The Ethical Implications of the Kafala System

Joshua Nelson


Despite regional and culture differences, Persian Gulf countries such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are bound together by their use of the kafala system. Established in the 1930s, the kafala system came from the Bedouin custom of providing foreigners protection, or in some cases, affiliation with a tribe when passing through controlled territory. It was described by Azfar Khan of the International Labour Organization in The Guardian as “the best tradition of Arab hospitality,” a high compliment in a culture characterized by generous people and traditions. However, the current incarnation of the kafala system is a bastardization of previous forms, replacing generosity with greed, and honesty with deceit.

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