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Saudi move to fine 'foul-smelling labourers' denounced as discriminatory Open in fullscreen

Karim Traboulsi

Saudi move to fine 'foul-smelling labourers' denounced as discriminatory

They toil for hours under the sun yet they could be fined for 'uncouthness' [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 January, 2018

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A Saudi move to slap hefty fines and even jail foul-smelling worshippers at mosques is facing backlash from many who see the plan as a discriminatory measure targetting Asian labourers.
A Saudi move to slap hefty fines and even jail foul-smelling worshippers at mosques is facing backlash from many who see the plan as a discriminatory measure targetting Asian labourers.

The criminalisation of body odour and soiled clothes at mosques is part of a planned 'Public Decency Bill' proposed by the kingdom's Shura Council, which lists 45 new 'offences' punishable by fines and prison time.

The new offences, a full list of which was published by pro-government newspaper Okaz on Sundayare designed to "limit abuses of personal freedom", said Shura Council member Dr Fayez al-Shahri.

There have been explictly racist complaints in the past by some Saudis including on televised religious shows about unsavoury smells and untidy clothes allegedly involving poor workers, mostly labourers from the subcontinent.

This and the $800 fine when most migrant labourers in the kingdom earn a fraction of that has prompted Saudis on social media to see the proposed move as an attempt to banish Asian labourers from mosques or segregate them from Saudi citizens.

In response to the bill, Saudi commentator Jamal Khashoggi who has been critical of the kingdom's administration under powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman criticised the Shura Council as "vacuous judges".

"How can we demand this of the toiling labourer who works hours under the sun?" replied Akram Hadheri‏ to Khashoggi's tweet.

"Pushing away poor people and labourers from mosques and empowering anti-immigrant voices with such a loose system (is unacceptable)...the 'uncleanliness' differs from one person to another."

"Even for entering the mosques they want to take 3,000 Riyals (˜$800) from the poor and the labourers because their clothes are unclean...This Shura Council only represents itself...In fact, only (foreign) workers and drivers go to the mosques in northern Riyadh" was another response.

Some linked what they said were harsh and unnecessary fines to the ongoing shakedown in the kingdom, which they said is in need for vast sums of money to balance its budget amid falling oil prices.

Racism against Asian workers in Saudi Arabia is rampant across the kingdom, with a sponsorship 'kafala' system in place that has been dubbed as quasi-slavery. 

Recently, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mutlaq, a prominent cleric in the kingdom, in response to questions about the 'odours' of poor workers, said they should be shown mercy not punished and banished.

"I remember the days when we toiled and smelled and then went to the mosques...these people earn little more than 500 Riyals ($150)...have mercy on them," he said at the time.

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