But as a rapidly growing population of locals, who now have easy access to Western education, fights to grab shrinking opportunities, social tensions are becoming palpable.
Thankfully, though, according to sociologists in the region, the strains aren’t alarming enough to put locals in direct strife with expatriates.
The issue came to the fore in the region after a Qatari columnist recently made accusations against the Western top brass of Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) that they were abusing power.
The writing led to an intense debate in the social media in Qatar and in the region about the role of Western expatriates.
“These are just voices of resentment heard occasionally and they are mostly against Western expatriates, some of whom are perceived by us as having manipulated their way, mainly into state-backed institutions and organisations, and enjoying enviable pay and perks,” said a GCC community elder who didn’t want to be identified either by name or nationality due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Well, claims that many Westerners do not deserve to be in plush jobs they are in might be an exaggeration, but the fact is that resentment is building up in some GCC countries against them, as most of them are in good jobs in state institutions and organisations that locals feel they can fill up.
This is especially true of NGOs (in some GCC countries) that are said to have immense cash at their disposal.
Asian expatriates are viewed by locals differently. Since they are mostly in private jobs that locals abhor due to lower pay and perks, there is hardly any clash of interest.
“Moreover, Asians, particularly Indians, have been closer to our culture for centuries. They were early migrants, with inter-marriages with them,” said a senior local journalist requesting anonymity.
And although many Indians (read Keralites) literally came here as janitors and labourers, they became general managers and businessmen — something locals feel proud of. “They worked hard. They are loyal. They have been here for decades,” said the scribe.
Westerners, on the other hand, are seen by locals as coming from an “alien culture” and with a “mercenary outlook”.
“They stay here for a few years with the intention of making money and then they leave,” said the scribe.
As GCC nationals, including Qataris, are getting educated, many of them in the west itself, they are aiming for plus jobs back in their home countries.
“Invariably all such jobs are in the state or mixed sectors and filled up largely by Westerners, and that explains the clash,” a community elder said.
The problem with Qataris, especially, according to their own community sources, is that when they take up a job as a fresh graduate in an organisation, they are happy.
“This happiness lasts for a few years, and they gradually become resentful after that, and then turn jealous of their expatriate bosses and colleagues,” said the elder. “In the last stage the jealousy boils so much that it bursts into a social media campaign.”
However, western expatriates are not viewed the same all over the GCC. The attitude of locals towards them differs from country to country, say sources.
Take the UAE, for example. Westerners dominated top jobs until some 15 years ago, but not now, after the government began providing extensive training to locals.
According to human resource professionals in the private sector and some regional surveys, Westerners do get higher pay and perks but they are, in most cases, overqualified for the jobs they handle, though their income is much more than what they would get back in their home countries.
“The biggest attraction for them in the GCC countries is that their income is tax free, whereas in their home countries they must pay over 40 percent in tax,” an HR professional said requesting anonymity.
He said there is no doubt that Westerners are more professional, efficient and creative and known for treating their subordinates with a sense of fairness and justice.
An Indian said he preferred a Briton as manager of the trading company he works for, than a fellow Indian. “Indian managers are more exploitative, selfish and parochial.”
Some critics of locals say those thrashing out at western expatriates forget that it were they who discovered the oil and gas that are today the backbone of the economies of their countries and the lone source of their prosperity.
“How can you simply forget the role of Shell, Aramco and ExxonMobil, and so many other Western energy giants that have contributed to making the GCC states what they are today?” asked a critic.
The healthcare facilities, the monetary systems, the hotels and all the basic infrastructure facilities you have in the region are basically contributions of the Westerners. “They provided the brain, while Asian expatriates were the brawn.”
“You don’t pay more to a Westerner because he has white skin. You pay him more because the white skin is respected since it has given the world everything from the pin to the plane, and all the medicines, medical equipment and vaccinations. The skin is a symbol of professionalism.”
Locals just want to become managers. Their only claim to plush posts is that they are locals. “That’s no logic. These countries would suffer if you entrust crucial jobs with them. Most locals only crave for top designations, fat salaries and Land Cruisers.”
There indeed are locals who are highly qualified, efficient and capable, but their number is small. And more locals should enter the private sector to prove their worth and replace skilled foreign workers, including the Westerners. Sticking to government jobs wouldn’t help, say critics.
The locals are critical of Western expatriates. “But the same local, if he owns a business, would employ a Westerner and boast around with pride that he is his boss. Why? Not because the Westerner is from a superior race. It is because all the advancements the world has seen to date are a contribution of the West,” said the critic. Westerners don’t seek jobs using personal connections ‘wasta’, while many Arab expatriates are known for that. Many of them are here due to connections and not because they are qualified to do a job, he said. “Why is there no campaign against them?”
The Westerners have respect for local traditions and culture. They dress properly. “But you can’t say the same thing about some Asians and Arabs,” said the critic.
According to a recent Qatar News Agency (QNA) report that cited World Bank data, in 2010, there were 47.7 million people in the GCC, and more than a third (15.1 million or 36.3 percent) were expatriates. Exact estimates of Western expatriates in the region are hard to have, but after the European economic crisis, their population might have surged — in any case not beyond a million.