Like most Pinoy families, many of my relatives live or have worked overseas, some in Chicago, and some in the UK, but two of my cousins used to work in the Middle East on and off. My relatives always preferred to work as nurses in Kuwait. When I naively asked why, they answered: In Kuwait they treat you well. In Saudi (Arabia) they made us throw our rosaries out at the airport.

There are three million or so Filipino OFW (overseas foreign workers) in the Middle East, and almost a million of them work in Saudi Arabia.
Most of them are Christians. There are also Christians from India, Indonesia, Lebanon, and from various African countries who work in Saudi Arabia.

The Vatican estimates a million Catholics living in Saudi Arabia; presumably there are a large number of Protestant and Orthodox Christians not included in that number. Yet there is no church in Saudi Arabia.

Last April, a priest was arrested for saying Mass in a private apartment. here is Asia News’ report on the incident:

The priest, Fr George Joshua, belongs to the Malankara rite of Kerala (India). His visit to Catholic Indians in the Saudi Kingdom was planned with his bishop’s permission.

On 5 April, Fr George had just celebrated mass in a private house when seven religious policemen (muttawa) broke into the house together with two ordinary policemen. The police arrested the priest and another person.

The Saudi religious police are well known for their ruthlessness; they often torture believers of other religions who are arrested.

AsiaNews sources said there were around 400,000 Indian Catholics in Saudi Arabia who were denied pastoral care. Catholic foreigners in the country number at least one million: none of them can participate in mass while they are in Saudi Arabia. Catechism for their children – nearly 100,000 – is banned.

Yet where are the stories about this? I googled, and found this one, dated 2004.
Yet this week, the European Union issued a report on “Islamophobia” and discrimination of Muslim immigrants in Europe.


The dirty little secret about the Middle East and Saudi Arabia is that a large percentage of the work is done by outsiders. In some countries they have rights, in others, especially in Saudi Arabia, the lack of basic human rights, including freedom of religion, is lacking.

So where are all the stories about our fellow Christians/fellow Buddhists/Fellow Hindus and Shiite Muslims who are forbidden to practice their religion in that great ally of America, Saudi Arabia? Where are the protests by feminists against a country that doesn’t allow their women to drive, and requires women to cover themselves in a black robe? Where are the protests from labour leaders against workers being required to work overtime, having their passports confiscated, or (a problem with many maids) sexually exploited by employers?  Why the silence? Why the lack of protest?

But just wait. Huffington Post just noticed that being gay is illegal in Saudi too, and they are planning a protest.

Way to go, fellahs. And while you’re at it, say hi to all those good Pinoy gay hairdressers .

And don’t forget: Use a condom.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines with her husband and extended family. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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