I called Bedouin to chitchat, and perhaps threw in a word or two (or more!) of English in our conversation- he was too sleepy to talk so I had to hang up and stare at the wall in front of me. Meanwhile, the fourth lady ended her phone call. She turned to me and asked, "are you (enter an Arab nationality)?". I replied, "no, I am (enter a different Arab nationality). How could you tell I am not Saudi?". She said it was the way I put my veil, and that I spoke English on the phone. Though I still wonder why that specific Arab nationality, her second question was intriguing. "Why don't you apply for the Saudi citizenship? Do you not want to? You seem like you have lived here for a very long time." A couple of years ago, my answer would have simply been - I like my '.....' nationality. I simply replied, "I don't know, I have never thought about it.".
False. At that moment, I was very tempted to give an elaborated answer about how I do not believe that nationalities necessarily reflect the convictions or culture of a person and hence becoming an almost negligible component of one's persona (there is an evident universal shift from wondering about one's nationality to wondering about where one has lived).
She went on and on talking about how her 'Arab' friend has been trying for years to acquire the Saudi nationality, but keeps on being rejected. I am not going to talk about the theoretical, patriotic aspect of a nationality, and its contemporary meaning in lieu of the global village we live in - no. I am merely going to ponder upon why/not and how one gets the Saudi citizenship.
Why: What comes with a Saudi nationality?
- Ability to own property or starting a business
- 'free' health care
- a higher salary (unless you are a non-Arab expatriate, of course!)
- no visa required from most (if not all) Arab countries
- visa to 'the West' - a pain in the neck!
- marriage regulations (the whole Saudi/non-Saudi ordeal)
- a negative cultural tag (the idea of a mitjannis - or one who was not 'originally' Saudi)
- no dual citizenship - dropping one's original nationality
- have a relative that is 'originally' Saudi (including a Saudi male spouse and excluding a Saudi mother)
- and have been born and living in Saudi for 18 years
- have a PhD and are holding an 'important' position in the Kingdom (which reminds me of the interesting story of a friend who was offered a scholarship and a research/professorship contract at a new, enormously-funded science and technology institute in Saudi Arabia, under the condition of her 'accepting' the Saudi citizenship.)
My name was called and I had to cut off that lady's curious question about my national identity. I couldn't help but wonder, though. If a country is open enough to let the faucet of expatriates run for years that it almost flooded its lands, then it must be because it realizes that a country cannot live in isolation and must rely on international expertise (though many claim that it is out of the lack of trust in the country's human capital). Whatever the reason is, why is it almost impossible to be 'eligible' for the Saudi nationality? It is almost granted in Bahrain, a neighboring Gulf country, to acquire the citizenship if you apply (and of course, that is for political reasons). It is a given in the USA that if one lives in the country for five years without leaving it, then a 'history of the USA' examination and an oath (and credit history, a 'clean' report about the history of your immediate family, grandparents, 15 uncles and aunts, 58 first cousins, friends and acquaintances) are usually all it takes to earn the American citizenship.
I know that, even though I grew up in Saudi Arabia and am grateful to some experiences that I have been through here, have no reason to remain because I have no financial interests or cultural/family ties (my parents will eventually go 'back'). I know my friend rejected the scholarship because she felt like she did not want to draw a 'national' boundary around her academic career. But I am sure that many, including the fourth lady's friend, the children of a Saudi mother, and many others who feel that they are part of the Saudi community, desire the citizenship, and perhaps 'deserve' it.