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.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Two Princes discuss the interview 

King Abdullah and Prince Naif are sitting in the King's "Home Cinema". The King has the remote in his hand, and keeps playing and rewinding bits of the "Saudi King Abdullah Talks to Barbara Walters" interview. On the table between them stands a bottle of Jack Daniel's Master Distiller, with a gift label that says "Thanks for a wonderful interview - Barbara", and each is sipping a glass appreciatively. However, something is bothering Naif.

N: You know, I think the Americans do it just to wind us up. First they send some black woman piano-player to lecture us, now they send a blond Jewess to ask you impertinent questions. If she were one of my wives, I'd slap her round the mouth.

A: Naif, relax, it's cool. No problem, really. The main thing is - always choose who interviews you. I'd never do an interview with Naughtie or Humphries or Mair on BBC Radio because those guys are like Rottweilers, they never let you go, plus they're smart. But these American so-called celebrity interviewers, they think it's all about them, not about the other person. Look at her simpering at the camera with her "Look, it's me, I'm interviewing a real King" expression on her face. Look at the expression. Is that a "Wait till I hit you with this tricky question" look, or a "Is my hairdo still looking as wonderful as it should because this dry Riyadh climate is really bad for the follicles and I'm five thousand miles from my stylist" sort of look?

N: So you didn't find it a hard interview?

A: About as hard as going five rounds with a Teletubbie. Look at this opening (clicks the remote)

WALTERS: I understand that now that you are king, you prohibited your subjects from kissing your hand. Were you embarrassed to have your hand kissed?

What a stupid question! Like one of those teen programs - "Are you embarrassed when you go on a first date with a boy and he puts his tongue into your mouth?" Naif sniggers. Mind you, I'd figured that at her age, the only real kissing she'll do will be talking about it. So I gave her a shot of Al Saud charm - all white teeth and twinkling brown eyes - and sure enough, that put her right off her stroke. She forgot what she was going to ask me, and went back to the mating rituals of the 1930's college girl.

WALTERS: When you visited President Bush this past April, there were photographs of you and the president holding hands. This is not a gesture common among American men. Did it have significance?

Abdullah puts on mock-simpering voice "Yes, it signified that we'd been going steady for two months, and he'd shown enough respect not to try to bite my neck or put his hand down my blouse, so I was going to give him my sorority pin" Naif almost chokes on his Master Distiller. He recovers.

N: But that awkward question about Iran? Abdulla works the remote again.

WALTERS: Let's talk about Iran … Iran has become more powerful as a result of the turmoil in Iraq. Do you see that as a concern for Saudi Arabia?

A: Naw. Because she thinks this interview is all about making her look good, not catching me out. So what do you do with a 76-year-old woman who dies her hair blond? You make some cheesy flattering complement, she goes all wobbly and forgets the original question.

ABDULLAH: The questioner is often times more knowledgeable than the questionee.

WALTERS: (Laughs) So, you are not worried ....

N: I must say, I did enjoy the bit about Democracy.

WALTERS: President Bush has said that one of his goals is to spread democracy in your region. Is this realistic?

ABDULLAH: If you look at democracy in the United States, you will see that it took many, many, many years to develop.

A: My answer is complete bollocks, of course, but I just flashed my smile at her and it sailed by her completely. Anyway, she was now building up to her BIG QUESTION, the one we could spot kilometers away, which was of course (both Princes now stand up and do that silly finger quote thing together, and intone) - W-o-m-e-n D-r-i-v-e-r-s! (They sit down again, giggling. Abdullah flicks the remote).

WALTERS: A flash point for Westerners is that Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world in which women are not allowed to drive. It seems to be symbolic of a women's lack of independence. Would you support allowing a woman to drive?

(Abdullah simulates a big yawn. Naif does a rude gesture involving his forefinger and both lips.)

ABDULLAH: I believe strongly in the rights of women … my mother is a woman, my sister is a woman, ...(Naif has by this time got out a large white handkerchief and is dabbing his eyes with extravagent gestures)...my daughter is a woman, ...(and is joined by Abdullah doing the same thing)....my wife is a woman.... (Both are now giggling helplessly as they wipe away the mock tears)....I believe the day will come when women drive.....

(Naif starts his awful Christina Aguilera impression

Ooh, ohh yeah yeah, ohh

I said one day, our day, will come

One day, our day, will come

Ooh, and nothing can stand in our way, oh

Ohh, said nothing, nothing can, stand in our way....

Abdullah waits patiently for him to finish)

......In fact, if you look at the areas in Saudi Arabia, the deserts and in the rural areas, you will find that women do drive.

A: Of course, that's only because your cops can't be bothered to go after some old Bedu woman in a truck who's gone up the other end of the wadi to fetch a stray goat. But that seemed to satisfy her - see what I meant about being punched by a Teletubby?

WALTERS: Terrorism to some degree starts with extremism, and there are people who feel that the educational system here in Saudi Arabia has in the past contributed to extremism and hatred. When we were here three years ago, we found textbooks that called for the killing of Jews. What is being done to stop this … extremist teaching?....changed your textbooks?

ABDULLAH: Yes, we have. … We have toned them down.

WALTERS: Toned them down …

A: Now if I wanted something to repeat everything I said, I'd buy a friggin' parrot. But by this time, of course, the old dear has totally lost it. We never changed the textbooks, but she's not spotted that, she's so worried about her hair drying out under the lights that she's completely lost the plot and is reduced to repeating what I say - it's like watching one of those zombie movies.

N: So what was your best bit?

A: Well by this time, I was wondering what I'd have to say before she tried to pick me up on my answer or catch me out. I was looking for a question where I could say something really outrageous and she still wouldn't spot it, something where I could really take the p*ss out of her.
(Fiddles with the remote)

WALTERS: In this country, however, you cannot practice a religion other than Islam publicly, although there are 5 million foreigners in this country.....

A: OK. Here's my opening....

ABDULLAH: Public worship is not allowed — you are correct — because Saudi Arabia, as you know, is the birthplace of Islam. To allow the construction of places of worship other than Islamic ones in Saudi Arabia it would be like asking the Vatican to build a mosque inside of it.....

WALTERS: The Council of Foreign Relations reported last year....

A: There she is, off on the next question on her script, and my most fatuous statement has just sailed right by her. The Vatican is 0.44 square kilometers in size, they haven't even got room to build a new public toilet there, never mind a mosque; we on the other hand, have 2 million square kilometers! I've just said something completely ludicrous and she doesn't even bat a false eyelash. So I rather lost interest after that. It was just too easy. She enjoyed it, though - it's another picture to put on her wall, and that's all she cares about at the end of the day. Still, she does pick a good bottle of whiskey...

N: So she does. Anyway, I've got a good joke for you -

What do you tell a Saudi woman with two black eyes? - Nothing. You've told her twice already!

(They giggle again)

A: I know a Blond Joke

N: Yes?

A: Barbara Walters!

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