The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.
In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.
Friday, April 30, 2004
Folks, maybe it's a result of that last terrorist attack, maybe it's just me being paranoid, but i'm seeing a lot more "unusual activity" both out in the town and in the neighborhood. I'm going to lie low. The blog and my email contacts will hibernate for a while. Better safe than sorry.
In the meantime, many thanks for your compliments, observations, questions, discussions. Ma'a salaama.
Earlier this month, a prominent Saudi television presenter made international headlines when she permitted newspapers to print horrific images of injuries she said she had sustained from an alleged beating by her husband.
Rania al-Baz's bruised and swollen face shocked the global community - and ignited an unprecedented public debate within Saudi Arabia itself over the normally taboo issue of domestic violence.
For me, the real tragedy of this story was not the actual beating, although that was horrific in itself. It was that it took a high-profile personality to bring it out into public. It is the very small tip of a very deep iceberg.
Men beating women is not, sadly, an unusual story. However in Saudi Arabia it is an untold story, hidden behind the high walls and barred windows of our houses. Nobody knows the scale because public indifference and the victim's fear prevent these stories coming out. Our towns and cities are home to thousands, tens of thousands, who knows, of unheard screams.
Then we have the treatment of the Indonesian maids. Usually the perpetrators of this routine violence are Saudi women themselves, possibly venting their frustrations and suppressed anger, and demonstrating to the next generation of little Saudis how to treat women, how to treat our guest workers.
Violence apart, consider the lot of the average Saudi woman.
As a young girl, she can play out in the street with the young boys.
When puberty comes, she must retire inside, only appearing in public in abaya and veil.
She has no opportunity to seek her own marriage partner. She is dependent upon her family to find one, and one who can afford the dowry. She can say "no", but not too often, otherwise the introductions will stop.
Her husband can divorce her with relative ease.
Her husband can marry up to 3 other wives. Yes, in material terms, he must treat them equally. But his affection will obviously not be split 4 ways.
If she is caught herself in adultery, she will be stoned to death. Yes, it happens, it's just not reported these days.
She has equality of education. Like men, she can go to university. However her career choice is limited.
She can work in the Ladies' branch of a bank. She can teach female pupils. That's about it. She can't even, at the moment, be a flight attendant on Saudi Aiirlines. If she's very lucky, she can work in the "ladies only" floor of the Kingdom Shopping Center in Riyadh. But she can't work on the perfume counter of a regular shop, or in a lingerie shop; you'll find Lebanese men doing that.
She may well be wealthy in her own right, and own a business. However she can't manage it, if that would bring her into contact with men.
She can't drive. She can of course walk to the shops. Try that wearing black artificial fiber head-to-toe, in temperatures up to 50 celsius. (We men, of course, wear cool white cotton). Drivers are within the reach of many family incomes; but leave them at the door of the shopping center, otherwise you'll both be arrested.
She'll find it difficult to go out "with the girls". Many restaurants will not allow a group of unaccompanied women in. Same problem by herself. The safest way to get into the "Family" section of a restaurant, is with husband and / or children.
She can of course entertain her lady friends at home. That assumes her husband allows it. Many Saudi homes have bars on the windows, and the women are locked in during the day.
At home, she can do whatever she wants to amuse herself. However, there are clearly few opportunities to fulfil herself. Typically, therefore, she will start a family early. We have one of the highest birth-rates in the world.
If she has domestic problems, there is no network of support groups. Her family may help, it depends. Having got her married with some difficulty, they may be unwilling to take her back again.
The story of women in Saudi Arabia is one of unending tragedy. They are our mothers, our wives, our daughters, yet on the whole we treat them like our cattle. It's a story that needs to change.
The saga goes on. Three (or four) terrorists holed up north of Riyadh. They were surrounded, then completely surrounded. They were invited to repent. Still they are there. I lose track. This must be getting for two weeks.
AN Indian worker who escaped from the clutches of three terrorists hiding out in the desert area near Riyadh, provided the security forces with vital information regarding the terrorists and their hideouts, according to the Arabic daily Al-Okaz.
The Indian national, a man in his forties, was abducted at gunpoint by the three terrorists, two of whom are on the terrorist wanted list, and used his car to escape after killing a man from the Al-Mujahideen forces in Al-Ayyina on the 14th of April.
He said the three terrorists made him carry their gear such as ammunition and grenades on his shoulders, and used harsh and rocky paths connecting a number of mountains between Al-Ammariyya and Al-Ayyina.
That's the clincher. They must be Saudis. How do I know?
1) They used a Third World National to do all their physical labour.
2) They haven't paid him yet.
(Perhaps I should explain. We man our factories with Third World Nationals. And when we have a bit of a cash-flow issue, we stop paying them. Sometimes for months. They're caught between a rock and a hard place. Funds running out, but they can't afford to go home, and if they did would lose the remote chance of back-pay. But that's another story.)
However, I would really welcome another explanation. How is it that, after two weeks, three or four (yes, single digit, not hundreds or thousands) terrorists, who have now been pinpointed by an Indian gentleman to a precise location within an area a few kilometers square, have still not been captured? This is not some huge area on the Afghan frontier. This is an area where we go for picnics on Fridays, where the Bedu drive around in their Toyota trucks with goats in the back. The police are obviously reluctant to take their nice shiny cars in there. But we have a whole Saudi Arabia army, and it's not doing anything else at the moment. Then we have the National Guard, that's even bigger, and better equipped. They have tanks, and Armoured Personnel Carriers, and helicopters. Why are they not being deployed there? Everyone I talk to believes that it's some big squabble going on at the top, all playing for different teams, nobody able (or willing) to do anything. If it lasts any longer, I'm going to have to send in my old Grandmother with her walking stick, she'll sort them out. Until then, it's the worst Saudi joke I've heard for years.
A reader of this blog was kind enough to tell me that The Religious Policeman had featured in an article in the London “Sunday Times”. He was even kinder to type it up electronically and email it to me. Why did I ask him to do this? Because the paper version would never get here past the Saudi censorship.
One of the few pleasures in life is to go to the larger bookstores here and buy a copy of an English-language newspaper. Usually it’s one of the British papers, occasionally the IHT or USA Today. They come on that very thin airmail paper. And invariably, they’ll contain apparently random splotches of black. Closer inspection reveals that a young western lady was showing some leg or shoulder, but has been “Magic Marker’d” vigorously, and of course it soaks thru the thin paper to obliterate the other side as well. My wife gets especially annoyed because her copy of Good Housekeeping suffers even worse; all those adverts for showers and “ladies’ things”, you can imagine.
So who’s responsible for poring thru the tens of thousands of magazines and papers that come into the country? Well, in the north of Riyadh there is a certain college of theology, the The Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University.
This institution was created as one of the solutions to our youth unemployment problem. (Look at the sports stadium in the background, what a waste). Each year it takes in thousands of the less gifted of our students, churns them thru an “Islam-by-numbers” remember-everything but understand-nothing sausage machine, and they appear at the far end to become government-salaried Imams with a job for life. (Are we going to run out of mosques for them? Eventually, but one of our Kings once decreed that every Saudi in the land should have a mosque near enough for him to be able to walk to. “That’s every fifty meters”, quipped a very rude Western expat I once knew. And no, I don’t despise all Imams. I have been inspired by some very holy, learned and wise ones. However, none was a graduate of this place.)
So how do the students make a few Riyals in their spare time? Not serving in Fudruckers or a coffee shop, not real work, that’s for sure. You guessed it, they are our censors! Yes, these wheezy-chested, acne-pitted, dentally-challenged, long-bearded apologies for manhood are the ones who decide what I may or may not see. Even though I was already married and embarked on my career when they were still noisily filling their diapers with waste material and foul odors. All their spare time is obviously taken up with poring thru the world’s press, drooling into their beards, shuddering with delight at the sight of Mrs. Bush’s ankle, and then obliterating it with a scribble of the Magic Marker.
Some of the things they do are ludicrous. I was once reading a UK paper when I noticed that a quarter of a page was missing. Checking back to the table of contents, I worked out that it was a report on a speech by Jack Straw, the UK Foreign Minister. Now to the best of my knowledge, Jack Straw does not give speeches wearing a skimpy little cocktail dress that reveals far too much of his legs and bosom. So why was it cut out? I checked the internet news to find out, the speech was about Zimbabwe and Southern Africa. Was it because he’s possibly Jewish? I still have no idea, but if I ever meet the student who did that, I’ll roll up his Spiderman comic and insert it thru his nearest sphincter.
One of the decadent habits I picked up in the West was a liking for classical music. So I’ve built up quite a CD library. Nowadays I get them from Amazon, delivered to my work address, that way they come unopened, unlike anything sent by ordinary mail. But 2 or 3 years ago I was browsing thru a record shop in Riyadh. It was called the “747”, at the corner of Olaya Street and Thalateen Street, (called Thalateen because that means “30” and it’s 30 meters wide, go figure). The 747 used to have a lot of problems with the Religious Police because, like many record shops, it had very narrow aisles. That meant that a woman could not move past a man without brushing against him. It also meant that men and women could meet there clandestinely without being too obvious, or not as obvious as the “couples” you sometimes see pushing a trolley round the supermarket with a single bag of rice in, not looking at the shelves, deep in earnest conversation. Anyway, the Muttawa made the 747 become men-only, and I’m digressing. I was in the 747 and I saw a CD by a string quartet, and on the cover it had a picture just like this
and, as you will have guessed by now, the young lady’s shoulders had received the Magic Marker treatment. How fatuous is that? What vile sin did they possibly imagine they had protected us all from? Imagine the following conversation in the Alanezi household.
Me. I’m going to London tomorrow.
Mrs A. Oh yes, business?
Me. No. I’ve seen a photo of the viola player from the Allegri String Quartet, and as soon as I saw her bare shoulders I just knew that I had to fly to London to see her and fall at her feet and have carnal knowledge of her, even though it means that my soul will be damned to the flames of hellfire for eternity.
Mrs A. That’s nice, can you get me some things from Marks and Spencer?
It's an educational site for English-speaking children, full of fascinating facts about Saudi Arabia.
Here's an example from the FAQ
Q: What rights do women have?
A: Women have the same rights to education as men and are increasingly taking up jobs in the community working in a wide range of professions from teaching and medicine to business and public relations.
A 2003 directive by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques says that it is important that women are now granted the same rights as men in all areas of public life. Women have always played a strong role within Saudi society and several women were recently appointed as advisors to the Al-Shura Council.
Just goes to show, it all depends on the question you ask. Try "What rights do women not have?", or "Do women have the same rights as men?"
However, let us not quibble. One of the sections promotes school twinning, whereby a Western and a Saudi school establish links. This is a Good Thing. The more we see of each other, the more we will understand each other, and the greater is the chance that we will live in peace and harmony.
But wouldn't it be great if they went the whole way, and had Exchange Visits? And did it for the teenagers, not just the younger ones? Talk about culture shock! We Saudis wouldn't go for it, imagine our girls, unveiled, being approached by young boys in the streets of Stockport, Cheshire! And young English boys coming back to the UK, having learnt the elaborate courting rituals of the Saudi male, flicking pieces of paper at girls with their telephone numbers on!
It's actually a nice site. Look at the videos. You'll see the 18/8 dance on Video 3. Then go thru all the videos, playing "Spot the Woman".
Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal is an educated and civilised man. Indeed, he might make a good Minister of something in a future Saudi Republic. However for the moment he represents this government, so it's good to see him squirm.
NEW YORK - Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said Monday that U.S. criticism of the kingdom is undermining efforts to fight terrorism and that America was partially to blame for the rise of Osama bin Laden
Never mind the "It's all your fault really" routine, anyone with teenage kids will be used to that. No doubt he "didn't ask to be born", either. He, and the government, obviously don't like the glare of publicity coming from some books and newspaper articles. Long may that continue!
However, with thinking like this, we will never fight the root cause of our problems.
Some U.S. lawmakers have criticized the Saudis for not having done enough to crack down on terrorism and terror financing.
Al-Faisal said Americans should stop focusing on the fact that most of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11 attack were Saudis. He denied that the kingdom was responsible for the ideology that fueled al-Qaida and bin Laden.
How about that for denial? Mind you, he has a point about the 15 Saudi Terrorist hijackers. It's one of those statistical quirks. Could easily have been 15 New Zealand Accountants. Or 15 Icelandic Manicurists. Luck of the draw, really.
They are very sensitive at the moment about the overall lack of success against terrorists, in particular the charge that the security forces are not all playing in the same team. But the news keeps reinforcing this perception.
RIYADH, 27 April 2004 — Five terrorists who on April 13 killed an officer and his partner working for Al-Mujahedeen, a unit affiliated to the internal security forces, are still at large.
A source told Arab News that security forces are besieging a mountainous area in Al-Ammariya, about 35 kilometers northeast of the capital. The police have been hunting the suspects since they fled Wadi Hanifa two weeks ago, abandoning their truck.
Yes it's that same old siege, same old group of terrorists. (I must admit I had a shudder when I saw that headline. "Band of Terrorists"? Like "Band of Brothers"? Are we working up to a mini-series here? Is this a replay of "Bastogne", sand instead of snow. "Hey, Abdullah, got any scissors?") Anyway, I can see why Saud Al-Faisal is annoyed. The Western media obviously want some gung-ho bunch of Marines to go in there, shoot first, ask questions later, after all it's a barren area, no civilians, what's the problem? They don't understand the Eastern mind. We are subtle. We are infinitely patient. Our ancestors would wait for a week under a palm until the dates were fully ripe. There's no point in rushing. It takes 406 days to make a baby camel, no matter how much you wave your stick. God does things in his own good time, and so will we.
Anyway, Prince Nayif has explained our latest tactics. First we surround them. Then we completely surround them. Then we keep them there until they:
1. Who are you? I am a Saudi, living in Riyadh. I am married (to my one and only ever wife), have a family, a Filipino maid, and a driver (her husband). Beyond that, I am not prepared to disclose.
2. Is that your photo? No, it's a little joke of mine, but you'd have to live here to appreciate it. And he's not a Religious Policeman, although he looks like one.
3. Why The Religious Policeman? Because, in my opinion, the Religious Police epitomize what is wrong with my country at present. They combine religious fanaticism and intolerance with the apparatus of a police state. They are recruited from the dregs of society, yet they presume to tell other God-fearing people how to conduct their religious lives. They killed innocent young lives in Makkah, yet they were never held to account.
4. Why are you publishing a Blog? I'm a great believer in the Internet, and in the power of information to cast a light into the darker corners of our world. I'm addressing an English-speaking audience, in the hope that they will recognize that on the whole we are good folk, just like anyone else, but caught between an ultra-conservative Royal dictatorship on one side, and terrorists on the other. I am hopeful that this will inform their opinions of us. I would also like to encourage my fellow-countrymen to become fellow-bloggers as well.
5. Is it dangerous to do this? The ruling elite would not look kindly upon my efforts. If found out, I would certainly lose my job, as already happens to those who publish critical letters in the press. I might also become a guest of Prince Nayif, until I "got my mind right". However I'm not a super-hero; if I suspect that a net is closing, then I will cease blogging.
6. How do you avoid being intercepted? All Saudi ISP's are connected to the outside world thru a bank of servers in the KACST (King AbdulAziz City of Science and Technology), where no doubt much listening goes on. However, like many Saudis, I illegally use a satellite link for my connexion. This materializes who-knows-where in the wider Internet. Maybe there is also some form of relay involved. Who knows?
7. Where did you learn to speak such good English? Thank you, very kind of you to say so. I was educated both in the UK and the USA. God also gave me the gift of being a linguist; indeed, I would go so far as to say that I am a language "geek". I could make myself sound like most Arabs speaking in English, simply by missing out "the", "a" and "an" all the time, but that would offend my sense of perfection. I suppose I am also a bit of a mimic. In addition, learning English exposed me to a whole world of literature, from Shakespeare thru Tolstoy (in translation) to Garrison Keillor and all points between, not to mention all those movies, not to mention the trashiest bits of 21st century popular culture.
8. What did you study abroad? That would be a giveaway! However in the UK I learnt to speak correctly, to be polite, and never to smile when making a joke. In the USA I learnt to misspell ;-), to question and challenge, and that people only get the respect they deserve.
9. Are you really a Saudi and a Muslim? Well, perhaps I am like that dog in the cartoon. Perhaps you all are, as well. Perhaps all the humans are doing what they should do, not being on the internet, but spending time with their families. Saudis are in the best position to judge from my writings, whether I am genuine or not. However one did write to me, but was obviously ambivalent. He said that I was a disgrace to my Country and my Tribe, but that I wasn't a Saudi at all!
I am a Muslim. I am also deeply religious, in that I feel the presence of God all around. However I would feel more comfortable as a Muslim in other countries where they have a more relaxed, but no less holy, approach to their religious life. I also believe that whatever we call Him, we all worship the same God, and he requires us to love one another. I am not going to kill you because you read from a different book.
10. Will you reply to emails? As I was taught at school, I will aim to reply to every letter I get. I will even answer simple questions if they are not too taxing. However I will not answer detailed lists of questions, but may address them in subsequent posts, as the opportunity arises. And I will not enter into an exchange of correspondence, so that I do not reveal any further personal information.
It's always an awsome sight when the Imams and religious thinkers of our country start rubbing their two brain cells together, in the hope of igniting a spark. It is just dawning on them that having half the population's faces covered by a veil, might just be a security threat.
SAUDI scholars, Imams and women say that unveiling in critical situations is appropriate, and called for establishing policewomen sections within existing male departments to help foil terrorists who disguise themselves in Abayas.
Tareq Al-Hawass, a professor at Shariah College in Dammam, believes that Islam does not prohibit a woman from unveiling her face if the necessity arises and for the sake of proving her identity to a policeman at a checkpoint.
.....At the same time, according to Alabedeen, there is no Islamic script or verse that shows veiling as obligatory in Islam. We (Saudi) are the only Muslims who cover their faces, she said
Citing verses from the Holy Qur an in addition to other sayings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Zain Alabedeen said, Unveiling has become a necessity that women have to do.
One small step for man. However, "terrorists in drag" are not going to be so cooperative as to present themselves at checkpints. They're going to be dressed as regular guys. They will slip into their abaya and veil, and strap on their explosives, when they approach their target. So how about abolishing the abaya and the veil altogether?
Too radical? OK, wait until the next suicide bombing in the teeming alleys of Batha in Riyadh, or Balad in Jeddah. Then realise that every other person is a potential bomb. The coin will then start to drop.
Can someone tell me why I always hurt you
'Cause honestly, I just dont understand
You would've given me the world, if i asked
But now I'll never have that chance again
Prince Nayif, the Interior Minister, has always been a Justin Timberlake fan. And inspired by this song, he has come up with a new weapon in the War Against Terrorism - Contrition. We've tried shooting them. We've tried surrounding them. Now we're asking them to say "Sorry".
RIYADH (AFP) - Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz held the door open for Islamist extremists to disown violence while reiterating that the kingdom was determined to eradicate terrorism.
"For whoever seeks safety, the door is open for him to come and say 'I was wrong'," Nayef said during a visit of condolence to the family of one of the five people killed in a car bomb that devastated a security forces building in Riyadh Wednesday.
(I knew he was Nayif, but I didn't know he was naive. Boom, boom.)
One day, when they make the film of all this, this will be the last scene. Bin Laden (played by the tall and slightly goofy John Cleese) is sobbing in the arms of Prince Nayif (played by Jack Nicholson, teetering on the edge of dementia). His shoulders heave with remorse, tears run down his long beard and drip onto his AK47. "I'm so s..s..sorry" howls Bin Laden, "I n...n...never meant to become a terrorist. I always wanted to b..b..become an Imam, but my IQ was over 30. Will you ever forgive me?"
"Bin Inluff" replies the Prince.
"Bin Inluff?" asks Bin Laden, "My name's not Bin Inluff, it's Bin Laden!"
"I know" says the Prince, "Bin Inluff is an old Arabic saying. -
"Bin Inluff" means "Never Having to Say You’re Sorry"."
1. The only female faces that a Saudi boy will initially see, will be of those relatives that he cannot marry. So he will only see his Grandmother, his Mother, and his sisters. All the rest will be veiled in his presence. Eventually he will see his wife. However, first, he has to meet someone who will become his wife.
2. These restrictions make it difficult, or impossible, to meet a girl. Schools are single-sex. There are no social activities where they can meet (there are no social activities like cinema, dances, parties, bars, period.) If he goes to a shopping mall to pick one up, he’ll probably be barred entrance by a doorman. If he gets in and pursues some veiled lovely, (talk about a “blind date”!), he risks being picked up by the Religious Police and getting 100 lashes. He may get these lashes at the gate of his school, “pour encourager les autres”.
3. He therefore depends upon his family to provide an introduction. Let us be clear, this is an “arranged introduction”, not an “arranged marriage”, certainly not a “forced marriage”. He is free to say yes or no, in theory.
4. The Mother will typically look around for a suitable bride. Normally, she will tend to concentrate on her own family and tribe, hence the high incidence of genetic diseases in the Kingdom. If she is very enterprising, she will gatecrash someone’s wedding and look the young girls over.
5. When she locates a suitable girl, she will broach the subject with her family. They in turn will check out the boy, via contacts, particularly the Imam of his mosque. If all goes well, the boy is invited to meet the girl.
6. The meeting usually takes place at her house, with various female relatives in attendance, of course. The girl will, on this occasion, be unveiled. They will normally chat for 20 to 30 minutes. Although the occasion will be slightly inhibiting, this is what they will have to base their decision on. There is certainly no touching. This resolves the tricky issue of whether to “kiss on the first date”.
7. The boy goes away, and each makes their mind up. In exceptional circumstances, they may get together for a similar session again. They are then free to say yes or no. However Saudi mothers are a force to be reckoned with, and have a high personal investment in all this, so a “no” takes some courage and determination.
8. Assuming that both say “yes”, the marriage is arranged as soon as possible. There is no further contact, between boy and girl, no “courting” or “walking out”.
9. The actual wedding involves the signing of a contract by both parties. They may do this together, or on separate occasions. The boy provides a dowry, which may be money and / or gold / and / or other items. This becomes the girl’s own property, even if there is a subsequent divorce. A major inhibitor these days is the increasing dowry being asked for, which of course plunges the boy into debt from day one. Fathers of the bride are also becoming greedy and asking for things like a car for themselves as part of the dowry.
10. The wedding festivities, commonly referred to as the wedding, follow completion of the legal proceedings. Typically it takes place in a hotel or special function rooms, where the men and the women celebrate separately in different rooms. Therefore the men will not see the bride, nor the women the groom. Entertainment for the women is usually a singer or singing group. Entertainment for the men is usually musicians to accompany their dancing. The typical men’s’ dance is in 18/8 time*, arms interlinked, but sometimes with swords. Food is typically based around complete roast sheep on a bed of rice, preferably eaten with the hands. There is no liquor, but lots of fruit juices.
11. At a suitable point in the proceedings, man and wife meet in a separate room, and leave en route to their married life.
12. In the case of a man, this procedure may be repeated 3 more times. Any more, and he needs to start divorcing wives. However divorce for men is a simple legal procedure.
* For the musicians who were asking earlier, 18/8 is 18 eighth notes in a bar, in six groups of three. It is the same as a bar with six triplets. So it goes like
Daa-di-di Daa-di-di Daa-di-di Daa-di-di Daa-di-di Daa-di-di
and then onto the next bar. Each “Daa-di-di” lasts about a second and a half. It is a very leisurely dance, as appropriate for a country with daytime temperatures up to 50 celsius. There are no more than four separate notes in the whole bar. Most melodic interest occurs in the first 4 groups, the last 2 are anti-climactic. The idea, when dancing together with swords, is that for the first 4 groups you move to the centre of the circle and raise your sword; for the last two you retreat and give your arm a rest. It’s not particularly “catchy” but, like pool, it’s far more interesting to play oneself than to watch.
Apparently, they arrange weddings in exotic locations in many parts of the world including, so it seems, Saudi Arabia.
Mmmm. Perhaps the market in bridges and national monuments has gone a little quiet lately. Or perhaps they're only at the "conceptualization" stage at the moment, haven't worked thru all the cultural and legal issues yet. However, they are right about one thing, when they say, "A wedding in this dramatic country will be an unforgettable experience." This will be the itinerary...
Day 1. Fly to Jeddah. We'll get 3 hours to admire the beautiful Immigration Hall. Then Transfer to Hotel. (Please note that this hotel is "dry". However we recommend an early night. We have a busy day tomorrow!).
Day 2. Buffet Breakfast. Then transfer to the Corniche, Jeddah's beautiful seaside promenade. What a location! How you'll boast to your friends who only got married on Malibu Beach!
The service starts on the golden sands. Soon you will be man and wife. Of course, crowds of colorful locals willl gather round. They don't see many non-islamic ceremonies conducted in a foreign language. Look how they enjoy using their cellphones!
The traditional dancers arrive in their Suburbans! They are called "Muttawa" - in Arabic, that means "Men who love to dance and sing and bless your marriage". Their "Thobe" only goes down as far as the calf, for ease of movement, and they carry a ceremonial stick. See how they dance around and make strange cackling sounds. They come to link arms with you, they want you to join their dance!
Your Muttawa "Bridesmaids" escort you to their Suburbans. Transit to their traditional abode. You'll get to see the inside of a genuine Saudi building!
How they are curious in you and where you come from. Their questions never seem to end! And their rough horseplay! We must bear in mind that theirs is a different culture.
Day 3. Yet more questions! Think how you'll tell your friends back home about all the interesting conversations you had with the local people!
Day ?. Can these guys party! They call Jeddah "The City that Never Sleeps". And neither do we.
Day 14? The legal part of the ceremony takes place. There are lots of men in long beards, all talking in Arabic. Your marriage is legalized.
Day 15? Off to the Stag Party! We told you it was a different culture, everything is in a different order. The Hotel is huge, it's got a big wall so you don't lose any soccer balls. And all these guys at your party. Some of them look real ruffians! And the themed outfits for your party - it's called "convict - chic"!
Day 16? Hummus and Pitta Bread for every meal. Yumm.
Day 222? Hummus and Pitta Bread for every meal. Yumm.
Day 475? Hummus and Pitta Bread, with a "Cockroach Crouton". Yumm.
Day 1182? Hummus and Pitta Bread for every meal. Yumm.
The first was when King AbdulAziz, back in the last century, unified Saudi Arabia (or stole it from the Hashemites, depending on your point of view. However the victors write the history).
The second is starting now. Am I being over-dramatic? Some may think so. However I do not believe that I am.
Saudi Arabia has always nurtured religious extremists thru its Wahabbi state religion, its educational system, and its introverted attitude to the outside world. The advent of oil provided the finance for these extremists to practice what they preached.
At first they operated abroad, in Afghanistan, in Chechnya, in the Yemen. And we Saudis regarded them as brave adventurers, the late 20th century equivalent of volunteers in the Spanish Civil War.
Then came 9/11. It had become more serious. But Westerners were the target. And, at all levels, we never really condemned it. Indeed, many cheered.
Then they attacked within the Kingdom. But it was housing compounds, for Westerners. And, at all levels, we never really condemned it. And still many cheered.
Then they attacked more housing compounds. This time, Arabs, Muslims, got killed. So we didn't cheer. But they were Egyptians and Lebanese, so we didn't care that much.
Now, all of a sudden, they are attacking Saudis. OK, Saudis from the ruling tribes, part of the security forces. But we all look the same. And suddenly we are the targets. The terrorists are not going to leave us alone, because we're not part of the government apparatus. And now we are faced with the sudden realization that we should have done something about this a long time ago.
I've been reminded of the poem by Pastor Martin Niemoller
In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me —
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
A week ago we were all having a laugh at our "Keystone Cop" security forces, endlessly surrounding but never capturing. Now all mayhem has broken loose.
JEDDAH, 24 April 2004 — Residents of Abdulrahman Bin Khurash Street finally left their homes this morning to survey the damage done to their neighborhood in yesterday’s shootout between suspected militants and security forces.
“At about 10.15 last night the shooting started just down the street,” said Ali Al-Gurni, 23, a nurse. “I watched it from my balcony near the building where the terrorists were holed up. It lasted about 30 minutes, during which time a hand-grenade was tossed at the soldiers. During the fighting I saw a security officer get shot, shout out in pain and fall to the ground. The other soldiers evacuated him right away.”
RIYADH, 24 Apri 2004 — Although many people injured in Wednesday’s blast in Riyadh have returned home after hospitalization, several other family members still find it difficult to recover from the shock.
Yasser Kannan, who works for the King Faisal Specialist Hospital, was attending blast victims admitted to the hospital on Wednesday afternoon when he got a telephone call from his sister giving him the news that his own wife and child were injured in the attack.
So what word of comfort and encouragement do we have from our religious leaders?
JEDDAH, 24 April 2004 — Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, one of the imams of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, yesterday condemned the perpetrators of Wednesday’s car bomb attack in Riyadh as “outcasts and terrorists.”
.....“God will damn those who kill other Muslims, they will burn in hell,” he said.
EXCUSE ME? Are we only condemning those who kill Muslims? Is that why you said nothing after 9/11, and in May 2003, and November 2003? Now I have not had the benefit of an education at our finest theological college, but I can read what it says in the Quraan. And where it repeats Moses' (Mousa's) 7th Commandment, the unequivocal "Thou shalt not kill", it says in Surah 5 Verse 32
"Because of that We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or to spread mischief in the land, it would be as if he killed all mankind..."
Now that's a bit more qualified, but nowhere does it say that this applies to Muslims only. It applies to all mankind. So excuse me Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, and all the rest of your legalistic and sanctimonious breed, if I regard you as being the root cause of our present troubles. And I've no doubt that you wash your hands at least five times a day.
...and I've had a real usurge of it in the last few days. I want to say Thank You to everyone who has written with their thanks and their comments and their own insights. I've had two or three repeated questions that I will attempt to address in an FAQ in the next few days. In one or two cases, however, I've had a very detailed list of questions that took me back to that chilling day when I faced my first Final exam paper at college! Please don't think me rude, if we met on a plane somewhere I'd be very happy to have a long discussion, but I do have a day job, and a family, and a blog. Maybe we'll cover the points you raise in the weeks to come.
I'm off to a family wedding this weekend, away from my satellite internet link. So no more blogs for 2 days.
I enjoy a wedding. But I won't see the bride, and my wife won't see the groom. Men and women celebrate in separate rooms. The men link arms and dance to traditional tunes in 18/8 time. Everyone gets nostalgic for the old days in the tents in the desert, although no-one was around at the time. Nobody gets drunk.
By the time I get back, will they have caught those terrorists? The ones that are "completely surrounded"? I won't hold my breath.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - A man who shot and killed an acquaintance after an argument was beheaded Tuesday in one of two executions in Saudi Arabia, the Interior Ministry said.
In the second execution, Mohammed Wahab Rowaidad, a Pakistani, was beheaded in the western port of Jiddah for smuggling heroin into the country.
This is most unusual. Not beheading drug smugglers, but doing it on a Tuesday. They’re supposed to do it on a Friday, after Friday prayers. You go to Friday Prayers in the main mosque of a large city, and if you pray piously, Allah rewards you with a public execution in the square outside. But there’s nobody around on a Tuesday.
The thing we should face up to as Saudis is that Public Executions are “showbiz”. So we should do them properly. If we were the USA, with their “by invitation only” executions, we could afford to be low-key about the whole thing. But we’re not ashamed of having ours in public, so let’s do it with style.
At the moment what happens is that a couple of guys put down a big polythene sheet. Then the executioner arrives. Then the van arrives with the prisoner and his guard. They lead the prisoner to the center of the sheet and make him kneel. If the relatives of his victim want to pardon him, now is the time for them to shout, and he’s released, pays blood money instead. Otherwise the sword swings, head comes off, lots of blood, people faint, someone pukes. Body and head are taken away. Polythene sheet rolled up. All over.
That’s not really showbiz, is it? It’s obviously a ceremony designed by civil servants. It needs more “pazazz”. It needs to be more “Hollywood”.
1. It needs a compere. Someone sleazy, an arabic Jerry Springer
2. Then we need a “trailer-trash” audience. Oh, we’ve got that. They’re called “Bedu”, come in from the desert where they live in tents. So that’s OK.
3. There should be a warm-up act to get the audience going. Belly-dancers from the Lebanon would be good.
4. Then we need some mascots, like a European soccer match. Little boys, dressed up as executioners, with miniature swords, come on and have their photos taken. Their parents look on proudly with moist eyes.
5. Then, like a big boxing match, there should be some lesser events first. A couple of public floggings, for example, 100 lashes each, would go down well.
6. Then the compere should interview the families of the criminal and his victim. Cue poignant photo of criminal as young toddler playing with stuffed camel, home video of victim sitting with family. Sit them next to each other, maybe they’ll fight, like Jerry Springer’s show.
7. Then when the victim is marched in, they should play an appropriate song. Like the one by Gentle Giant
I lost my head, it was not easy,
unknown, unread, it wasn't easy,
and each day, each night,
wasn't wrong, nor right,
I can't remember what I said
I lost my head. Something the audience can clap to.
8. Then the audience can vote on whether the family will pardon the criminal. Then they can try and influence the family with their shouts – cries of “take the money!” and “chop the bastard!” build up to a crescendo.
9. Assuming no pardon, there’s a battery of stroboscopic lights and the sword swings. It’s magnified on a massive screen. There are endless replays from different angles. Then in slow motion. Two commentators, retired executioners, discuss the finer points of the swing. Sombre music plays as the corpse and head are removed. The lights dim. That’s it until the next time.
10. However, we’ll be showing highlights after the 9 o’clock news… Then there’s the “Executioner of the Year” awards in May. …..And don’t forget to watch “Favorite Execution Bloopers of all time”. ……….Buy “The 52 Executions of 2003” DVD Compilation……………..Visit the Executioner Hall of Fame…………………………..
.....I see something that makes me feel slightly optimistic. It shows that the good guys, for the moment at least, are in the ascendency over the bad guys. In this case, it's a very slight example of the Arab News and the arabic-language Eqtisadiah actually reporting some minor corruption.
MADINAH, 20 April 2004 — The son of traffic director Col. Siraj Abdul Rahman Kamal was arrested here last week during a security check on charges of driving a Traffic Department car without a license.
The inspection team took the boy to the police station to complete the report and impounded the car. A source claimed that the boy was released 10 minutes after his arrest because of his father’s position, something that upset several citizens and other officials.
It's basically the story of an official telling a string of lies in order to get his son off a criminal charge, but being "found out". Mild stuff, you may think. But in Saudi Arabia it's "pushing the envelope" just that little bit. Why?
- because in the normal course of events, the Traffic Chief father would have got away with it, the officials would have closed ranks.
- the newspapers would not normally report such a story of official corruption.
So maybe there's hope. On the other hand, it could just be someone settling a score.
It also illustrates the nature of corruption in our country. Of course we have financial corruption, but probably less than in most arab countries. Our main corruption is the favor shown to family, extended family, and tribe.When you want some government approval or licence, choose your official carefully, make sure he's "one of yours", then go and see him personally, it'll sail thru, regardless of merit. But if it ends up with a guy from the wrong tribe, forget it. You'll wait months and years.
JEDDAH, 4 April 2004 — Legal or not, mobile phones with cameras are alive and well in the Kingdom. They are openly on sale in phone souks and freely available over the counter in branded stores. To add to the confusion, the technically illegal Samsung E 700 is even advertised on a main thoroughfare in Jeddah.
The authorities are reacting.
Al-Yaum Arabic daily recently reported that a college student was expelled in the Eastern Province for taking pictures of her friends with her mobile phone camera on campus and distributing them via the Internet.
Mobile phones are legal. Camera phones are not. OK, you say, but camera phones are a minority, what's the problem?
The problem is the march of technology. Ten years ago, PC's had floppy discs and big cubic screens; now CD-RW and flatscreens are becoming the norm. In 5 to 10 years time, all phones will be camera phones, it'll be the standard. So will the muttawa try and ban all phones in Saudi Arabia? It'd be like trying to take an American's gun, or an Englishman's dog. Arabs in general, and Saudis in particular, live for their mobile phones, in a way that other parts of the world would not understand. And we are physically incapable of ignoring our phone when it rings.
Let me illustrate with 3 incidents from the last 4 weeks.
1. My wife and I went out for dinner in the Italian restaurant in the Sheraton. At one point I looked across at a booth where another Saudi couple were holding an animated conversation. However they didn't quite seem "in sync". That's because they were each talking to two other people on their phones.
2. A Saudi was giving a presentation at my place of employment. Screen, PC projector, Powerpoint, the whole thing. Then his phone rang. He didn't switch it off, he answered it. Just as well, it was his Mother! We sat listening for 5 minutes while he explained why he'd not been to see her for two days. I have to say, some of his excuses were ingenious, I'll use them myself sometime. Finally he resumed his presentation, without an apology.
3. I have an Arab (non-Saudi) colleague who is divorced and a womaniser. He actually goes out in Riyadh in an evening and picks up women. How? I haven't a clue, but it's very risky, to say the least. Anyway one lunchtime I had to get in touch with him urgently, so I called his mobile. After 4 rings it answered. The person at the other end of the line was obviously having trouble getting his breath; in fact it sounded like a terminal asthma attack. All I could hear was gasping and wheezing. Then I realized what the "problem" was, asked him to call me back, and quickly put the phone down. I was clearly more embarrassed than he was.
So that's an idea of the priority that we attach to our phones. And when the day dawns that all phones are camera phones, and the Muttawa try to confiscate them, that'll be the day that the revolution starts. You heard it on this blog first.
penned by the illustrious Raid Qusti, whose memorable "Al-Qaeda Plot Foiled" news item on 8th May 2003 was followed 4 days later by major explosions in 3 housing compounds.
RIYADH, 19 April 2004 — Eight terror suspects linked to violent clashes with security forces in the capital over the past week have been arrested, an Interior Ministry statement said yesterday.
“Security personnel were able to track down those who took part in the recent heinous acts and who are followers of a devious ideology, and located their hideouts and smoked them out of their holes,” the Saudi Press Agency quoted the statement as saying.
The ministry did not say when or where the suspects were arrested, adding, “In the interest of the ongoing investigation, it is necessary not to mention the identities” of those arrested “or the roles they played.”
So no details of who, when or where. Why not? In these cases we usually get mugshots plastered all over the papers, and quotes from families saying "they used to be good boys, always kind to their Mother, then they got religious and went off to Afghanistan" or some such nonsense. Call me a cynic, or has this come from the Ministry of Truth's "Good News, not necessarilly 100% correct, maybe even fabricated, but it's good for morale" Department?
Meanwhile, the second piece of news concerns those terrorists who, two days ago, "had managed to flee into “deeper grounds”, up north-west of Riyadh.
Someone asked about this person yesterday, who has apparently been re-arrested, having been held without charge for some years earlier. To be honest I'd not heard of him, and this is not the sort of country where you just walk into the Police Station and ask about political prisoners that they are holding. However I did turn this up:
Finally, I advise myself and my Muslim brothers with the fear of Allah in secret and in open, to increase in supplications and humble themselves before Allah. Perhaps Allah may accept our repentance, relieve our calamity and release our imprisoned brothers from the hands of the Americans and their agents, especially the two Sheikhs, Umar Abdur-Rahman and Saeed bin Zuair, and our brothers in Guantanamo Bay
so we know who his friends are. As the saying goes, "With friends like that, who needs enemies?"
It's a reminder that the House of Saud actually faces opposition from both sides. On the one hand are those who would like to introduce decadent Western concepts such as democracy, civil rights, womens' rights, religious freedom etc. On the other hand there are those who think that the government is "too soft", and that Saudi Arabia should become more like Talibaan Afghanistan. Perhaps we could have a vote?
After all the Police screw-ups of the last few days, they find the "Missing GMC". They've been looking for the "Missing GMC", supposedly full of explosives, since February. There was a 7m Riyal ($2m) reward for reporting it. But nobody spotted it. Then it suddenly turns up in Riyadh, the day after the latest Police debacle. So the Police are doing their job after all. What a stroke of good fortune!
RIYADH, 18 April 2004 — An explosives-laden 1991 GMC Suburban wanted by the Ministry of the Interior since February has been found in the Al-Sulai district in south Riyadh, the Saudi Press Agency said yesterday.
The ministry in February put out a warrant for the dark gray truck saying the vehicle was “loaded with explosives that could be used in a terrorist attack” and posting an SR7 million reward for information leading to its seizure.
The GMC was last spotted in Al-Rabwa district in February
It's curious, though, that there's no picture of the GMC. There's a photo of "Locals inspect the spot" where it was found abandoned
but no police tape or forensic teams still combing the area, considering the clues that might be found nearby. And the "mystery Egyptian", who said "“The GMC has been parked there for the past three days. Every day as I would stroll around the area I would see it there... but I never got close to it because I was afraid it was stolen or something,” - but he never reported it, for a potential 7m SR reward?. That reward has been the talk of the city, it's a fortune by anybody's standards, I thought every GMC in Saudi Arabia had been reported to the Police by now, no harm in trying, but it never occured to the "mystery Egyptian" to call it in. Perhaps he's a multi-millionaire already, doesn't need to bother.
So excuse me a little scepticism about this item. The Police desperately need a snippet of good news, maybe the Saudi Ministry of Truth (aka Saudi Press Agency) just created one for them.
RIYADH, 17 April 2004 — Two terrorists who shot dead a security officer Wednesday gave police the slip again late Thursday night.
Police patrol cars sweeping the rugged area of Wadi Hanifa near Al-Oyaynah, 45 km northwest of Riyadh, spotted the suspects who had killed an officer of the Al-Mujahedeen units and wounded his colleague.
The suspects, who were hiding in a cave in the valley, were spotted by security officers using night vision binoculars, sources told Arab News.
So they've been spotted, covertly. Taking them should be simple, shouldn't it?
Security officers then sealed several ways into the area and waited for backup.
Great. Now they're sealed in, and we've got backup. Now we go and get them?
However, when orders to engage arrived the suspects had managed to flee into “deeper grounds”, according to a security source.
Damn! They've used "The Ring" again. "Deeper grounds" means "Middle Earth"? Or does it mean that they moved further away? Well, that shouldn't matter, should it, we've got them surrounded.
Due to the rugged terrain, security officers were unable to follow in their cars.
Holy Warrior, Batman! We went to all the trouble of setting up a cordon, and bringing in backup, but we never thought of that! We are the laziest nation of car-users. We'd rather park 4-deep outside a shop, blocking the entire road, than park round the corner and walk 10 meters. Never expect our police to venture too far from their car. I don't suppose there were any shawarma shops out in the wadi either, another reason to stay put. But it's jolly unfair of those terrorist-chappies to go so far from a road, it "just is'nt cricket".
The search for the suspects continued throughout Friday on foot and with Civil Defense helicopters.
Good move! Don't creep up on them as soon as you spot them at night. Wait until daylight, give them time to "vanish", then go in with helicopters so they can hear you coming ten kilometers away.
There are some scurrilous suggestions that the security forces don't want to catch the terrorists. How could people say such a hurtful thing?
There were no terrorist shoot-outs here yesterday, Alhamdulillah (Thanks be to God), as we say here. However there is a deep sense of unease and tension in the air, because these incidents have always in the past been followed by a terrorist attack. The US Embassy is well aware, and is evacuating its staff.
The US government has issued a travel warning advising US citizens to leave Saudi Arabia.
The warning said US officials had received recent and credible information that terrorist attacks were being planned in the country.
All non-essential US diplomats and all diplomats' family members have been ordered to leave, and private citizens are strongly urged to depart.
In the past, these attacks have been against Western housing compounds. Paradoxically, these were intended to provide security to Westerners; however they result in concentrating all the targets in one place. As a Western colleague said, "It's like being in the film "Zulu", and we're just waiting for the hordes to come pouring over the walls". A bit over-dramatic, perhaps, but I can understand his basic concern.
Not that the rest of us can feel any more relaxed. Al Qaeeda like high-profile targets, and what could be more high profile than the Faisaliah and Kingdom towers in Riyadh?
So for the next few days we'll avoid the shops in the base of those towers, or indeed anywhere within the "collapse radius". We'll go shopping in the less fashionable areas that hopefully don't present such an interesting target.
First Interactive TV, now the Interactive Execution
Well, it's the other way round, actually. Interactive executions came first.
It works like this. If the person is being executed for murder, and you are a close relative of the victim, you can pardon the murderer and opt for "blood money" instead. And you can do that at any point up to the swing of the sword blade.
RIYADH, 15 April 2004 — A security officer was shot dead and another wounded by gunmen who opened fire on their patrol yesterday at Shoaib Al-Haysa near the entrance of Wadi Al-Hanifa on the outskirts of Al-Uyaynah town, 45 kilometers northwest of Riyadh, security sources said.
The patrol, carrying members of the “Al-Mujahedeen”, a unit affiliated to the internal security forces, came under fire from gunmen in a white Mitsubishi pickup at around 2 p.m., the sources said. One security man — Naif Al-Otaibi — was killed and another — Bujaid Al-Otaibi — was injured.
You'll notice that they brought in a "crack" unit - “Al-Mujahedeen" - "The Holy Warriors". So what was the outcome this time?
1. The terrorists were riddled with bullets, like the ending of "Bonnie and Clyde"?
2. The terrorists surendered, begged the King for pardon, and promised to lead quiet lives in future as good citizens running carpet shops and dry cleaners?
3. The terrorists escaped?
No prizes for guessing. Perhaps they possess the "Lord of the Rings" ring, so they can just vanish when they choose.
Significantly, our brave press are not commenting on this series of debacles. It would be too difficult to avoid even hinting at collusion and misplaced loyalties. Crown Prince Abdullah must be a very worried man, wondering just who will back him when push comes to shove.
MADINAH, 14 April 2004 — Police in Madinah arrested an 18-year-old man in woman’s dress including a veil in a Madinah shopping center. Al-Madinah reported that people noticed strange movements and felt the person was not walking like a woman. His arms were also noticed to be hairy. People said the person was following women and annoying them. The police were called and they arrested the man saying that he might be mentally ill.
The thing about wearing an abaya and a veil, it could be anybody in there. It could be Hulk Hogan. It could be Osama Bin Laden. It could be Clyde, the Orang Utang. Just don't show your hairy arms.
As for the man's mental health, I agree. Any Saudi man who would rather be treated like a Saudi woman, is by definition nuts.
BURAIDAH/RIYADH, 14 April 2004 — Four policemen were killed in a series of clashes with suspected terrorists on the Riyadh-Qasim Highway yesterday as security officers defused two truck bombs that were ready to be used in attacks in the capital.
The Interior Ministry confirmed the death of the four policemen in machine-gun fire and said the attacks were carried out by “members of a deviant minority”, a veiled reference to Al-Qaeda sympathizers.
........The gunmen fled in the patrol car, which was spotted by police helicopters when they discovered the two car bombs, the source said.
Their escape car was spotted by a helicopter, in the middle of the desert, yet somehow it got away. How? Did it camouflage itself as a camel? For many of us, this incident is like watching a rerun of a bad movie; always the ending is the same - the terrorists escape. And many of us believe that we are witnessing a "fault line" between the relatively moderate policies of Crown Prince Abdullah, and the darker motives of other members of the Royals, and parts of the security forces themselves, who would like to see the terrorists succeed. And it's very scary.
Am I being paranoid?. Judge for yourself. Here's where it all started, about a year ago.
Suspected Arab extremists being hunted by Saudi security forces in the Kingdom.
RIYADH, 8 May 2003 — A group of Arab extremists who had been planning terrorist attacks in the Kingdom is being hunted down in a densely populated district of the capital following a shootout with security forces raiding its hide-out, according to the Interior Ministry.
If ever a journalist regretted a headline, it must be Mr Raid Qusti. Because 5 days later, the same terrorist group blew up three separate housing compounds in Riyadh, killing a large number of Westerners and Arabs; the plot wasn't foiled, perhaps just delayed. The article describes the raid on their safe house, and another miraculous escape. Police surrounded their hideout, there was a firefight and all 19 of them slipped thru the cordon. How do 19 people escape from a building surrounded by police? Draw your own conclusions.
RIYADH, 13 April 2004 — A security officer was killed and a militant gunned down during a clash in an eastern neighborhood of Riyadh yesterday evening, an Interior Ministry official said.
Four other security personnel sustained minor injuries during the shootout in the Al-Faiha district, the Saudi Press Agency quoted him as saying.
Later police tried to track down three other suspected militants who fled, witnesses said.
The photograph shows the district being surrounded by soldiers. Yet some of the terrorists escaped. What remarkable luck, and what a coincidence. That seems to happen every time. There are unkind suggestions that some sections of the Police, and indeed of the Royal family, are sympathetic.
The Religious Police are colloquially known as the Muttawa, although that term also refers to anyone who is "very religious". Their full title is "General Presidency of the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vices". I doubt whether George Orwell could have thought of a better title. Here is their logo, on the door of a Suburban.
They can be recognised by their long beards and knee-length tunics (Thobes) that reveal rather skinny and unattractive legs. They also carry a short cane-like stick. They are often accompanied by a policeman. They have no power of arrest themselves, hence the accompanying policeman. However, once you are arrested, you can be detained and interrogated in their own premises.
They are often recruited from Theology College graduates who fail to get jobs as Imams. Another source of recruitment is "born-again" prisoners. Overall, they are not credited with virtue, judgement or intellect. Without an accompanying policeman, they are not physically formidable. In fact, when they start yelling at you to go to prayer or cover your wife's face, the temptation to smack them in the face is almost overwhelming.
At the time of the first Gulf War, they would target female GI's when they came into town. Their male colleagues (or occasionally the female GI's themselves) would often dump them into a nearby fountain or rubbish skip. The muttawa were tactically withdrawn from the major cities for a time, to avoid further incidents and damage to fountains.
They once arrested the wife of an African ambassador, and her driver, in the Al Faisaliyah shopping mall in Riyadh, accusing her of being a "prostitute" out with a "John". She was detained for several hours. They ignored the diplomatic passport she was carrying. A major diplomatic incident was avoided when the government apologised and promised to build another mosque in the country concerned.
A Canadian expat was walking with his wife in one of the shopping malls. The wife was pregnant, and carrying a small toddler in one arm. As a result of holding the toddler, her robe (Abaya) was lifted up at the side, revealing 3" of leg. A muttawa came up and remonstrated, and hit her on the bare ankle with his stick to make his point. The Canadian gentleman flattened him, breaking his jaw and knocking out several teeth in the process. The Canadian Embassy were involved. It was conceded that the Muttawa had overstepped his authority, but the family had to return to Canada.
The wife of the Commander of the US base south of Riyadh, was walking in the souk in central Riyadh. A pair of Marine "minders", in plain clothes, were walking some yards behind. A muttawa moved across to start to remonstrate with her. He suddenly found himself enveloped by one Marine, as the other led the lady back to their car. The muttawa was upended and thrown onto his back, severely winding him. He's probably still trying to figure out what happened.
The government studiously avoids commenting on Iraq. Indeed, Saudi Arabia lent some airfields to the coalition 12 months ago. But thay also keep their options open - the major Imams, who are on the government payroll, are recruiting fresh meat for the Jihad.
A fairly innocuous title, you may think. Just another rant against the US. But look at some of the detail.
Comparing US actions akin to Persians in history at the dawn of Islam, Al-Jubairah believed that the United States would end up in the trashcan of history after experiencing defeat in Iraq.
I can t tell you how to help your fellow Muslims. I can t ask you to go for Jihad because taking the Jihad decision is not in my hand. Also, I can t ask you to send money because we don t know who will take the money and where they will spend it on. America has closed all doors and all the ways between our beloved ones and us. But wait my brothers and sisters, wait, there is a path that America can t close: Allah s path .
Al-Jebairah feels that Muslims should support their Muslim brothers by prayers , weapons and awareness especially with regard to the plans that their enemies draw against them. He believes that Jihad [holy war] is the only security valve for Muslims to guarantee their security and dignity. Sa ad Al-Essa, Sheikh of a mosque in Al-Khobar, believes that what is happening in Iraq is something worth fighting for.
When both the Imams were asked about the reason behind the unison of the theme of their speeches and whether they received any government instruction in this regard, they denied any such thing
So now we're going to see more Saudi youth heading towards Baghdad, lambs to the slaughter. And the government pretend they have nothing to do with it.
King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh has a wonderful immigration hall. Palm trees, fountains, marble; you really want to linger there. And if you don't have a Saudi passport, you will. For up to 3 hours, if you're unlucky. It's our bureacracy at work. You'll get checked thru the computer, which is slow. And if the immigration guard takes a call on his mobile from a friend, you'll have to wait until he finishes. A consultant came to our company from Norway; he said he was held for 20 miinutes at the desk because the guy had never heard of his country, couldn't find it in the database.
Anyway, a common sight there is a 747-load of newly-arrived Indonesian housemaids, all sitting patiently on the floor, and being herded by a Saudi "agent". They've just arrived from some small village on some island, where they were dirt-poor and no doubt a burden on their family, to seek a new life and the opportunity to send money home. This will be their first sight of a modern city, a washing mashine, a cooker, an electric kettle. Typically their own accomodation will be a windowless corrugated-iron box on top of the roof of the house where they work. Imagine that in the summer! And when the family go out, they are locked inside.
It is estimated that within 12 months, 20 - 30 % will have escaped. Why? A combination of 3 reasons:
- They never got paid. They got fed and housed, but not paid.
- the woman of the house got irritated at her slowness, and started hitting her. Or maybe she didn't need an excuse. Then the children join in.
- the man of the house, or the son, or both, raped her. Maybe she got pregnant, and was thrown out. Maybe she decided to get out before that happened.
So there's a stream of escaping housemaids. Where do they go?. Well, not the Indonesian Embassy, they're too craven towards the "Land of the Two Holy Mosques", looking out for the next handout so they can build another mosque. Some just move on to another household. Some are very lucky and fall in with unofficial charities that provide a safe house, somewhere to have the baby, and a ticket home. And some are not so lucky...
JEDDAH, 11 April 2004 — Police have arrested more than 40 men and women of different nationalities for allegedly running a brothel, Al-Watan reported yesterday.
The arrests were made in cooperation with officials of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice after a number of suspicious activities had been observed.
The alleged prostitutes, mostly Indonesians, were using flats in a residential building in Al-Salama neighborhood, the paper said. Police raided the building and arrested men and women suspected of engaging in immoral activity.
Initial investigations showed that an Indonesian woman was employing runaway maids in the business. According to a police official, the majority of those arrested were women.
Note the slightly sanctimonious tone of the article; this is Third World nationals running a brothel, nothing to do with we Saudis. But this is a problem that we make, and for these poor women, prostitution is the end of the line.
It's another national disgrace. If we were any other country, there would be investigative newspaper articles and TV documentaries. But we keep it swept under the carpet.
JEDDAH, 10 April 2004 — Nine people died and huge numbers were injured in accidents after heavy rainfalls in Riyadh and Asir over the last three days, press reports said.
Civil Defense teams rescued a number of people caught up by rains on the Riyadh-Qasim Road, Al-Watan said yesterday. Many cars were held up by rainwater on the northern ring road, the eastern road and Sheikh Jaber Road, it added.
One man drowned in Thumama, north of Riyadh, the Arabic daily said, adding that four people were injured in a road accident on Al-Kharj Road.
In the Al-Rawabi neighborhood near Al-Sadhan Shopping Complex a woman died as a concrete pylon supporting a large billboard collapsed on her car. Four other cars which were parked nearby were also damaged in the incident.
Thankfully, we didn't get big hailstones. Sometimes they can be as big as golf balls, but we haven't had those for some years. You still see older cars driven around with "stippled" bodywork.
Drowning is quite common. There was a very bad case some years ago when a number of drivers sheltered from the rain, in a freeway underpass in Riyadh. Trouble is, the underpass started to fill with water, and the level kept rising. Eventually they had to try and swim for it, but they couldn't swim. Sadly they drowned.
The Prophet (pbuh) said that young men should learn to do 3 things - ride a horse, shoot an arrow, and swim. However there are no public baths or school swimming lessons, so that doesn't happen. The only way you'll get to swim is if you can afford to join one of the big hotel sports clubs and use their pool, but you'll see mostly western businessmen there. The 3 things that our youth learn are to drive badly, to sit and drink coffee, and to send text messages to their friends. If they get caught in a flood, they'll text for help.
MANAMA, 10 April 2004 — Some 600 kg of hashish on its way to Saudi Arabia was seized by Bahraini and Saudi authorities over the last few days in separate incidents.
Five Bahrainis were arrested, and Saudi police are searching for a Saudi suspect in connection with the seizure of hashish in two separate operations on Wednesday and Thursday.
Bahraini authorities arrested yesterday two Bahrainis on a boat heading to eastern Saudi Arabia.
The two were attempting to ship about 500 kg of hashish to a Saudi dealer.
There are probably two reasons why this drugs sweep took place. Firstly, this is Hash. Hash is the drug of choice for the poorer Third World nationals, not the harder drugs favored by the Princes and their customers. Secondly, the Bahrainis were onto it, so the Saudis could hardly ignore it.
The drugs that get thru are the harder drugs, much of it imported by Princes. When the Police pick up some poor user or minor dealer, they always say up-front that they're not going to plea-bargain in return for the names of those "higher up", simply because the chain would end up at a Prince, and closing in on a Prince would be a bad career move. Other individuals who smuggle are those with the Wasta (influence) and money to buy temporary blindness of customs and police. But if the wasta fails or a fix doesn't go thru, some poor Pakistani courier gets picked up at the airport and eventually has his head chopped off.
Like many Saudis, I like the occasional drink when I can get one. But I don't do drugs. If I want to enter a world of bizarre and strange fantasy, I go out of my front door.
Downing Street has declined to comment on remarks by Ken Livingstone that he longs for the day when the Saudi royal family are hanging from lamp-posts.
The anger, of course, comes from his political rivals who hope to become Mayor in the next election. Silence from the British Government, which is caught between the "rock" of its professed Human Rights policy and the "hard place" of its multi-billion British Aerospace contract with the Saudi Government.
I share his desire to see the royals go. However, what he proposes is not feasible:
1. Our lamp-posts are far too high. We don't have those quaint, 3-meter wrought-iron jobs they have in London Town.
2. Hanging is far too tame for the Saudi populace. You just wouldn't get the "bums on seats" to come and watch. We demand a victim, drugged into stupefaction, kneeling on a huge polythene sheet, a big black executioner, a rolling head and lots of blood. Anything else is not "good box office". Ask the French, they knew all about that.
Personally I don't favor capital punishment. These are my thoughts on how to deal with them.
1. King Fahd is so ga-ga and kept alive on medicines anyway, all you need to do is remove his intravenous Johnny Walker Red Label drip and he'll be gone.
2. Crown Prince Abdullah is a relatively humane man, I'd allow him exile in the South of France.
3. Prince Sultan could still fly in his Saudi Airline passenger jets. There's a vacancy for a "trolley-dolly".
4. Prince Nayif should sample his own penal system. The ladies' prison would be ideal.
5. For the other 4000, they'd have to work for a living, or run a business themselves, but no drugs and no booze. Then they'll slowly starve.
JEDDAH, 8 March 2004 — Police have arrested a former national soccer player suspected of planning to join militant groups fighting the US-led occupation forces in Iraq.
Sulaiman Al-Hudaithy, who a few seasons ago was a leading scorer with Jeddah’s Al-Ittihad football club and who has played in the national team, was detained here three months ago.
(Notice the 3-month delay between arrest and the news appearing. That's the legal "black hole" that people disappear into.)
Sulaiman is typical of many of our young men who become seduced by the glamor of "Jihad". Taught in school and mosque that the Jews and Infidels are the enemy, often unemployed, they long for the opportunity to go and fight. Not in Saudi Arabia, too many security forces. (Did you know that the National Guard, the "praetorian guard" of the Royal Family, is actually larger and better-equipped than the regular Saudi Army?). So, like the idealistic young men and women who went off to the Spanish Civil War, they they go off to some Muslim trouble-spot. Afghanistan used to be the destination of choice. They could strut around, lording it over the local populace, and blowing up Buddhas. Chechnya was also very popular. The "elite", of course, got to fly aeroplanes on 9/11. Now it's Iraq. They'll go and get killed for some cause they only half-understand, to satisfy the power lust of some Imam.
One of the quotes is very revealing:
“Even after he became very religious, there was no change in his customs,” he said.
In other parts of the world, "becoming religious" might mean that you enter a monastery, become a missionary, run a soup-kitchen for the homeless. Out here, it means that you grow your beard long and set off to join the Jihad.
JEDDAH, 8 March 2004 — Interior Minister Prince Naif has called upon prison wardens in various parts of the country to treat their prisoners well and exert greater efforts to ensure better management of prisons.
The mind boggles. Does that mean they'll change the bedclothes at least once a month? Will the prisoners get to select their own cockroaches to add to their food? Will they just tickle the soles of their feet when they are upside down?
Here's just a short list of what prisoners would like:
- a defined length of sentence, with published conditions for parole.
- visiting rights for families
- access to lawyers
- decent food, minus cockroaches
- decent clean bedding
- books and writing materials
- air conditioning (particularly when the temperature gets near 125)
and after that we'll start to talk about occupational traininng etc.
TURAIF, 7 March 2004 — An old man from Turaif province died on his wedding night. According to one of his relatives who spoke to Okaz, the old man had taken Viagra on his wedding night and probably died as a result. The relative said that the old man suffered from both high blood pressure and diabetes.
It's not the disgusting old paedo that I reported about on March 19th, it would have been poetic justice for him.
May God grant that, if I reach old age, with blood pressure and diabetes, I take pleasure in being surrounded by my children and grandchildren, rather than going out in pursuit of wife number 17.
Well actually the first women drivers were shortly after the Gulf War. They'd seen women GI's driving around, and thought, "Why not me?". Why not, indeed. So a group of them went out in a convoy. And got pulled over, of course. Then their husbands, fathers or other "responsible male" were pulled in. The women were only released when the men agreed to sign a form that they (i.e. the women) would not do it again (you see, women have few legal rights or obligations in their own name). Reputedly, these males then lost their jobs, although I haven't been able to verify that myself.
DAMMAM, 7 March 2004 — A 60 year-old Saudi woman was compelled to pay a traffic violation for driving without license, Al-Watan reported. She had to pay the fine in order to renew her passport. The authorities refused to renew her passport until the fine had been paid. Her husband finally decided to pay the SR100 fine because he saw no reason to waste time going back and forth between the traffic department and the passport office.
How did this happen? Well, let me not slur the honor of our shawarma warriors, the Police, but they have been known to enter details of traffic offences into the Offences database without talking to the driver or issuing them a ticket. And they don't guarantee to get the right registration number. And the first that person knows about it is when they go to the airport. They are informed at the passport check that they have an outstanding violation, and may not leave the country until the fine is paid. Bit of a bummer if you were due to fly to the USA and it's Wednesday night, the start of the weekend, and you won't be able to get it sorted until Saturday. But you shouldn't live in Saudi Arabia if you don't have a sense of humor.
So I guess that's what happened to this poor lady. Wrong vehicle, wrong name. But it's always better just to pay the money than try and get it rectified thru the Civil Service, especially if you're the "wrong tribe". Who knows, next time they get booked for real, maybe some other poor sucker will pick up their fine.
When satellite TV first appeared in the world, the Saudi religious establishment realized that this was a BAD THING. Sources of corruption such as pornography, Christianity, and democracy could be introduced. So they banned it. Policemen even went around shooting at dishes on peoples' roofs. However the satellite mix of cheap and trashy Lebanese entertainment plus endless Hollywood reruns plus some real news from CNN was too much of a temptation. The rooftops of Saudi cities are a forest of dishes. But it's still illegal, in theory. And of course the royals get in on the act. Shaikh Walid al-Ibrahim, owner of MBC (Middle East Broadcast Company) is a brother-in-law of King Fahd.
When the Internet first appeared in the world, the Saudi religious establishment realized that this was a BAD THING. Sources of corruption such as pornography, Christianity, and democracy could be introduced. So they banned it. However that wasn't so simple. It gradually dawned upon the great and the good that the Internet was going to be very important to business, and we are desparate to get into the WTO. So they agreed, finally in 1999, to introduce it in a way that could be controlled.
All the Saudi ISP's connect to a massive bank of servers run by KACST, the King AbdulAziz City for Science and Technology. They can therefore screen everything that goes in or out, and stop the "wicked" sites from being seen. Try and go to a porno site, and a big ugly screen will pop up, telling you that access has been prohibited. As technology goes, it's not bad. However it will often block innocuous sites. I was once trying to access a French realtor site, because I wanted to rent a villa for a vacation. This screen popped up. However the screen does have an email contact for reporting mistaken blockings. I duly sent off my report. Four years later, and I'm still waiting for the reply.
So the obvious way to get round this nonsense was to get a direct satellite link. They're very popular in the Western housing compounds. And increasingly, groups of neighbours will set one up and pool it. We reckon it's pretty secure, it's just one dish among thousands. And of course that's what I use. I cannot believe that the government do not listen into everything going thru KACST. But if I ever think that the vultures are circling, I'll close down.
You will remember from yesterday's item that "The Saudi government does not have a policy of religious discrimination against anyone"; Prince Sultan ibn Salman assured us that this was so. Here is a very recent news item to illustrate the man's credibility.
March 31, 2004. The Washington-DC based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC) www.persecution.org, has just become aware that on Thursday, March 25th, 2004, Mr. Brian O'Connor, a Christian ex-pat Indian national, was arrested by the Muttawa (religious police) on the streets of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. ICC is being told from a highly reputable source that the Muttawa abducted, imprisoned, and tortured him in a Mosque. Mr. O’Connor is presently being held at the Olaya police station in Riyadh.
Mr. O’Connor has received visitors and has communicated that his legs were chained and he was hung upside down and “they played football with me”. “The Muttawa came in turns of fours and kicked me in the chest and rib area, and this continued up to 2 AM on Friday morning”. He also says that he was whipped on his back and the soles of his feet by electrical wires and is in much pain as he walks. He also reports that he is in intense pain, and thinks that a rib may be broken.
The police at the Olaya police station state that he is being held on account of preaching Christianity, drug related charges, and for selling liquor. They went on to add that these charges were brought up by the Muttawa, and they have no direct proof of the claims made by them. It is typical for charges of drug dealing to be leveled at Christians suspected of spreading the Gospel. The Police also stated that the Muttawa were the ones who interrogated him and not the Police themselves. The Muttawas have informed Brian that he is to be formally charged on these 3 points and will be taken to court where the case would take about 6 to 7 months before a verdict is issued.
Brian O’Connor is known to be an upstanding citizen in the community and is a Christian. It is not known yet if the Muttawa have forced him to sign documents of admission to the crimes he is charged with. It has been common practice in Saudi that during torture, the Muttawas force Christians to sign documents in Arabic, which they were told are release papers. Later, they find out that they signed documents admitting to crimes of drug trafficking, etc…
ICC is very concerned that the Saudi’s, who claim to be the United States’ partners in the war on terror, have continued to imprison, torture and deport expatriate Christians workers in Saudi Arabia. We are asking that the United States take serious action in demanding not only the release of Brian, but a formal apology be made, and the immediate reinstatement to his position with Saudi Airlines. We are also very concerned about his present physical condition and are asking for an immediate report on his health, confirmed by a doctor.
This is fairly typical of the behavior of the Religious Police. It doesn't say what they picked him up for - no doubt it's one of the items I listed yesterday. The style of torture is also fairly typical; note that it takes four of them at a time to do it. Whilst some of the Muttawa are Theology graduates, others are actually ex-prisoners and ex-criminals who have "seen the light".
Let us all, of whatever faith, pray to our one God that this man is soon released from his ordeal.