Ever since I could remember, I dreamt of working for the UN. The UN was the star I aimed to reach. I thought it was my only ticket to work in humanitarian relief. By my 18th birthday I was already living in the US, where I was given great opportunities to do volunteer work and become aware of the world outside Saudi Arabia.
As soon as I decided to move back to Saudi Arabia, with in a BA in psychology in my one hand and an accumulated work experience in the other, I started applying to the UN office in Riyadh. I am fluent in three languages and frankly thought “with my skills and passion I am sure to land a position at the UN”.
Two and half years and 5 job applications later, I was only called once for a job interview. It was for the position as a receptionist, which turned out to be filled through an employment agency and not the UN. I never heard from them again regarding the position. An Arab expat friend who at that time used to work at the UN told me that they were not interested in hiring Saudis. There was practically only one Saudi gentleman working there. When I e-mailed UN headquarters asking them for fairness they replied that employment at the UN is autonomous and there is nothing that can be done about it.
Finally in Oct 04 I reached the stars and I was hired at the UN office in Riyadh as an assistant to the Security Advisor in the safety and Security Department. Later I found out that the Saudi Government had taken a stand to insure qualified Saudis also got an opportunity to work at the UN.
Two years later I joined a Masters program in Intercultural Conflict Management in Germany. I thought, surely with such a degree I would advance and maybe even work at a UN office abroad.
During my unpaid leave in summer 2007, a fresh University graduate came to the department as an intern to cover my absence. She was the daughter of an Arab expat and a European lady. Through her mother’s connections she was able to study at King Saud University, which only admits Saudi nationals and those with Saudi mothers. Since I was in Saudi when she started interning I took the liberty to train her. Truth be told I liked her. My supervisor was right. She was both smart and beautiful. Until this day I wonder if we could have been friends had not what followed happened. A few months later she was given a temporary service contract. This was odd considering that as per UN regulations once interns have finished their internship period they would have to wait a period of six months before they can be hired.
Then, in Aug 2007 and by pure coincidence I found out that according the UN system I was registered as a clerk although my employment contract stated otherwise.
At first I went through the proper channels but was given answers such as “ohh you didn’t know? No one told you?? How did that happen??? We are so sorry about this but there is nothing we can do about it. However, we will give you a chance to fix it”
It was agreed that an announcement would be made both within the UN departments and in the local newspapers for the position of an assistant. Everyone was welcome to apply. Short listed candidates would take an examined and if passed, will be invited to an interview. I was told not to bother because these were just formalities. So I applied to the position, which by law I held, and took the exam which basically was to test on knowledge on searching for information online, writing a paragraph on word, adding numbers in column in excel sheet and translating to and from English and Arabic) it was a piece of cake. I was told I received top score. An interview followed.
I did not get the position, but the beautiful and very petite intern did.
So, the next thing I knew was that I had to report to a child, who had no work experience and was over eight years my junior. By then, I had accumulated over 13 years of job experience in both the US and Saudi Arabia, was a few months away from graduating, and had started working on my theses on the religious right of non-Muslims and the challenges, limitation and applicability of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.
Through the advertisement I found out that the minimum requirements for the assistant position was a high school diploma and three to five years of job experience. Surely I was overqualified and she was unqualified.
And so I fought for my right. As a consequence my job performance appraisal for 2007 was very low and critical. Among the many negatives comments and claims my supervisor wrote was that for the past year the intern did all the work while I did nothing.
A committee was formed, two of the members where from the interview panel, to address my appraisal dispute with my supervisor. During the meeting, I addressed my supervisor’s claim. “Why now? Where was he all year-long?” To this, a “supposedly un-bias” committee member answered irritably: “Stop blaming your boss”. How does one reason with such committee that has made it obvious whose side they were on? Sadly, this same person, a supposedly proclaimed feminist, did not bother when I mentioned that my supervisor had taken a liking in the intern and wanted to take her as a wife for his older son. Then they claimed that Human Resources caught me cheating in the job entry exam yet they were nice enough to let me sit in and finish the exam.
From there on the lies grew even more.
When I did not get the post, I promised the UN that if the issue was not resolved in a timely manner that I would ask the intervention of Saudi Foreign Ministry and then the Media. I kept my promise. And when my requests came unanswered I went to Saudi Foreign Ministry. They were very welcoming and supportive. They contacted the UN accordingly and asked them for an explanation and ways to resolve the matter.
To the ministry, the UN continuously lied that we are reaching to an agreement. To me, they insisted the ministry had not contacted them. Their insistence didn’t stop even when I showed them an official memorandum from ministry to the UN asking about my case.
Months went by and my family decided to start taking steps to move to another city. I was offered a good position at the city of destination and so decided to put the UN behind me and move on. But before I would do so, and to keep my promise, I agreed to be interviewed by a local news radio that took an interest in my case.
The UN was not thrilled when the interview was aired. The Regional Representative, the highest position within the UN duty station in a country, called me in to his office to give me a long religious lecture on how he does not approve of “thulm” – acts of injustice- because God does not approve such act. He advised me to take this opportunity and move on with my life. In return he would insure and facilitate that I would receive a good and pleasing recommendation letter, where it would state I was an assistant. I agreed. I requested the letter of employment only to give the UN an opportunity to redeem itself with a very small gesture.
Three weeks later the letter of employment, which the Human Resources staff didn’t know how to write, was ready. The letter stated that I was a clerk!
Another broken promise by the UN. Should it have been a surprise? During a heavy argument the letter was taken away from me only to be given back on my out but with a minor change. Instead of a clerk, I was now a clerk who performed the tasks of an assistant!
The UN has once again put itself in a legal loophole. Not only has the UN confirmed that it does not abide by a legal and binding contract but it also assigns staff duties beyond their position. Both actions are not only unjust but are against the International labor laws, which the UN claims to follow. Another international law broken by the UN.
Months past and I did not receive my promised pension return. So, I e-mail the UN. Moments later I received an e-mail that my e-mail cannot be delivered to the recipients because the UN has blocked my e-mail address. So I e-mailed them from my other account.
I finally got my pension exactly a year from my resignation. Through it, I broke off all contacts with the UN.
It has been almost two years since I left. Sometimes I wonder if I gave up too soon… Maybe I should have stayed and fought to the bitter end but there was no longer much i can do . The UN enjoys diplomatic immunity, which means they cannot be sued or taken to court. This is how the UN operates.
Today I relay on karma and I surely hope it works….
Conclusion and moral of the story is left to the reader. One lesson to be learned from this: a problem will not go away by lying or pretending it does not exist. One day I hope to add: what goes around comes around….
26 Sep ’10: I know the article is FILLED with mistakes. One day I will be able to read and properly edit it… But for now I choose not to… Denial is a river in Egypt