Racism in the Middle East

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The article describes the state of race relations and racism in the Middle East. Racism is widely condemned throughout the world, with 174 states parties to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination by April 8, 2011.[1] In different countries, the forms that racism takes may be different for historic, cultural, religious, economic or demographic reasons.



According to article 19 of the Iranian constitution:[2]

the people of Iran belonging to whatever ethnic or tribal group shall enjoy equal rights and colour of skin, race, language and the like shall not be considered as a privilege.

Iran is a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.


During World War II, Rashid Ali al-Kaylani blamed British hostility toward his pro-Nazi stance on the Iraqi Jewish community. In 1941, Iraqi nationalists murdered 200 Jews in Baghdad in a pogrom.[3]

Further information: Farhud

After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Iraqi Jews faced persecution so great that by 1951, approximately 100,000 of them left the country while the Iraqi rulers confiscated their property and financial assets.[3]

During 1987-1988, Iraqi forces carried out a genocide against the Iraqi Kurds that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Further information: Al-Anfal Campaign

The UN reports that although Christians comprise less than 5% of Iraq's population, they make up nearly 40% of the refugees fleeing Iraq.[4][5] More than 50% of Iraqi Christians have already left the country since 2003.[6] Iraq's Christian community numbered 1.4 million in the early 1980s at the start of Iran-Iraq War. But as the 2003 invasion has radicalized Islamic sensibilities, Christians' total numbers slumped to about 500,000, of whom 250,000 live in Baghdad.[7][8]

Furthermore, the Mandaean and Yazidi communities are at the risk of elimination due to ethnic cleansing by Islamic extremists.[9][10]

A May 25, 2007 article notes that in the previous seven months only 69 people from Iraq had been granted refugee status in the United States.[11]


On 22 February 2007, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination will consider the report submitted by Israel under Article 9 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.[citation needed] The report states that “Racial discrimination is prohibited in Israel. The State of Israel condemns all forms of racial discrimination, and its government has maintained a consistent policy prohibiting such discrimination”.[12]

Caputi, this report was challenged by several reports submitted to the Committee by other bodies most of which are from Muslim strong or Arab majority States. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel alleges that Israel has "discriminatory planning practices".[citation needed]

Adalah (The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel), an Arab advocacy group, has alleged that “the State of Israel pursues discriminatory land and housing policies against Palestinian citizens of Israel” and that “the needs of Palestinian citizens of Israel are systematically disregarded”.[13]

Throughout Jewish Israeli Society, and particularly among the youth, anti-Arab sentiment has spiked, manifesting itself in the form of rising hate crimes,[14] public opinion polls,[15] and hateful comments from high-profile Knesset members. The popular Ha'Aretz syndicate has prominently written "Let's face it: Israel has a racism problem".[16]


Racism is sometimes manifested in football where some people in the audience cause factious affairs since Jordanians usually support Al Faisaly football club and Palestinians support Al Wehdat.


Lebanon has been accused of practicing apartheid against Palestinian residents.[17][18][19][20] According to Human Rights Watch, "In 2001, Parliament passed a law prohibiting Palestinians from owning property, a right they had for decades. Lebanese law also restricts their ability to work in many areas. In 2005, Lebanon eliminated a ban on Palestinians holding most clerical and technical positions, provided they obtain a temporary work permit from the Labor Ministry, but more than 20 high-level professions remain off-limits to Palestinians. Few Palestinians have benefited from the 2005 reform, though. In 2009, only 261 of more than 145,679 permits issued to non-Lebanese were for Palestinians. Civil society groups say many Palestinians choose not to apply because they cannot afford the fees and see no reason to pay a portion of their salary toward the National Social Security Fund, since Lebanese law bars Palestinians from receiving social security benefits."[21]

In 2010, Palestinians were granted the same rights to work as other foreigners in the country.[22]


Omani society is largely tribal.[23][24][25] Oman has three known types of identities.[24] Two of these identities are "tribalism and Ibadism", the third identity is linked to "maritime trade".[24] The first two identities are widespread in the interior of Oman, these identities are closely tried to tradition, as a result of lengthy periods of isolation. The third identity, which pertains to Muscat and the coastal areas of Oman, is an identity that has become embodied in business and trade. Consequently, the third identity is generally seen to be more open and tolerant towards others. Thus, tension between socio-cultural groups in Omani society exists. More importantly, is the existence of social inequality between these three groups.[24]

According to the CIA, Oman's population primarily consists of Arab, Baluchi, South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi), and African ethnic groups.[26]

The descendants of servant tribes and slaves are victims of widespread discrimination.[27] Omanis of slave origin are sometimes referred to as "khaddam" (servant) and some are subservient to previous masters, despite legal emancipation.[24] Oman was the one of the last nations on earth to abolish slavery in 1970.[28]

It is believed that migrant workers in Oman are treated better than in other states of the Gulf.[28] The plight of domestic workers in Oman is a taboo subject.[29][28] Every 6 days, an Indian migrant in Oman commits suicide.[30][31] There has been a campaign urging authorities to check the migrant suicide rate.[32]


Various Palestinian organizations and individuals have been regularly accused of being antisemetic. Howard Gutman believes that much of Muslim hatred of Jews stems from the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and that peace would significantly reduce anti-semitism.[33]

A joint report submitted by 19 Israeli, Palestinian and international NGOs referred to “[S]tate laws and institutions that dispossess the indigenous Palestinian and Syrian populations”.[34]

Saudi Arabia[edit]

Racism against foreigners "Non-citizens"[edit]

Racism in Saudi Arabia against labor workers who are foreigners, mostly from developing countries. Asians maids have been persecuted victims of racism and discrimination in the country,[35][36][37][38] foreign workers have been raped, exploited, under- or unpaid, physically abused,[39] overworked and locked in their places of employment. The international organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) describes these conditions as "near-slavery" and attributes them to "deeply rooted gender, religious, and racial discrimination".[40] In many cases the workers are unwilling to report their employers for fear of losing their jobs or further abuse.[40]

Discrimination against the historically urbanized Saudi citizens of non-tribalist, non-Bedouin origins or "Hadar" lit "civil"[edit]

There can be a lot of discrimination towards the Saudi citizens of non-Bedouin origins or "Hadar" lit "civil or urban", such as people from Medina, and Taif in the Hijaz area as well as people from Jeddah, Mecca, and Yanbu in the Tihamah area" where people are more mixed and have a multi-ethnic makeup, this was due to the area being the only in the peninsula which had open trade and connections with the outside world. The tribal Saudi Bedouins discriminate against the Saudis of non-Bedouin origins "Hadar" by calling them (tarsh bahar) literally meaning (sea-traveler), a term which dates back to the fall of the kingdom of Hejaz into Saudi hands, the "Hadar" who are known for their distinctive dialect, considered themselves to be much more sophisticated and civilized, while the Bedouin conquerors saw themselves as being more racially pure and thus responded by calling them (tarsh bahar).[citation needed] Hijzies sometimes answer back by simply calling Bedouins "bedouins" or sometimes "Soroob" a slang term for bedouin, backward or savage. The Saudis of non-Bedouin origins are not usually allowed into the military services which might be for historical reasons, there are, however, many exceptions. There are no laws instated against racism in Saudi Arabia, and since the government is of a tribalist Bedouin background, one can safely say that discrimination and racism is sometimes institutionalized in Saudi Arabia.

Religious or sectarian forms of discrimination[edit]

Discrimination fueled by religious sentiment is quite common in Saudi Arabia. The most prominent is the discrimination against the Shia sect of Islam minority in the Eastern and southern regions of Saudi. The Shia are disenfranchised by not being allowed into the military, and forbidden to hold key positions in government as well, this is in contrast with Hadar who have a long tradition of holding key positions in the government which dates back to the early days of the Saudi conquest of the Kingdom of Hejaz. The Sufi sects of Sunni Islam which are present in Tihamah and Hijaz are also not exempt from harassment from the strict main stream Wahabbi sect. One need not stress that there is a discrimination against non-Muslims "usually western foreigners" in general, this usually goes unnoticed as their numbers are quite negligible in comparison to other minorities.

Tribalism or "tribe vs tribe"[edit]

Another form of discrimination is tribalism "tribe against tribe", or favoritism of one's own tribe to others. This happens among Saudies of Bedouin tribalist background, this form of discrimination has roots in the vicious tribal wars and conflicts which predated Saudi Arabia.


There were several cases of antisemitism in Saudi Arabia and is common within religious circles. Saudi Arabian media often attacks Jews in books, news articles, at their Mosques and with what some describe as antisemitic satire. Saudi Arabian government officials and state religious leaders often promote the idea that Jews are conspiring to take over the entire world; as proof of their claims they publish and frequently cite The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as factual.[41][42]

Social opposition to discrimination/racism in Saudi Arabia[edit]

All these forms of racism and discrimination are in a sense accepted socially speaking "meaning there is no vocal or serious social opposition to it", with the opposition to it being essentially non-vocal if existent. A person who opposes any form of racism in Saudi is considered more nice and/or more polite, many do so from a religious stand point,so, they could also be considered more religious. In other words, in Saudi Arabia racism is not endorsed socially and/or legally but it is not a taboo by any means, as it is treated in the West.

Racism on Social Media[edit]

Racism by any mean is prohibited in Saudi Arabia on the media and violators face serious consequences which the least of it is to prohibit that person from talking in the media again. As a recent example for that is the King Salman's nephew who was prevented to talk in the media after his call to a TV sport program when he called a person "trash bahar." Also "tribalism" was reason for other people to be prevented to talk in public.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 68th and 69th session". United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 
  2. ^ "Iran - Constitution". Retrieved 2009-07-20. [dead link]
  3. ^ a b Rubin, Michael. "Iraq." The Continuum Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East. Ed. Avraham Sela. New York: Continuum, 2002. pp. 410-419.
  4. ^ "Christians, targeted and suffering, flee Iraq - USATODAY.com". Retrieved 17 June 2015. 
  5. ^ "Nina Shea - Iraq's Endangered Minorities". Retrieved 17 June 2015. 
  6. ^ Out of Iraq, a flight of Chaldeans
  7. ^ Steele, Jonathan (2006-11-30). "'We're staying and we will resist'". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  8. ^ "Terror campaign targets Chaldean church in Iraq". 
  9. ^ Crawford, Angus (2007-03-04). "Iraq's Mandaeans 'face extinction'". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-01-04. 
  10. ^ Iraqi officials: Truck bombings killed at least 500
  11. ^ Ann McFeatters: Iraq refugees find no refuge in America. Seattle Post-Intelligencer May 25, 2007
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ [2]
  14. ^ Hayer, Julia. "Suspicion and Hate: Racist Attacks On Arabs Increase in Israel". Spiegel International. 
  15. ^ Muhareb, Mahmoud. "An Analysis of Israeli public opinion". Arab Center for Research & Policy Studies. 
  16. ^ Prusher, Ilene. "Let's face it: Israel has a racism problem". Ha'Aretz. 
  17. ^ Khaled Abu Toameh [3] "Where’s the international outcry against Arab apartheid?," March 17, 2011, Jerusalem Post.
  18. ^ Martin Regg Cohn [4] "Not all apartheid is created equal," The Star, March 21, 2011.
  19. ^ Adia Massoud [5] "Left in Lebanon," The Guaradian, May 25, 2007
  20. ^ Leeds Palestine Soidarity Campaign, [6] June 24, 2010
  21. ^ Human Rights Watch [7] "Lebanon: Seize Opportunity to End Discrimination Against Palestinians; Remove Restrictions on Owning Property and Working" June 18, 2010
  22. ^ Bakri, Nada (August 17, 2010). "Lebanon Gives Palestinians New Work Rights". The New York Times. 
  23. ^ "Creating Modern Oman: An Interview with Sultan Qabus". 
  24. ^ a b c d e "Social and Gender Inequality in Oman: The Power of Religious and Political Tradition". p. 40. Omani society largely remains attached to the pre-1970 tribal structure. 
  25. ^ "Democracy and Youth in the Middle East: Islam, Tribalism and the Rentier State in Oman". pp. 170–197. 
  26. ^ "Oman". CIA – The World Factbook. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  27. ^ "BTI 2014 - Oman Country Report". 
  28. ^ a b c "Things We Don’t Talk About". 
  29. ^ "A Taboo Subject: The Desperate Plight of Domestic Workers in Oman". 
  30. ^ "An Indian ends life every sixth day in Oman". 
  31. ^ "Migrant Rights". 
  32. ^ "Campaign in Oman to check suicide rate". 
  33. ^ "'Jew-hate stems from conflict'". ynet. Retrieved 17 June 2015. 
  34. ^ [8]
  35. ^ ''Race, Culture and Difference'' by James Donald, Ali Rattansi p 27. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2011-04-22. 
  36. ^ "Asian maids in Gulf face maltreatment". Middle East Online. 10 October 2004. Retrieved 31 May 2015. 
  37. ^ Rabiya Parekh (2006-04-04). "World Service - World Have Your Say: South Asian workers in Saudi". BBC. Retrieved 2011-04-22. 
  38. ^ "Saudi Arabia: Asian immigrant forced to clean mosques for 'skipping prayers' - Adnkronos Religion". Adnkronos.com. 2003-04-07. Retrieved 2011-04-22. 
  39. ^ Cite error: The named reference the_guardian1 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  40. ^ a b Human Rights Watch (14 July 2004). "'Bad Dreams:' Exploitation and Abuse of Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia". United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Retrieved 14 January 2013. 
  41. ^ CMIP report: The Jews in World History according to the Saudi textbooks. The Danger of World Jewry, by Abdullah al-Tall, pp. 140–141 (Arabic). Hadith and Islamic Culture, Grade 10, (2001) pp. 103–104.
  42. ^ http://www.freedomhouse.org/religion/pdfdocs/KSAtextbooks06.pdf PDF 2006 Saudi Arabia's Curriculum of Intolerance, Report by Center for Religious Freedom of Freedom House. 2006

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