RIYADH, 30 June 2004 — Seven expatriate car washers were detained in a raid but later released, as part of occasional crackdowns on this section of casual labor.

“Some of them were briefly detained and later released after their residence permits were found to be in order,” said two car washers, Mujahidul Islam and Majid Kutty. Islam, a Bangladeshi car washer, said those detained included four Bangladeshi nationals and an Indian.

Early this month, officials in Jeddah arrested some 52 car washers, mainly operating outside major shopping centers in Jeddah. Local officials, following the raids, were surprised to find that a number of car owners had given their keys to the cleaners without realizing the danger of doing so.

Attractive to illegal laborers and those between jobs, it is a simple career with low investment and can yield surprising amounts of money. Twenty regular clients with a fee of SR100 a month for each yields a good living wage for some.

The business is often organized into fiercely defended territories. Jeddah was the scene of violence when infringements of unofficial demarcation lines were disputed by gangs of car washers two years ago.

Despite repeated police crackdowns, there are illegal operations all over the Kingdom as well as Riyadh, where people still prefer hiring a casual washer to a commercial washing facility.

But the terror threat has affected this trade too.

Ibrahim Alam, an accountant in Riyadh, said he had not had his car washed for the past seven days after the washers near his office disappeared suddenly following the recent crackdown.

Majid Kutty, who was himself detained, complained that his income had been affected by violence in the city. He said washers were no longer allowed to work in the Diplomatic Quarter or near any government building, where much lucrative business used to be found. They are also not welcome near companies with Western employees.

“I now wash only 10 to 15 cars daily compared to 29 cars a couple of years back,” he said.

City officials believe that casual car washing is against the law, damages the city’s image and poses hazards to the environment. Saudi law prohibits “littering” on roads, in public places and residential areas, which includes washing of cars. It also bans discharging waste water in public places.

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