Dressed in a spotless white thobe, Madinah's municipality chief picked up a brush yesterday to assist other Saudi officials in sweeping the streets around the Prophet's Mosque.
This unprecedented but largely symbolic move came when the regular street cleaners stopped work in protest at the arrest of some of their colleagues as part of the kingdom's crackdown on "illegal" migrant workers.
The Saudi Gazette says the cleaners have now been issued with "special IDs" to avoid further arrests but it appears that some over-zealous inspectors may be rounding up foreigners on the mere suspicion of working illegally – contrary to the assurances given by officials when the crackdown began.
In Makkah, a police spokesman appeared to admit that random arrests were taking place when he said the campaign in the city was focusing "on main squares and public places" and well as places that had previously been identified by investigators.
Some members of the public have also joined in, raising fears of community-based violence directed at migrants. Yesterday Tawakkol Karman, Yemen's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, posted a photo on her Facebook page (below) which is said to show a Saudi man attempting to detain a Yemeni expatriate while waiting for police to arrive.
Meanwhile, a police spokesman in Riyadh said the public could help by reporting suspected "violators" but warned citizens "against putting themselves in danger by participating in arrests" since they are "not qualified and have not been given the jurisdiction to act in that capacity".
On Sunday, just before the crackdown began, Jamaan al-Ghamdi, Assistant Director of Public Security, stated that there would be
no random raids. "Secret teams will monitor the location prior to carrying out inspection by the concerned agencies," he said.
Abdullah Abuthnain, Deputy Minister of Labour, also said inspections would be "based on decent and civilised behaviour". He told a news conference: "The inspectors have been directed to perform their mission in a professional way and not to do anything that might hurt the feelings of workers and their employers or damage the reputation of institutions."
On Wednesday, an Ethiopian migrant was shot dead by security forces in Riyadh when he reportedly tried to grab a policeman's weapon during a raid.
The crackdown has caused a shortage of workers in the construction industry which is said to be driving up labour costs by
as much as 30%. Recruiting new workers to fill the vacancies is a long and complicated business because of the kingdom's labour laws.
Small construction firms have been especially hard-hit and 40% of them have now stopped operating, according to Khalaf al-Otaibi, president of the World Federation of Trade, Industry and Economics in the Middle East. Otaibi also pointed out that small and medium-sized firms account for about 75% of Saudi Arabia's construction industry.
Plight of 300,000 Sudanese
About 300,000 Sudanese living in Saudi Arabia are facing deportation, according to reports from Khartoum.
The Sudanese government says it has no intention of helping them because it is too busy dealing with its own economic problems. Offering them government jobs has also been ruled out because they are mostly low-skilled workers.
Families at risk of break-up
Mixed-nationality families are at risk of being broken up by the deportations. Arab News tells the story of Sikandar Hayat from Pakistan and his wife, Yussira Kholdin from Indonesia, who would have been forced to separate had it not been for last-minute intervention from a Pakistani consular official:
They were married in Jeddah, though not legally since Yussira is an illegal resident and marriage is not solemnised in the kingdom without completing legal formalities.
The couple settled down with three children until the crackdown shattered their family haven.
They decided to move to Pakistan, but neither had legal documentation.
Sikandar told Arab News: "My family and I were literally in tears at the Pakistani Consulate when two young diplomats spotted us and enquired about our case.
"It is extremely difficult to obtain exit visas for Indonesian citizens and there would have been no way for our children's documents to be processed, but one of the vice consuls pursued the case at the deportation centre and completed our procedures.
"He helped me obtain a visa for my Indonesian wife. I was broke since I'd lost my job, but the Pakistan Consulate helped to provide tickets for my family."
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Friday, 8 November 2013