MbS, who proceeded to stop loans and oil on deferred payments to Pakistan and make the country return 1 out of 3 billion USD interest-based loan by August 8 and in its place gave it to India.
The Kingdom later released a 20 Riyal Saudi Banknote which showed Kashmir as an independent nation, Pakistan could not even protest on it while India raised its objections, and now KSA has reportedly signaled it was withdrawing the Banknote. Pakistan is also to soon return the remaining 2 billion USD loan to the country.
The latest move initiated by KSA stems from the fact that the Kingdom is also soon going to embrace Israel. The ultimate agenda of Israel is not only to provide security apparatus to the KSA establishment but also to ensure itself as a replacement of Pakistan. Thus, this is understandably the first step in the same direction, and very soon, Pakistanis will be found packing from other sectors too.
KSA has ostensibly claimed that the move is intended to reduce the rising rate of unemployment and aimed at ‘Saudization’ of its institutions. But the real apprehension is that once KSA accepts Israel, there may be a reaction from Mecca and Madina, where Imams of Pakistan origin are in large numbers, hence, the move is to contain any such probable reaction.
It is a well-known fact that the Imam of Kaaba (in Mecca) sermon is provided by the KSA establishment but there are also hundreds of other mosques too, where Pakistani Imams preside over the prayers.
Interestingly, the Imam of Kaaba Al-Sudais has already on September 6 supported the normalization of relations with Israel.
This order from the Saudi government will be first applied to its own unemployed Imams, as the expenses of Imams who are employed in shopping complexes or malls are borne by the office. And secondly, the fresh appointments will be offered only to those who would be willing to toe the government line, and the non-Saudi Imams who show signs of any resentment towards Israel will be shunted.
After this move, the Kingdom has further distanced itself from its once long-tested ally Pakistan, and it is only a matter of time when the US President-elect Joseph Biden takes oath that all decks would be cleared for the KSA-Israel official relations to materialize.
India has for long wanted to replace the Pakistanis in the Gulf countries by providing its own workforce of laborers, software engineers, or technocrats. And very soon, it could be the end of days for the Pakistanis from the entire Gulf region, and no wonder, Israel will have a free run in the region, which is an extended arm of the US.
The writer is a former State Information Commissioner, India. He is a media analyst and writes on international politics.