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, June 04, 2004

Yet another news item 

...from the Ministry of Truth (but this time, the Directorate of Bad News, but Played Down so as Not to Alarm the Populace)

Police Officer Killed in Line of Duty

RIYADH, 4 June 2004 — One Highway policeman was killed and another critically wounded during a shootout at a highway checkpoint, Al-Watan reported.

Twenty-five-year-old Cpl. Muhammad Al-Shatri Al-Mutairi died in the line of duty while Cpl. Muhammad Al-Otaibi, 30, was critically wounded as members of a car with Qatari license plates opened fire when they were asked for papers during a check on the highway leading to Kharj.

Just to explain. Road checkpoints are a regular feature of our roads, and have been for years, even before the present troubles. There are a number of permanent ones (for example we always go thru two on the 250 miles from Riyadh to the Dammam area on the east coast) and the police are fond of setting up ad-hoc ones on the city's roads, whenever and wherever. Their original purpse was to catch Overstayers. Overstayers? Yes Overstayers, people who come on pilgrimage to Makkah, but then stay on after their visa expires. Now to you good readers in other parts of the world, this would appear to be prima facie grounds for committal. However, imagine that you are a devout Muslim, and have arrived for your pilgrimage of a lifetime, from some dirt-poor village in Chad. Saudi Arabia, with its highways, modern buildings, wall-to-wall mosques, and plentiful menial employment opportunities, will look to you like DisneyWorld. So these poor unfortunates usually end up working illegally or begging, living 80 to a building in the rough end of Jeddah, until they get picked up and shipped home by the bucketload. And one way of catching them is roadblocks.

However, here we have two policemen shot at a roadblock. Any suggestion that this might be a Terrorist Incident would be Bad for Morale, so it's treated as a normal, even minor, news item. Had the cops killed the terrorists, on the other hand, then they would have become part of the creative accounting that one commentor has noted. With the two in Taif yesterday, that would make the headline "Three terrorists flee, all four later surrounded and killed". However they didn't, so this incident gets the same billing as the sports results.

But this is perfectly normal. Imagine you drive up to a road block, and then realize that you've left your papers at home. You could do what some people do, use a combination of charm and / or "Oh aren't I forgetful!" dottiness, promise to show them at the nearest police station that evening, and drive away, having been suitably reprimanded or booked. But all this takes time, and implies apologizing, which for us Arabs means Losing Face. Much easier and quicker to pull out the AK-47, and, as the French say, "Nix the Flics". Especially if you've got the kids in the back; it makes Dad look kind of Cool.

So there's nothing remarkable in this story - let's move on to the next item.

We Are Gutted!, says shocked Saudi coach

In front of a hushed and enthralled crowd in the stadium in Muscat last night, Saudi Arabia's Quran Memorizers went down to a shock defeat by arch-rivals Bahrain.

"We're completely gutted", exclaimed Saad Al Zair, the Saudi team coach. "We'd come along expecting to win the GCC Contest this year as always. The boys were looking good in training camp, and although we weren't complacent, because there's no such thing as an easy match at this level, we'd every expectation of parading the cup thru Riyadh once again".

A closely-fought contest came down to a final decider as Bahrain's Ali Al Moussa went head-to-head against Saudi's Ibrahim Al Otaibi. "Ibrahim was looking good as they went into the seventh Surah" continued Al Zair, "but some of the ref's decisions looked definitely dodgy to me, and there was one elbow incident that I definitely want to see again on the action replay. After that, Ibrahim lost his rhythm a bit and it seemed to go downhill from there. But don't get me wrong, the Bahraini boy done good, you can't take that away from him, but when the ref gives a bad decision at a cruciate point in the match then you're bound to feel that you was robbed.

Anyway, we'll be back next year. It's a funny old game, it's not over till it's over."

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