Identity, Community and Belonging in gcc States

Reflections on the Foreigner

In: Sociology of Islam
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  • 1 Dept. of Political Science, The College of New Jersey, 1000 Pennington Road, Ewing, n.j. 08628–0718 mlowi@tcnj.edu

Studies of identity and belonging in Gulf monarchies tend to privilege tribal or religious affiliation, if not the protective role of the ruler as paterfamilias. I focus instead on the ubiquitous foreigner and explore ways in which s/he contributes to the definition of national community in contemporary gcc states. Building upon and moving beyond the scholarly literature on imported labor in the Gulf, I suggest that the different ‘categories’ of foreigners impact identity and the consolidation of a community of privilege, in keeping with the national project of ruling families. Furthermore, I argue that the ‘European,’ the non-gcc Arab, and the predominantly Asian (and increasingly African) laborer play similar, but also distinct roles in the delineation of national community: while they are differentially incorporated in ways that protect the ‘nation’ and appease the citizen-subject, varying degrees of marginality reflect Gulf society’s perceptions or aspirations of the difference between itself and ‘the other(s).’

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