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.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

A New Year Message.... 

....from the Cultural Attache of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C.

Never congratulate the infidel on his holiday

....and from the Religious Policeman....

Have a Great 2006!

....hoping it brings you Peace, Health, and all that is Good....

(....and may your hospitality never be insulted by a guest as sour, churlish, bigoted and ill-mannered as the Cultural Attache of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C., a guest of the USA)

Friday, December 30, 2005

Some New Year Resolutions... 

...for the female readers of this blog. Forget those self-centered resolutions like "I must use lo-calorie dressing on my salad" or "I must go to the Gym more often", and concentrate more instead on pleasing your husband, partner, or significant-whatever.

Thanks to a site frequented by the more muttawa ("religious", in the sense of zealous, holier-than-thou) of my compatriots, and to Farooha for translating them, I offer you these recommendations, selected from among a list of "99 traits a man would love to find in his wife". I have added comments, in italics, to clarify some things.

4- That she does not leave their quarters without his permission.

(Although of course the caring husband will help her to observe this, by having the windows barred, and the main door locked, with the only key in his possession)

5- That she is grateful for her husband, for he has aided her in protecting herself [from her sexual whims]. Also, through him, God has granted her a son, and she has become a mother.

(After all, we have performed the critical and difficult part of childbirth. Wives merely do some grunting and yelling at the end)

9- That she does not leave her home with make up on.

(Yes, that's with make-up, not without. Even though she's wearing a veil, it's the thought that counts. And we don't like to encourage self-esteem in our wives, because it can lead to vanity, which is a BIG SIN)

23- That she admits that her husband is her "master."

(That's self-evident, of course)

24- That she is well aware that her husband's rights are great, and that she must attend to them; for they are greater than her rights ever will be.


25- That she is not hesitant when confessing to her husband the mistakes she commits, for she should hurry in coming clean. She should also explain her motives to him.

(Even though this is upsetting to the sensitive Saudi male because, being perfect himself, he hates to be made aware of imperfection in others)

26- That she does not mind her husband "doing her" in whichever way he may well please, whenever he may well please.

(All heterosexual males will identify with this. But only Saudi males regard it as an entitlement, not a fantasy)

37- That she does not object when her husband calls her to their love-nest.

(Ditto. After all, what else is she going to be doing? It's not as if she'll be going out, is it?)

44- That she does not harm him.

(But then, why should she even contemplate it? Have you seen anything so far that could in any way provoke her?)

60- That she remains quiet if her husband wants to speak, gives him a chance to talk and listens to him. This makes him feel that his wife cares about him.

(Naturally, because every male utterance is a pearl of wisdom that's precious and shouldn't go unnoticed and ignored.)

73- That she gladly gives her husband the full right of guardianship as granted to him by God.

(If it's OK with God, it should be OK with her)

77- That she is the one to seek reconciliation by attempting to regain her husband whenever she may anger him; so that problems do not become greater.

(Well, it was her fault in the first place).

85- That she takes her husband's feelings into consideration, by avoiding the words, actions and traits that may hurt him.

(I've already said we are sensitive, the last thing we need is a "load of verbal".)

I showed this to Mrs A and told her that that my priorities were 26 and 60. She said that she couldn't personally oblige, but that if I would waive 4 and 9, she would go out and buy me something inflatable.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Mutt the Muttawa 

On Christmas Eve I took my own advice and listened to the service of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge. As always it was superb, the sort of thing the British do to perfection.

However the next day, Christmas day, I have to confess that I dropped my standards considerably. You see, I am also addicted to trash television. And on one channel, our cable supplier was providing "trash heaven". To the despair of Mrs A, but to the delight of myself and the small A's, there was a 7-hour continuous showing of "Dog the Bounty Hunter".

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of meeting him, "Dog" is a reformed ex-criminal and born-again Christian, who earns a living by catching pony-tailed and mulleted bail-skippers and other fugitives from justice, and returning them to the appropriate law-enforcement agency. He is assisted by "The Posse" of Beth, Leland, Tim and Duane Lee. Beth, Dog's partner, as you can see, is a very up-front and formidable lady. She reminds me of Dolly Parton on steroids. Just imagine being in the supermarket, and seeing her coming down the aisle towards you, pushing a trolley full of 24-oz T-bones for "the boys"' breakfast. You'd feel like one of those U-boat captains, popping his periscope up only to see a battleship, with two big 15-inch guns, heading straight towards him. Imagine you're both going for the last bottle of household bleach on the shelf - (You plan to wash the kitchen floor, she is going to gargle with it) - you'd hand it to her, smiling sheepishly. Apparently, on one occasion, "Dog" was wrestling with a fugitive's Pit Bull, so Beth had to tackle the "perp" all by herself, which she did; not bad for a woman who was 8 months pregnant at the time!

One of the reasons I convince myself that it's OK for me and the A's to watch "Dog", is that it's an archetypal "Good versus Evil" story, it's all about hunting the Bad Guys and bringing them to justice. I know he looks like a Trailer Park Bad Boy, but he's not gratuitously violent, only when necessary, and once he has got his fugitive, he starts right away to convince them of the error of their ways, to try to reform them. Deep down, of course, I would secretly like to be like him; indeed I would be, if I had tattoos, muscles, and lots of long blonde hair.

"Dog" is also famous for his "Dogisms".

Born on a mountain, raised in a cave. Arresting fugitives is all I crave.

Gangsta versus bounty hunter: Bounty hunter wins!

Twelve men can judge you, or six men can carry you. You decide!

Why am I going on about "Dog"? Well, it struck me that he has put a human face on a profession that used to have a bad reputation. By having a camera team follow him around, and capturing him both in dramatic moments and more intimate personal moments, people now think more kindly of Bounty Hunters. Can we think of another profession that needs its reputation improved?

Here's one newspaper item:

Panel Set Up to Probe Harassment of Couple

A special committee was formed to investigate a complaint from a Saudi couple against members of the religious police who allegedly assaulted them, seized property and detained the husband....The Saudi man claims that the undercover officers attacked him and his wife in front of their apartment.

What's the difference between an undercover plain clothes Muttawa with no badge, and a potential mugger?

None, the man quite rightly decided. Unlike "Dog", who always shows his official badge, they didn't identify themselves, and they then started a fight with husband and wife

The victim claims that one of the men grabbed the woman’s abaya as she entered the building in an attempt to pull her out. She managed to call for help from neighbors who pulled her in and pushed the man out.... an official car from the CPVPV ("Religious Police") then arrived at the location and a uniformed officer assaulted the husband before arresting him.

Eventually everyone was freed. Why did the Muttawa go after the couple?

the two undercover officers suspected that the couple was not married.

Now a typical reaction of a newbie in this blog may be "What the hell business is it of theirs?". Remember, this isn't Reality. It's not even Narnia. This is Saudi Arabia, and if you are out with a woman who is not your wife, or a close female relative, then she is by definition a prostitute. And prostitutes are by definition committing adultery, so we stone them to death, although we keep it out of the papers these days. As for the man, he was obviously tempted beyond his limits, so we tell him off before letting him go on his way.

But they "suspected that the couple was not married". Duh! As a married man, "Dog" can tell the difference right away, as can any married people. Simple rules of thumb:

1. Married people walk one behind the other, not side by side.

2. In the shops, a single man will take an interest in what she's buying, a married man will keep looking at his watch and fretting about the football / soccer / rugby / basketball / baseball / cricket game he's missing.

3. In the shops, when she asks "Does this make me look big?", the single man will always give a thoughtful and considered opinion. The married man knows it's safest to say "Yes, fine", although he's not really paying much attention anyway, on account of the game he's missing.

4. The unmarried couple will look with annoyance at the young children running around shrieking and causing general mayhem; to the married couple, they are completely invisible and silent, even though they are the fruit of their very own loins.

So much for those Muttawa. Anyway, the enquiry panel will include

representatives of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice

so it's bound to see The Truth coming out.

Here's another bad one for the reputation of the Muttawa

Saudi beaten up by Virtue Commission members

(where else would you see such a headline?)

Apparently they were after a Saudi, perhaps for missing prayers on a regular basis, but, unlike "Dog", they didn't have a photo and full details in front of them. So they arrested the wrong guy.

Three Commission members belonging to the Usman Bin Affan office in Manfooha area beat him up in public causing injuries to his face Tuesday night, according to a report in Al-Watan Arabic newspaper....The Saudi national, identified by his initials only, was forced into a waiting car and taken to the Commission office....They humiliated me in front of the public and caused bruises and injuries to my right eye.

When they got back to the station, they realized their mistake.

We are sorry, but you are not the man we want. Please accept our apologies for this mistake, the Commission members told him after checking his identity card....Please accept our apology and forget the unintentional mistake. Human beings can make mistakes.

He actually got an apology, a fulsome one at that! We Arabs hardly ever apologize. Our victim should have been suitably delighted at this. But he was strangely ungrateful. He

....is demanding compensation from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice for his wrongful arrest and assault and has sought answers from the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR). Can a person be beaten up in public and arrested without any proof? he wants to know

"Yes" is the simple and obvious answer to that particular question. But don't ask the NSHR, they can't tell their fundamental orifice from a donut. You see, the National Society for Human Rights doesn't exist to solve his problem, it exists to demonstrate to the USA, and the rest of the world, our commitment to human rights. So don't ask it to fight on your behalf, you'll interrupt their pre-snooze cup of coffee. As they say themselves:

The victim should not wait for us till we solve his problem.

Don't worry, the victim won't. But when you do solve it, will you let his great-great-great-grandchildren know?

To get to the end of a very long story, I had this idea for a "Mutt the Muttawa" series ("Mutt" - "Dog" - get it? Actually I didn't, I called him Mo", short for "Mohammad", at first. Thanks to Raging Bee for pointing out the obvious name). Anyway, find a bright articulate Muttawa and follow him around with a camera crew. Perhaps have the equivalent of "Beth"; get an enormously-endowed Saudi lady to sit alongside him in the Explorer. She would have to wear the full abaya and veil of course; she might remind you of those enormous blobs of oil that float up and down in some decorative lamps. And of course, we would need some "Mutt-isms", like:

You don't pray, we put you away!

Born in the desert, raised in a tent. Catching sinners is why I was sent.

Not your wife? There goes her life!

So let's find our bright, articulate, Mutt the Muttawa.




Oh well, some things are just so difficult, you know they are doomed from the start.

Here (thanks to forzaq8 and "American Dad") is an early version of "Mutt the Muttawa" that never made it out of the studio.

New Saudi Ambassador to Britain 

Great Britain now has a new Saudi Ambassador. He is Prince Mohammed Bin Nawaf Bin Abdul Aziz.

"Bin Abdul Aziz". Doesn't that mean "son of Abdul Aziz", the original King and founder of Saudi Arabia? Yes it does. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, it is remarkable how many of these princes are selected for the top jobs. Yesterday we had Prince Salman, having a great time in that boat, he's the Governor of Riyadh. Now we've got Prince Nawaf, he's held a lot of high positions. It must be those Abdul Aziz genes that makes them so hugely talented, they certainly provide very stiff competition for the rest of us who might fancy a go at those employment opportunities.

Prince Nawaf has a few interesting quotes to his name. In 2002, when he was Director of Saudi Intelligence, he said that the late Chairman Arafat was

a man of peace

which made a number of people wonder whether his job title was some sort of ironic joke.

One quote that he did not utter, as Director of Saudi Intelligence, was....

Naif, why do you keep locking up European expatriates every time one of these bombs goes off in Riyadh? What is all this nonsense about a turf war over booze? I realize that you are the least gifted even by the abysmal standards of this family, but anyone with half a brain cell can see that it's Al Qaeeda behind it.

....and, had he done so, we might have averted The sorrowful saga of the so-called "Booze Bombers"

Lately, however, he has been applying his rich talents to overseeing the Saudi national soccer team. As head of the Saudi Football Federation, Nawaf has been breathing down the neck of Argentinian team coach Gabriel Calderon. Although Saudi Arabia has got thru to the World Cup finals via a relatively easy set of draws, it only finished fourth in the recent West Asian games. So poor Gabriel is now faced with every coach's nightmare, gratuitous advice from a boss whose only encounter with a football was once being asked to do a ceremonial kick-off and miraculously "nutmegging"* himself.

We have asked Calderon to explain and allay our concerns

This was regarding the changes in technical and administrative staff which have been carried out four times so far and the constant changes he makes in his plans

We also wanted to know the wisdom behind holding a training camp for two weeks before the finals without playing a single friendly match during the camp. We will soon know his answer

and ominously

We will assess him and his fitness to lead our team based on his preparation plans.

but thankfully

I would like to assure you that changing coaches is not a habit with the Saudi FF

When Prince Nawaf invites me to Tea and Crumpets at the Embassy, I will respectfully suggest that he should leave Gabriel Calderon to do what he does best, running a soccer team, and that the Prince himself should stick to what he does best, once we've figured out what that is.

(A "Nutmeg" is when you kick the ball thru the middle of the opposing player's legs. It takes a certain talent to do that to yourself. It takes a special kind of genius to do that to yourself, when you're wearing an ankle-length thobe)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Where would we be without optimists? It was optimists who made the airplane, and pessimists who made the parachute. Most Saudis are fatalists; "inshallah", a common phrase, means "If God wills it". Some, like me, are pessimists, although we would describe ourselves as realists. However, we should be grateful for the rays of sunshine coming from our home-grown optimists. Here are two:

The first is the Manager of a Car Saleroom in Jeddah. When he heard the King say, regarding the possibility of women driving in Saudi Arabia....

I believe the day will come when women will drive. I believe it will be possible and I believe patience is a virtue.

....he took the optimistic view that "the day" was less than two years hence....

We are positive that in the coming two years women will drive, said salesman who asked not to be identified at a well-known car company in Jeddah, adding that his manager has signed an SR800,000 agreement ordering new cars....

....and not only that, he was optimistic that women would want to drive about in "girlie" colors.

....in baby shades of blue, yellow and pink. We want to have cars that are attractive to women, he said.

As Mrs A quite rightly pointed out to me, assuming that women do get to drive, the last thing they will want to do is to be so conspicuous. Saudi roads are dangerous enough at the best of times; they are like Formula 1 tracks, but without the skill, and you get kids as young as 14 driving Daddy's Merc, weaving from lane to lane at high speed, racing another child who is doing exactly the same thing. Meanwhile there is an old Bedu in from the desert who hasn't a clue what those white lines along the road are supposed to mean, but who guesses that he is supposed to straddle one of them, although he can't quite make up his mind which one, perhaps he'll give them all a go in turn. And no woman is going to go tootling along in a baby-yellow car, because that'll just say "Hey look, I'm one of those modern progressive liberated women who's just been allowed to drive and whose husband doesn't mind, so yaa boo sucks to all you religious long-beards and you young kids who think you own the road!". And only a suicidal woman would drive north up into the ultra-conservative Qaseem region in a baby-pink VW Beetle, that would be a one-way trip for sure.

Still, the guy is convinced....

Many companies are doing this because ladies are going to be running wild as soon as the government announces it and its going to be very soon, he said.
....Imagine how much the car companies will make when women start driving. It s going to be a fortune, I assure you, he stated.

Ladies "running wild" in Saudi Arabia, there's a prospect only an optimist could dream up. Anyway, it's the latest get-rich-quick scheme. My advice, hang on to your money, and in two years time, do a search on eBay for "Pink Beetle". You'll get a bargain. But then, I'm a pessimist.

Our next optimists aren't looking to make any money, they are teachers looking out for the health of their young charges. You see, we are not good on providing recreation areas or swimming pools for our children. Drive around any town or city, and you literally won't see any. The nearest we get to a recreation area is the sort of "recreation park" where they have rides and boats on lakes, like this one just opened by Prince Salman and his groupies in downtown Riyadh....

....which is hardly the sort of exercise that is going to get the muscles and the heart working. And apart from major hotels, there are no swimming pools, so very few Saudi children ever get the opportunity to swim. That probably explains why these fat-assed royals are looking so uncomfortable and nervous.

Typically Girls' schools do not even have gymnasia. Don't ask me why, it's not as if anyone from outside could see into them. So some optimist tried to get that changed.

A few public girls’ schools in Jeddah submitted requests to have gymnasiums built....

You can guess what's coming next...


In Saudi Arabia, there's always a "but"...

their hopes for introducing physical education classes were dashed after the Ministry of Education announced that physical education for girls would not be allowed.

No surprises there. But what's the problem? Are the authorities afraid that if enough girls might get fit, they may take on the Saudi national soccer team and beat them? Or if their husbands start smacking them around for their disobedience, they might beat them? However, the answer is obvious, when you think about it.

“Religious men have a great influence on our education and the ministry listens only to those with certain views about women and their role and place in society,” said a source at the Education Administration of Makkah region.

So the civil servants from the Ministry of Education called in the appropriate experts for their opinion. And what better way to become an expert on child developmental health, than spending years studying the Quran?

Why be an optimist in Saudi Arabia? There's no future in it.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Cruel and Unusual 

We Saudis notice that you in the West keep bleating on about "cruel and unusual punishments". Usually when some prisoner has been denied access to Cable TV.

Well, we in Saudi Arabia can do "cruel and unusual" much much better. And of course, being good Muslims, we use the Quran to justify it.

First we brought you public beheadings for murder and drug smuggling.

Then we brought you public stonings for adultery.

We even brought you public amputation for stealing.

But you may not have heard this one.

As it says in the Quran, 5.45, "And We prescribed to them in it that life is for life, and eye for eye, and nose for nose, and ear for ear, and tooth for tooth, and (that there is) reprisal in wounds; but he who foregoes it, it shall be an expiation for him; and whoever did not judge by what Allah revealed, those are they that are the unjust."

Now there is a similar passage in the Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament). However those Jews seem to have forgotten their roots and left it behind, they don't practice it these days.

Not so we Saudis. If it was good enough for our ancestors, it's good enough for us. What has happened in 1400 years that would make us do things differently? It was four wives then, it's four wives now. It was "eye for eye" then, it's "eye for eye" now.

Really? I hear you all gasping at that suggestion. After all, you say, who could be so primitive, so backward? We're not talking about some Amazonian tribe here, we're talking about the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where they have skyscrapers and jet planes and cellphones. A modern country, a member of the World Trade organization, wouldn't practice "eye for eye". Would it?

Yet another eye gouging verdict

EVEN as human rights organizations are fighting to overturn an eye-for-an-eye verdict given against an Indian worker in Dammam, a court in Taif has ordered a Saudi national to be blinded for the loss of vision of a compatriot.

If you are a veteran of this blog, you thought you'd seen everything. Well you haven't. In your case, there is more to see. In the case of three unfortunate gentlemen, there may soon be less to see.

Hamad Muqbil Aal Saad Al-Qahtani .... bought a shop from a man called Khalid Abdul Rehman Al-Sibaeai, but Al-Sibaeai broke the lock and replaced it with another one. During the argument that ensued, Al-Sibaeai tried to stab Al-Qahtani with a knife despite protests from bystanders. Al-Qahtani then threw a screwdriver at Al-Sibaeai in self-defense, hitting him on the face.....Doctors ....confirmed that the victim lost total vision in his left eye due to the injuries he sustained from Al-Qahtani.

So there was a fight between two men and one of them lost the sight in one eye. And it sounds as though both were equally to blame. But the punishment for the one who almost got stabbed until he threw a screwdriver at his assailant was (and you're probably ahead of me by now)

...the verdict was passed on October 19, 2004, to terminate vision in Al-Qahtani's left eye....

That's right, the other guy will have his left eye surgically removed, as his punishment. Well, it says so in the Quran, so it must be OK.

The other case is even more tragic.

The Saudi youth got into an argument with Abdul Lateef Noushad, a 34-year-old (Indian) petrol station attendant in Dammam, which led to a fistfight causing injury to the youth's left eye.

Saudi gas costs about 90 cents a gallon, you wonder why they go to the expense of gas stations to sell it, you should just be able to drive up to a tank and help yourself, it would probably cost less. Anyway, we don't demean ourselves like you Westerners by getting out and filling our own tank, we have someone to do it for us. But no self-respecting Saudi would do that, of course, so we import people from the Indian sub-continent to do it. And with gas at 90 cents a gallon, you can guess how much they are paid. Anyway, the gas station is one of the places where certain Saudi youth, usually those unemployed, feckless, and with little esteem from fellow-Saudis, can demonstrate their cultural sensitivity and interest in the wider world community, in other words to be rude and insulting to "some Indian", and often try to avoid paying their 90 cents per gallon. The said "some Indian" usually puts up with it, but occasionally snaps, so gas station fights are not unusual. In this case the Saudi got the worse of it and lost an eye. The punishment for the Indian?

....a court order in Dammam has been issued to terminate vision of an eye

If you have the money, of course, you can "buy your eye back". (In theory, according to the Quran verse above, the victim is "he who forgoes it". However, and this is not covered in the Quran, he expects a nice pile of money in order to "forgo" it). In one case, the Saudi perpetrator is trying to "buy off" his victim, but is having difficulty getting the cash together.

Negotiations reached a pardon that includes payment of SR7 million, a home and a mosque. The amount was later lowered to SR3.9 million (over a million dollars). The Al-Anzi family is still trying to collect the required amount.

The problem with a public eye removal, it's not much of a public spectacle. No fountain of blood, or bits of brain splattered all over the place. They could play it on one of those big screens in the square, but then it would just look like one of those medical TV programs, it's far too clinical. In medieval Europe they used to tighten a rope round the head with a knot over the eye socket, but we wouldn't do that, we are far too civilized a country.

Anyway, next time one of your prisoners complains about "cruel and unusual" because he's not allowed to keep a pet rabbit, tell him about Saudi Arabia.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Thanks to all who voted... 

...for me in the 2005 Weblog Awards

...and congratulations to Iraq The Model , Regime Change Iran and This is Zimbabwe for coming 1st, 2nd and 3rd respectively. Living where they do, those bloggers really have problems to deal with!

Women, again 

Congratulations to Alia Hayel Aboutaiyh Al-Howaite on becoming the first Saudi woman to compete at international level as a jockey.

Saudi Woman Becomes World-Class Jockey

Alia, who is being sponsored by Kingdom Holding Company Chairman Prince Alwaleed ibn Talal, participated on Thursday in the 120-km World Endurance Championship for the Sheikh Hamdan Al-Maktoum Challenge Cup in Seeh Al-Silm near the Dubai International Village. Alia placed seventh among the 90 jockeys from around the world who took part in the global event.

That's great. She trained in Jordan and has now competed in Dubai. I look forward to seeing her come and compete in Saudi. We will have women jockeys here about the time that we have the first Christian Church.

And also about the time we get women drivers.

Women Driving a Family Issue, Says Sultan

Crown Prince Sultan, deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation, yesterday emphasized the government’s readiness to open the way for women driving once they get consent from their families.

That's great, as well. Mrs A has my immediate permission to drive. But there's a catch, naturally.

“When fathers, husbands and brothers ask us for women to drive we will look into it, but if they ask us the opposite we can’t force them (to let women drive),

It has to be a collective family decision, otherwise the government won't act. So for Mrs A to drive, not only do I have to agree, but lots of other men, including "Mister Progress" in the top right-hand corner, also have to agree. As the King said on this subject earlier

I believe the day will come when women will drive. I believe it will be possible and I believe patience is a virtue.

It's a good job we're a nation of Believers.

Not so good news for yet another Indonesian housemaid victim.

Indonesian Maid’s Tragedy Continues

In March, Miyati was brought to a hospital in Riyadh by her sponsor in a critical condition suffering from gangrene to her fingers, toes and a part of her right foot. Doctors had to remove some of her fingers and toes.

"Her sponsor" means her employer. A Saudi, of course. So when Indonesian Miyati accused him of mistreating her, she made a Big Mistake.

At first Miyati claimed that her sponsor tied her up for a month in a bathroom and beat her severely injuring her eyes and knocking out several of her teeth.

So the Police persuaded her that she was "mistaken".

....Miyati later changed her testimony....

But you can't go around accusing your Saudi employer of such things! You must face the consequences....

....and was subsequently charged with making false accusations of torture against her sponsor....Saudi authorities imprisoned Miyati while she was still being treated at the Specialist Hospital in Riyadh for her wounds and amputations.

Well, they are very good in prison at treating wounds and amputations. People fly here from all over the world to be treated in our prisons for wounds and amputations.

Fortunately justice later prevailed.

Following complaints by her lawyer, Dandani, and the Indonesian Embassy, Miyati was released to the care of the Nahda Women’s Charity Society by orders of Riyadh Gov. Prince Salman.

And what happened to her employers? What is your sentence when you cause someone to lose fingers and toes through gangrene, not to mention looking like they are Mike Tyson's sparring partner? Well, if it's 750 lashes for "mocking religion", and 300 for "encouraging homosexuality and adultery", then they should get....

A judge later sentenced the sponsor’s wife, who admitted to beating Miyati, to 35 lashes. The husband was found innocent due to lack of evidence against him.

Well, that wasn't quite the number I had in mind. But we have lost our 14th-Century pre-eminence in Maths. And we are dealing with a crime against an Indonesian here, and they are Third World, and she is a woman, and there are plenty more on the next 747 from Jakarta.

But that's not all. After all, didn't the Indonesian woman change her testimony? That just shows you can't trust these people. And she must be punished for changing her testimony. So more Maths. If you get 35 lashes for causing someone to lose fingers and toes, and knocking out several of their teeth, then for changing your testimony, you should get....

A Riyadh judge sentenced an Indonesian maid, who accused her sponsor and his wife of torturing her, to 79 lashes yesterday.

So I got that wrong, as well. And the ironic thing is that, if we lashed people across the hand instead of across the back, then she wouldn't feel it, because she's lost her fingers. But Indonesian housemaids never seem to have any luck.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

To all readers... 

Happy Christmas!

...or, if it's more appropriate...

Happy Hanukkah!

...or, if neither of those apply,...

Happy Holidays!

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly 

Various reactions from Saudis to the Christians' celebration of Christmas in the Kingdom.

The Good

They wish me a happy Ramadan and Eid, so why shouldn't I wish them a Merry Christmas? asked Khaled Dossari, a physician. I don't believe in Christmas, but I reciprocate their friendly gestures.

My Arab colleagues are very kind to me. They wish me Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Valentine's Day every year, said Sarah Williams, an English language teacher. It is nice. Some even give me small token gifts. It really helps to cope with being so far from family during the holidays, said Williams.
I know that they say Merry Christmas to be polite and not that they believe in Christmas just as I say Ramadan Mubarak doesn t mean I am Muslim, explained Williams.

The Bad

As long as it's not in public and can not lead to corrupting the youth, I am fine with it, said Ghada Dareeb a Saudi teacher. But I would never ever attend any of their celebrations.

It is forbidden for Muslims to celebrate non-Muslim holidays, said Khaled Al-Shaya, an Islamic scholar. When invited to their Christmas parties at work, it is ok for Muslims to pay them respect and party with them as long as they do not wish them Merry Christmas and they inform their hosts that they are not celebrating Christmas for religious reasons but as a personal gesture, said Shaya. But the best action is not to join in with their celebrations.

The Ugly

...the Presidency of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Riyadh has been more active in preventing shops catering to these non-Islamic occasions. It has been more and more difficult in finding Christmas decorations and cakes in the past two years, said Down Tucker, a South African teacher. This year they are hardly found.

The Presidency of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Riyadh declined from commenting, but store managers have confirmed that they have been visited weeks before Christmas and were told to remove their Christmas Holiday merchandises.

We are also expecting a visit on Dec. 25 too as they annually do, said a supermarket manager who wished to remain anonymous.

Everywhere else in the world, you expect a visit from Santa on December 25th. In Saudi Arabia, it's a visit from the Muttawa. We sure know how to party.

Friday, December 23, 2005

I'm in trouble.... 

....about music. According to one of the commentors on an earlier post

Alhamedi, you got to be kidding. I, being a Muslim am surprised why you fail to understand the opinions of scholars. Lemme ask you a question: Who is more knowledgable about religion, the scholars who had lived during or after the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) or you?

Well, I have a great respect for learning, especially achieved over long years and at great personal sacrifice, and I would never claim to know what others know, when they have been thru intensive education or training. You won't find me turning up at the local hospital to help out with some brain surgery, or the local airport control tower to direct some air traffic. When you ring up because you've got a burst pipe, you won't find me standing at the door.

However, when it comes to the question of religion and music, I don't believe that we are totally dependent on "scholars". God gave us ears and a brain, and He expects us to use them. He expects us to think for ourselves, and not rely on someone else to do it for us. And I don't believe that there's any human being out there who doesn't use their ears and is not moved by some music in some way. Your taste may not be my taste, and vice versa, but I'm sure we'd all agree that music talks to the emotions. And a most fundamental of emotion can be our sense of the spiritual, the infinite. So for those who believe in God, I'm sure that they find that God talks to them thru music, unless they are unfortunate enough to be physically deaf, or unfortunate enough to be Islamic scholars.

Personally, I am moved by the music of total silence. It's a rare commodity, but we Saudis are fortunate enough to be able to find it in the middle of the desert, perhaps on a camping trip. And I don't believe that any Muslim can fail to be moved by the music of the prayer calls echoing round the towns and cities, especially at sunset. So music doesn't necessarily need instruments, it can be all around us, it just needs us to listen and open our souls to it.

And talking of music, although I'm not a Christian, one musical event that I always try to hear at this time of the year is the service of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge. The singing is perfection, the readings are absolute poetry, the whole experience is completely sublime, even for a Muslim like me. The BBC broadcast it at 1500 on the 24th December, UK time; in the US it's 1000 Eastern, 1800 in Saudi, etc., and you can listen live via the internet, highly recommended. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was reported to enjoy the sound of singing, so it's quite possible that he listens every year as well. But I don't suppose our "scholars" would agree about that.


Good to be back.... 

...especially to read this news...

All Charges Against Al-Harbi Dropped

The high school teacher Mohammad Al-Harbi, who was accused of mocking religion and was sentenced to three years in prison and 750 lashes on Nov. 14, has had all charges dropped against him, according to a Saudi security adviser.

I think this is a testament to the power of the Internet, particularly the site that was set up by his supporters. Shine a light onto the "dark corners" and watch the cockroaches scurry away. Thanks to all the readers of this blog who added their names to the petition or made their views known in some other way.

Not only that, but another case surfaced, and an unfortunate victim who had been imprisoned was released. It looks like the government was so embarrassed, that it felt it had to do something.

Another Teacher Gets Royal Pardon

Only a "Pardon", you note, not a reversal of the original stupid sentence.

Al-Suhaimi, a teacher in a Saudi intermediate school, was sentenced to three years in prison and 300 lashes. He was suspended from teaching and was told not to talk to the media. However, he received a royal pardon and was released from Al-Hair Prison in Riyadh last Thursday.

His "crime"?

Al-Suhaimi’s problems began four years ago when he was accused of encouraging his students to indulge in homosexuality and to commit adultery.

That sounds like some zealot's own twisted interpretation of what he was teaching. What did he actually teach? It's a little difficult to get to the bottom of it, but it all sounds dangerously enlightened and "progressive".

According to him, he told his students that love was noble. When one of them asked if love were not all about marriage, Al-Suhaimi replied that in a typical Saudi marriage in which the couple does not know each other before the ceremony, the controlling emotions tend to be amiability and compassion.

That'ts right. It's difficult to get the passions stirring during a 20-minute introductory meeting, which is often all that precedes a Saudi betrothal and marriage.

So who objected to what he said?

Al-Suhaimi’s troubles began with a group of fundamentalist teachers who “believe that if you are not doing exactly as they are and not believing exactly as they do, then you are not a real Muslim.”

Sounds like those Religious Education teachers again.

Teaching civic and sexual behavior to children anywhere, in any school, in any country, is fraught with problems. However, only in Saudi Arabia do you get imprisoned when you get it wrong, in someone else's opinion. However, at least, our sentencing practices are consistent. In both cases it was three years in prison and 300 lashes, give or take a few (and when you're up in the hundreds, who's counting, especially the person dishing them out).

And, funnily enough, three years is also what you get for repeatedly raping a small boy. I suppose three must be an easy number to remember.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Last Post.... 

...for a while, as announced previously.

I'm feeling lazy today, so I'll let someone else do all the work. Thanks to "thess" for putting me on to this site. It's another (Canadian?) Muslim with a sense of humor, perhaps more gentle than mine, but great fun all the same. I've enjoyed it so much, I put its link in the section at the right.

There's some technical jargon in there, to do with our worship rituals, but don't let that worry you, you should get the general drift. As we've been talking about Harry Potter, you might enjoy the minutes of the Hogwarts Muslim Students Association, of whom there are four!

Here's an excerpt:

Farooq wiped the sweat off his glasses. He knew managing the MSA Executive at Hogwarts was going to be tough but he was confident. He knew Islam could spread all over this school someday. He stood up and started his meeting. “Assalamu Alaikum. Look I know we haven’t made much progress these last few months but I think we should be optimistic! We’re the LARGEST religious club at Hogwarts and-”
“Obviously” interrupted Abdul Wahab as his lips curled, “we’re the ONLY religious club in this school.”
“Yeah but-”
“Hey how many Muslims are there at campus?” questioned the oblivious Raza.
“Uhhh four… the people in this room makes up the entire Muslim population at Hogwarts” explained Farooq.
“What a charming group of individuals.” sneered Abdul Wahab sarcastically.
“How many Jews are there at Hogwarts?” asked Raza, his nose showing signs of scrunching.
Sophia opened her mouth to say something but instead started to tuck some loose hair under her hijab.
“Two… but they’re pretty high up. I think they’re prefects and-”
“ISRAEL SCUM!” shouted Abdul Wahab.
“Hey, I think Neville Longbottom is interested in Islam. Salaaam Neville teehee.” giggled Sophia as she buzzed in her with her two cents.
“Who the crap is Neville?” Raza asked.
“Some magic-using, plant-loving kafir” scoffed Abdul Wahab, as his lips curled even more.

See you soon!

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Religious Policeman FAQ 

I've been getting quite a few emails of late, so I thought that I would update my previous FAQ.

1. Who are you?

I am a Saudi, originally from Riyadh, currently an expatriate in the United Kingdom. I am married (to my one and only ever wife), have a family, with a Filipino maid and driver (her husband) who are at the moment enjoying a paid sabbatical back home . Beyond that, I am not prepared to disclose.

2. Is that your photo?

No, it's not. It is actually Sheikh Ibrahim Bin Abdullah Al-Ghaith, General President for the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The head "Religious Policeman", or Muttawa. Callsign "Mutt 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. Saudi Arabia is certainly one of those dark corners. I'm hoping that people 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 a fundamentalist religious establishment on the other. I am hopeful that this will inform their opinions of us. I would also like, in my own small way, to educate opinion within Saudi Arabia and around the world that might start to engineer change in our country.

5. Is it dangerous to do this?

The ruling elite would not, if or when they think about it, 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? While in the UK, of course, things are much easier.

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 be difficult for everyone to read. 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, to play soccer and cricket, and never to smile when making a joke. In the USA I learnt to misspell ;-), that Jews are not only human but can be really nice and extremely funny, 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 and my knowledge of Saudi society, whether I am genuine or not. However I will not, as I was once requested by someone, "prove" my nationality, presumably by publishing a scan of my passport and Id card, for reasons that will be obvious to everyone else. If there is anyone who cannot read this blog without having proof of my nationality, they may be more comfortable with some of the other 3.5 million blogs out there.

As a Muslim, I certainly feel more comfortable in countries such as the UK, where they generally have have a more relaxed, but no less holy, approach to their religious life. Although it is not for me to judge, I am possibly a better Muslim in terms of the fundamentals of the religion, rather than in terms of the ritualistic rules-based "praying-by-numbers" approach. 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, even if briefly. I will answer simple questions if they are not too taxing. However I cannot answer detailed lists of questions, but may address them in subsequent posts, as the opportunity arises. Occasionally I get requests to help write peoples' school assignments or Ph.D. theses, which is very flattering, but not part of the service! Also I cannot enter into an exchange of correspondence that might lead me to reveal any further personal information.

I am also grateful for emails pointing me to relevant items on the internet.

11. Why don't you write in Arabic?

Because the audience I am addressing speaks English. It consists of educated Saudis and Arabs, who speak English to a greater or lesser extent, and also the wider body of world public opinion, also largely English-speaking, living in countries that support the Saudi regime thru trade and political patronage.

If I were also to address an Arabic-only audience within Saudi Arabia, it would not just be a question of language, it would also be a question of style. To be frank, my brand of humor does not get many laughs in a Bedu encampment. The style would need to be simple and folksy, which doesn't appeal to me personally. If someone else wants to do that sort of blog, I will give them every encouragement.

12. Do you hate Saudi Arabia?

I don't hate Arabia; it is my country. I detest the name "Saudi", because it implies that the Saud family own it, instead of it belonging to God and the people. How would you feel about "The Bush States" or "Windsor Britain"? That aside, it is an ambivalent relationship. I love the sense of family and community in the country, but I don't like its backwardness, and the way it is used by royal and religious elites for their own ends.

I want to see Saudi Arabia develop and improve, and quickly, so that it can be a source of real pride for everyone. But it will only do that when it faces up to its problems, and decides to do something about them. Not everyone likes doing that, it makes them uncomfortable, and they often resent the people who do say "That's wrong!". So it can be convenient to try and dismiss people like me as "unpatriotic" or "un-Saudi". I'll live with that.

13. Do you hate Islam?

No, but I detest the people who have hijacked the religion for their own perverted ends, be they Wahabbi fundamentalists or Al Qaeeda terrorists. They don't represent the vast majority, but are bringing shame on all Muslims. In response to this, Muslims react in one of four ways:

(i) To ignore the problem, to perform their own devotions, but otherwise keep their heads down.

(ii) To deny that there is a problem, or when the problem is obvious, to deny that Muslims are involved, or when it's obvious that Muslims are involved, to deny that Islam is anything to do with it, or when it's obvious that Islam is a factor, to say that it's a "special case", etc. etc.

(iii) To become apologists. "You need to understand our history / our culture / our being victims of colonization /our persecution etc. etc."

(iv) To criticize. Again, this makes (i) to (iii) feel very uncomfortable. So internal critics get labelled as "apostates", "Islamophobes", "bad Muslims", "traitors" etc. However, history tells us again and again that (i) to (iii) don't bring about change; it either comes from internal criticism, or it is forced from outside. And I don't want to see Islam "reformed" by some neo-conservative Christian fundamentalist "Holy War".

14. Do you make this stuff up?

I know a lot of this stuff sounds wacky, but all I'm doing is reporting what's been published elsewhere, and passing my own comments. I always give a reference to the original text; if you don't like what you read there, don't blame me, I'm only the messenger!

The dialogs are of course my own creation; however the opinions and attitudes of the characters won't be a million miles from what I've portrayed.

15. Are you optimistic for change?

Well, we all have our good days and our bad days. I think we'll see some tinkering around. Perhaps the cinema, showing "approved" movies.

But long-term, I think the answer is O-I-L. While ever those countries that could bring about change, depend on the Kingdom for their oil, and as long as the oil is not threatened by Al Qaeeda, I don't think we'll see too much improvement.

But I'll soldier on anyway, doing my own thing.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Disingenuous - the Sequel - update 3 December 

While I was writing the previous post, the passage that really caught my attention, even more than the idea of our heroine sitting at home playing "Scrabble" with the Muttawa, was this....

At Jarir Books, I can sit with my cappuccino in Starbucks, perusing Erica Jong, in view of shelves of “Venus & Mars” and Harry Potter books.

You see, I must have cumulatively spent days, if not weeks, of my life in the Jarir Bookstore. It's an oasis of literacy in Riyadh's endless tedium of womens' dress shops and furniture shops and childrens' clothes shops and jewelry shops and ... (yawn). Western expats love it, as well what you might call, pretentiously, the Riyadh intelligentsia. It's a bit like that cafe in Paris, if you stay there long enough, you'll meet everyone you've ever known in your life.

So I know the contents of Jarir pretty well. Now I have been away for a while, so maybe I'm not up-to-date. And in Riyadh shops, sometimes a naive but enthusiastic Pakistani under-manager orders something he shouldn't, and then there's a great run on "it", until the Muttawa hear about "it", threaten the manager with prison, and "it" disappears. So the strangest things can happen. But I've never seen a copy of "Harry Potter". "Harry Potter", with its tale of neophyte wizards and witches, was absolutely Haram. So everyone bought it from Amazon instead, with their nice anonymous parcels. I did once see a copy of a biography of J K Rawling, but that's not quite the same thing.

So I sent an email to Tanya C Hsu:


Hello Tanya
I was delighted to hear that Jarir bookstore are selling Harry Potter. Please could you send me a JPG image of this phenomenon?


I thought that a nice picture would add verisimilitude to her story. She was kind enough to reply.


Dear Mr. Alhamedi,
I’m familiar with you and your website, and I know you would not believe that not only Harry Potter in Jarir, but all the shops: supermarkets, Carrefours, Safeway, you name it.
Erica Jong’s “Zipless F@£$” is also on the shelf, as are books on Jesus.
I wish you’d contacted me earlier though: I’m flying to London this afternoon, then to Atlanta for Christmas, and will be back only by New Year.


What a shame that she's leaving already. She seemed to be having such a great time in Saudi Arabia. Still, celebrating Christmas in Riyadh can be quite miserable. But what a little gem she let slip!

....as are books on Jesus....

Wow! Wowee! Because there's absolutely no way our over-enthusiastic Junior manager will order one of those by mistake. Everyone knows that books from other religions, especially Christianity, are completely banned. In fact, get caught with one in your possession, and you're a special guest of Prince Nayif. And you get the special rate for stays longer than 30 days.

So what could these books be? Now there are books on "The Prophet Isa", but they are Muslim books, and deny Christian beliefs like the incarnation and the resurrection. But she wouldn't mention those specially, there are enough of those around. Or was one of them this book, that I once spotted in the USA, lurking somewhere in the Cookery section?
The What Would Jesus Eat Cookbook ?

No, it must be the Real Deal
The Bible

or perhaps, for younger readers
Who is Jesus? (Childrens' Bible Basics)

Whatever, I had to know more about this radical move towards religious freedom in Saudi Arabia. So I pressed Tanya for more....


Would you mind sending me JPG's of all of those?


...to which I got the reply...


As I said, I’m leaving tonight.
I’m sure you can take them yourself though, or have many friends here who could.


Oh no, I thought, she's let me smell the sizzle, but won't give me the sausage! (Apologies for porcine analogy). Whatever major hotel she's staying in, they are all within 10 minutes of the Jarir Bookstore, and only another 20 minutes from there to King Khalid Airport. Even quicker if you drive yourself. (Not that she's allowed to drive, being a woman, but I know that she welcomes the freedom). She could easily get my pictures. So one last plea.


I was really hoping you could back up what you said, especially a picture of a Jesus (not Prophet Isa) book.


....and the response was....


It is not my responsibility to make a special trip when I’m leaving for England just to take photos for your website. You know plenty of Saudis; ask them.
If you wait until I return I will quote you my consultancy rate, and do your work for you. Otherwise, feel free to research yourself.
Tanya C. Hsu


OK. "Monty Python" put it perhaps more eloquently in one of their scenes....

Ooh get her! Whoops, I've got your number ducky, you couldn't afford me dear, two three. I'll scratch your eyes out!

....but I get the message, all the same. And I'm drawing my own conclusions about the Jarir Bookstore, "Harry Potter", and Jesus, as indeed can you.

Just as well, really. If she'd got me some photos, I'd only have started pestering her for tickets to the Saudi Symphony Orchestra!

Update - Saturday 3 December

Harry Potter has indeed been spotted in Saudi Arabia! Not flying over the rooftops on his Quidditch stick, but at least in one Jarir bookstore in the Kingdom. This marks a significant step in Saudi Arabia's progress towards normality, may there be many more!

Here we see it, (thanks to "Dammami", who hasn't even charged me a consultancy fee), with the familiar Jarir discount label, so I'm happy to acknowledge that my scepticism is no longer justified.

Here's another one:

Not only Harry Potter, but next to it is an Olsen Twins bio with a dangerous amount of cleavage on the left, but not "Magic-Marker'd" out!

Jarir bookstores seems to have got enough Wasta to declare itself a Muttawa-free zone. However, let's be clear, this is a significant step forward, for Saudi Arabia, and I'm glad to be able to provide photographic evidence.

We could, however, wait rather longer for a Christian "Jesus" book. Any "Jesus" photos out there?

There is now also a rebuttal, in the same Atlanta paper where Tanya was also published, (you may need to register for free to see), by a lady who lived there for 5 years and clearly has far more experience of the real thing. (Thanks, "SleepyinSaudi" and "ahcood")

The mutawa (religious police) will continue to be your friends as long as you are a mouthpiece. But try going out without that abaya (black cloak), alone, and kissing a man on the cheek as an ordinary woman, especially one from a country not as powerful as Great Britain or America.
You'll find out real quick that those men are not only not your friends. They are capable of having you imprisoned, beaten and/or deported or killed, depending on what country you are from.

I had an American friend dragged from a taxi, along with her husband, and thrown into prison until her embassy could be contacted the next day. The charge: improper dress. It was at night. She was in an enclosed car. Her husband was with her. It didn't make any difference.

Most of my students would just like to have the freedom to uncover their faces so they don't turn their ankles trying to walk down stairs at night.

There's more; I'd encourage you to go and have a look. Here's the last paragraph.

Crime is only low because Saudis have traded many of their personal freedoms for a facade of safety. I'll take my chances with the muggers and rapists of America and the world. I want my freedom. Many Saudi women want their freedoms, too. Hsu would find this out if she met more of them and fewer mutawa.


Ever had a word you like, but were just waiting for an opportunity to use it? Disingenuous has been just such a word for me.

Disingenuous: lacking in candor; also : giving a false appearance of simple frankness, innocence

That word sprang immediately to mind when I read this article in today's "Green Truth"

(and also published in the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution", thanks to "Margaret" for that link)

US Critics Miss the Real Saudi Arabia

After I moved from Atlanta to Saudi Arabia recently, many friends were shocked, thinking I’d joined the Taleban or found a Saudi prince. Part of the Kingdom’s beauty is its inaccessibility and retention of Arab character.

So who is going to tell us about the "Real Saudi Arabia"?

Her name is Tanya C. Hsu, and she tells us she "was one of the few analysts in US-Saudi relations in America".

So who did she "analyze" for?

A quick Google reveals that she works for The Institute for Research Middle Eastern Policy (IRmep)..."a think tank working to define, communicate and promote America’s true interests in the Middle East."

"Think Tank"?

Well, it doesn't actually do much thinking as such, its forte is talking. Like many such bodies representing all sorts of interests, it's actually a Public Relations organization, promoting certain Middle East countries, rather than promoting "America's true interests" as advertized. A typical article is one which exposes how "In March, 2005 Prosecutor Talya Sason revealed a vast Israeli criminal conspiracy in which "law violation became institutionalized" to enable illegal settlement growth funded by the World Zionist Organization (WZO)."

And Tanya is a Public Relations journalist for this organization, publishing such articles as
The United States Must Not Neglect Saudi Arabian Investment.

So that gives us some idea of where she and her organization are coming from.

She uses all the regular journalistic ploys. In defense of the Iranian President's call for Israel to be wiped off the map, she writes that the UK's Tony Blair has no reason to object to Iran's possible nuclear weapons. Why? Because "Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who said of the Iraqis, "[I advocate] using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes [and] against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment." Nice quote. From 1920, a long time ago perhaps, but an excellent vintage. Except that Winston Churchill would not be Prime Minister for another 20 years. And the full quote includes the phrase that he wanted gas that caused "only discomfort or illness, but not death". But never let the full facts get in the way of an irrelevant and antique point.

However, in some ways, she is an original thinker. Most people I know either loved or hated "Fahrenheit 9/11". Tanya did both. She liked it when Michael Moore attacked Bush's war on Iraq. She hated it when he talked about the Bush - Saudi business relationships, and Saudis being spirited out of the USA post-9/11. She's very suspicious about Michael Moore and thinks that "Michael Moore and Richard Perle Combine Forces". That's novel.

She also appears to have lots of Wasta (networking connexions). As her bio says, "For almost two decades she has created and facilitated strong connections between Middle Eastern leaders, diplomats and business men and women." So she moves amongst the Middle East "Good and the Great". Could this account for this totally unsubstantiated, but very entertaining bit of Internet tittle-tattle, where someone with her name allegedly wrote to a "flamer" in these words

From: Tanya C. Hsu
To: Catherine McMillan
Subject: Re: Flamer Rips Mensan
You stupid fool. You stupid stupid fool.
I work with a government department in Washington DC. You have *no idea* of what and who can make life very difficult for you.
You ought to rethink fast.

Perhaps it wasn't her. After all, Tanya C. Hsu is a common enough name.

Anyway, I just wanted to establish the credentials of our new arrival in Saudi Arabia. Not that I've any problem with what she does for a living. We all have to earn our daily crust, any which way we can. Just so long as it's all up-front, and we appreciate that she's a well-connected PR journalist who gets paid to write articles in support of the Saudi regime.

So what are her impressions?

In Saudi Arabia I can speak freely, appearing in media without threats. I am respected as an intelligent, outspoken woman.

Well of course she can speak freely. The government love people who speak freely in their support. We've already seen her views. Nothing threatening to the Saudi government there. She could try speaking out instead for constitutional government, like she enjoyed back in Atlanta, but that sort of talk lands you in prison.

The Mutawa (religious police) are my friends, as are members of the Shoura. Highly educated and multilingual, they come to my apartment to discuss politics, religion and “why is America doing this to us?”

It's true, they are really fun guys, Mrs A is always having them join her quilting group, they chat about lots of things. They are always dropping in on the ordinary citizens, just to see how they are getting on, to chew the fat, to ask what people think. You don't have to have any special connexions for them to ask if they can come round.

I pass for, dress and live as a Saudi. I don’t cover my face,

OK. Enough is enough. That is complete bollocks, if you'll excuse the expression. You don't cover your face, so you look like a Western expat woman, and if the Muttawa are in any doubt, they'll be able to check your Id or passport to confirm it. So you don't pass for a Saudi. For you, the rules are then more relaxed. But ask Mrs A how long a Saudi woman can get by on the streets of Riyadh without a veil.

....and the abaya frees me from having to worry about my figure....

That's called "Making a virtue of necessity".

....And there is no law mandating such clothing.....

Indeed not. Explain that to the Muttawa next time you go out in your Western clothes without an abaya to cover you, connexions or no connexions.

Driving is not an issue for most, and after years in Atlanta traffic, I welcome the freedom.

Well, presumably you've been out chatting to the Saudi ladies about this, to establish that it is not an issue. Did you talk to the ones who can't afford their own driver? Presumably not, because you won't see them, they are trapped at home. I'm glad, however, that you personally welcome the freedom. Indeed anyone would. It's something any reader of this blog can check out for themselves. Go down to the local parking lot, and as a lady gets out of her car, tell her that you're going to take her keys away from her. Tell her that if she can afford it, she can hire a full-time driver instead. Otherwise she can take a taxi ride with someone who barely speaks her language, or alternately she can ask any close male relative to drive her whenever she wants to go somewhere. Explain that she'll welcome the freedom from traffic. Enjoy the expression of gratitude as it spreads across her face.

With Christmas coming, shop displays are green and red, with Santa T-shirts on the racks.

Maybe. Non-Saudi shopkeepers will often try it on. These goods don't survive a Muttawa visit, though. Even innocent fir trees have to disappear.

At Jarir Books, I can sit with my cappuccino in Starbucks, perusing Erica Jong, in view of shelves of “Venus & Mars” and Harry Potter books.

Really? Harry Potter the trainee wizard? Perhaps things have changed since I was in there. I'd be delighted if that's the case, but I'm very sceptical. In fact I emailed Tanya and asked if she could let me have a photo of one, in situ. She replied that she was heading off today to Atlanta for Christmas, and wouldn't be back until New Year. Shame. If any reader can get me such a picture, I'll happily publish it.

I have the BBC, CNN or endless channels of music video stations, with scantily dressed Arab women in seductive scenes.

Yes, but that's certainly not broadcast from Saudi, it's on satellite, which is still illegal. (The police used to shoot at peoples' satellite dishes in the early days, thankfully they've stopped doing that). If the government could find a way to stop it, like they did for the first 5 years of the Internet, they would.

Sometimes I will catch a Saudi orchestra, with their black tuxedos and violins...

Now we are in the realms of fantasy, a completely parallel universe. You may see an orchestra on satellite, but not a Saudi one. There is no such thing as a Saudi orchestra or band or string quartet or musical anything, apart from the clandestine groups that the expatriate Westerners get together in their compounds.

Far from the playboy image, royal family members work daily from morning until midnight.

I told you we were in a parallel universe. We're presumably not talking about this guy. (Thanks, "Bridget"). So how do you know, Tanya? Do you just pop into the Palace when you're passing, like any ordinary citizen?

And so it goes on....Now I for one would be delighted if Saudi Arabia were as she describes. But it's not, and for a pro-Saudi P.R. journalist to pretend to be some innocent Alice in Wonderland wandering around Riyadh wide-eyed on one of her little visits, with the cheery local Muttawa dropping in for English Tea and Muffins, ignoring the reality that the rest of us put up with, year in and year out, is just plain....well....disingenuous.

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