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, September 25, 2005

The official Religious Policeman site. 

I occasionally get an email complaining that I am not the official site of the Religious Police in Saudi Arabia. I apologize for my mistake, but point them to the site they are looking for, which is of course this one. However, if you've already clicked on it, you'll realize it's in Arabic. So let me give you a guided tour.

If you take the menu items on the top RHS one-by-one:

The first one from the top is basically a charter and mission statement, all about spreading guidance and good example thru the people, the "preservation of Muslim society", and is as boring as these statements always are.

The next four are equally tedious, a history of the Muttawa since the time of Ibrahim (Abraham), the relevant laws, blah, blah. However it starts to get interesting with the 6th item down, the one with this button:

- because this gives you examples of prohibited items, that shopkeepers must not sell and customers must not buy. Now some of these may be obvious; for example this picture:

- shows good uplifting religious books at the top. Not that I am decrying those, just that we equally would like all that stuff at the bottom, those illustrated magazines like "Woman" magazine with its picture of (yes!) a woman on the front, or listen to those CD's with images of people on the cover. But, you've guessed it, the stuff at the bottom is a no-no for our Muttawa friends.

You might find this next picture a bit more puzzling (go to the site and click on it to see it full-size).

It's a bit of a puzzler, really. What do several replica football shirts, a ladies' handbag with an anchor motif, a T-shirt, and a cushion cover, all have in common? Their really tacky design? Well yes, that's probably true, but it's not the right answer. Still don't see it? Come on people, wake up, work with me on this. The common feature is that they all contain or depict a cross. Yes, even the anchor contains a cross. And the cross is the symbol of Jesus Christ, although we of course call him the Prophet Isa, which really messes up the title if you want to put on that Lloyd-Webber musical over here, just as well we don't have any theatres.

So there you go. No peoples' faces, no crosses, no Valentine hearts for that matter. At other times they've featured Barbie Dolls, Harry Potter books, you start to get the picture. Just to see whether you've been paying attention, here's a Competition. What's the problem with the objects in the third picture? Answer in the "Comments", please. First Prize is a week in Qassim, Second Prize is two weeks in Qassim.

Item 7 is the in-house magazine, but there are no competitions, and certainly no pictures of women, or men, so you may want to give that a miss.

Let's skip on to item 11, or 3rd from the bottom. This is where you get to denounce someone. Now you may feel a bit squeamish about this, but denouncing people is a time-honored tradition, dating back all the way to Judas Iscariot. It also happened in 17th Century New England (remember "The Crucible"?), Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and McCarthy USA. It's gone a bit out of fashion as of late, but in Saudi Arabia, nothing goes out of fashion. So, we've had a few laughs up to this point, but now it's time to become responsible citizens, step up to the plate, and turn in a sinner.

So who's going to be our sinner? Well, I think we'll find him here. No, not little Ahmad, he's a good lad really, just led astray, I'm glad we got him back home. No, I mean the interviewer, the one whose phone went off at the end..."We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year". He's probably already been reported by thousands of irate Saudi TV viewers, but one more complaint won't be wasted.

Here's the form. I've added some words in red to show you what you enter where.

Box 1 is for your name. You can of course be anonymous if you wish, or you may want to add someone else's name. Saeed Al Ghamdi is the Saudi equivalent of John Smith. The cursor will appear at the right of the box but don't worry, it still works.

Box 2 is the place where the transgression took place. It's a drop-down box - Makkah, Madinah, Riyadh, Jeddah etc. Let's assume it happened in Riyadh, so select the 3rd item.

Box 3 is your email address. If you supply your own, you might get a nice "thank you" from the Muttawa.

Box 4 is for you to indicate the category of sin. This is for their benefit, so that they can sort and redirect these messages internally. You see, some Muttawa specialize in kissing, some in Barbie Dolls, some in booze. Actually the categories are not too helpful. Some are obvious like "not attending prayers"; if your colleague or neighbor doesn't go 5 times a day (including dawn) to the nearest mosque or prayer room, then that's good enough reason to finger him. But what about "Western Habits"? What on earth is that supposed to mean? Does that mean kissing and holding hands (except men / men)? Does it mean whistling? It may mean retaining your own nasal fluids rather than gobbing noisily and colorfully onto the sidewalk. Or it could mean things like democracy, human rights, due process, religious tolerance and sex equality. It's all very confusing. Best to select the "other" item at the very bottom of the list.

The big box at the bottom is where you make the actual allegation. You can write in English; they may not be able to write Shakespeare but they'll be able to read what you write if it's simple. So here goes. "The said interviewer is in possession of a ringtone that celebrates the idolatrous so-called birthday of the so-called Messiah who is in reality just the Prophet Isa, and also celebrates the polytheistic and bacchanalian celebrations enjoyed by unbelievers at the end of their non-lunar and pagan calender year". That should do it.

If you want to clear any fields, use the LH button, otherwise click the RH button and it's gone, now you can feel suitably pious and self-satisfied.

That was fun, wasn't it? If you want to do some more, feel free. The more messages going into their system, the happier they'll be, because they do relish good honest hard work.

If you don't know any Saudi citizens to denounce, here is where you can find a list of names, they are bound to have done something wrong.

If you're a history nut, and want to replicate betrayals from times gone by, put in an old-time or "retro" one. Something like "Thru the paper-thin walls of my worker's apartment I heard my neighbour, Anna Mikhaelevna Golytsin, of Ulytsa Krasnaya 22-4, describe our beloved Comrade Stalin as "a fat Georgian bastard who should keep his greasy hands off young girls' bodies"". Or even the more eerily evil "The Schumann Family at Wilhelmstrasse 16 are sheltering a Jewish family in their attic".

If you want to send something that's a bit more fun, there's nothing the Muttawa like more, than to get a ribald message in the street slang of the Arab homosexual underworld. The site to pick up some suitable phrases - and before giving it to you I will warn you that it is very explicit and some may find it offensive - is here. The gobbledygook words are in Arabic that your browser can't process. Use instead the transliterated words i.e. use the phrases in english letters. When they are read out they will sound like the original Arabic, and the Muttawa will roll about in helpless laughter.

So that's the official Religious Police site, and that's enough fun for one day. I may not be blogging for the next few days. The temperance movement in England used to have a phrase, "Drink is the curse of the working man"; well in my case, "Work is the curse of the blogging man". I hope to be back soon.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

My intentions were good 

You remember Ahmad, our young failed suicide bomber , the one who was still waiting for his brain cells to be delivered? Well, the good news is that he's now appeared on Saudi TV, to tell us his heroic tale. (Thanks to "Ash" for this news and URL). If you go to the MEMRI site, you can see the full interview, with subtitles, and a transcript.

The interview is obviously intended to deter future wannabe Jihadis, by showing them the terrible fate that can befall them. After all, they might get a bit singed round the extremities, but they'll end up in this extremely nice hospital room, with their own telephone, and a big bunch of flowers. In fact I would hazard a guess that it's one of the really nice military hospitals, it's certainly better than my memories of the best civilian hospital in Riyadh, the Kingdom hospital. And the interviewer is very nice as well, doesn't ask him any nasty questions, even when Ahmad trots out what you can see on the screen, "my intentions were good".

I particularly enjoyed this exchange:

Host: Up to this moment, you didn't know this was a bombing operation?
Ahmad: No.
Host: You thought it was an operation just involving driving a tanker?
Ahmad: My intentions were good: to carry out what I was asked to do. I didn't think about anything like that. Then I received the tanker, at about nine in the evening. There were two people in the tanker with me, but they got off.
Host: They got off the tanker?
Ahmad: They got off the tanker, got into a car, and drove off. I was left by myself, and I was supposed to transport the tanker from that place to the place I was asked.
Host: You didn't think it was suspicious?

Those nasty Iraqis, leaving poor little Ahmad all by himself, in a tanker full of gas but no gas station to deliver it to, taking it to nowhere in particular for no obvious purpose, then blowing him up. How cruel and cynical. Still, it all turned out right in the end.

Ahmad: A Saudi team arrived to interrogate the Saudis there. They watched over us, Allah be praised. I'm grateful to them. Allah made them come. They interrogated us, and said to us: "We are watching over you, you are our sons. We don't want you to be detained here. We will try to get you back." Allah be praised, this came true. A month after they arrived, I was extradited from Baghdad to Riyadh. I was flown in a private plane, Allah be praised. This was all thanks to the efforts of our rulers.

Allah be praised indeed. Ahmad is one of "our sons", we'll get him back home. Not by Saudi Airlines, though, this guy deserves his own private jet. And then he gets a very nice hospital room, with his own telephone, a huge bunch of flowers, and his own show on TV.

As I said yesterday, the US Government tells us that "Saudi Arabia is Washington's closest Arab ally in the war on terrorism." And you can see why. We really make our home-grown terrorists regret what they did. Not only that, but if any other young man thinks of following them, it may be even worse next time - it may just be an interview for Radio Riyadh.

(Incidentally, if you get almost to the end of the recording, at 11.45 minutes, you can hear the interviewer's phone go off. And the ringtone is the tune....
....we wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!)

Friday, September 23, 2005

It's Good News Day! 

Why? Well, for a start, it's our National Day today. And for the first time, our new King has declared it to be a public holiday. Because today, Friday, is already the weekend day off, the people back home will get to take Saturday off as well, even though that's also the Jewish day off! That's not all. Our young ladies can get to wear a patriotic fashion statement like the one shown here, and the Muttawa won't scream and shout at them for "adorning themselves". However, that only lasts for one day. Back to normal on Sunday.

Next, the cartoon in today's Arab News. It shows President Bush in bed in between two old witches(?) who look like the way they used to depict Margaret Thatcher, and they're entitled "Katrina" and "Rita". Some may wonder what is funny about it, or what it's supposed to be saying. Some may even think that it's stupid and/or tasteless and/or gloating and/or insensitive. To all these people, I would say - it's entitled "Cartoon", so by definition it must be funny. So just kick back and enjoy it - especially if you live in Texas or Louisiana.

The next bit of good news is that US Court Rejects Lawsuits Against Prince Naif, Prince Salman and Saudi Charity Apparently they can't be sued for Saudi funds under their direction helping to pay for terrorism, including 9/11. That's because US District Judge Richard Casey found that Interior Minister Prince Naif and Riyadh Governor Prince Salman, president of the High Commission, were not personally liable since they were acting as agents of the Saudi government. That's a novel defense. You could paraphrase it as "I was only following orders".

It gets better. President Bush decided Wednesday to waive any financial sanctions on Saudi Arabia....for failing to do enough to stop the modern-day slave trade in prostitutes, child sex workers and forced laborers. Why this great act of leniency? Because Saudi Arabia is Washington's closest Arab ally in the war on terrorism. I'm sorry, I must have misheard that, run that by me again. Because O - I - L. Right, I thought that's what you said.

Lots of little boys like to collect model planes. So did Prince Sultan. Trouble was, when he grew up, they let him run Saudi Arabian Airlines, and now he collects full-size ones. This airline doesn't go in for any nonsense about streamlining maintenance and training costs by concentrating on a small range of models. Oh no, if it's got wings, Prince Sultan wants it. Look at the ridiculously bloated fleet. However he didn't have any Brazilian Embraers in the Royal Collection, and he couldn't find anyone to do a swop with; that's about to change.

Finally, my acknowledgements to Farooha , who originally published this picture. Apparently it's of a young Saudi lady who is "putting herself about" in Riyadh using Bluetooth. The associated message is "A sexy girl your heart would love". I did Photoshop her face, so no-one can recognize her. If you do still recognize her, then you must already be good friends. You've really got to admire Saudi youth and the way they use technology to escape the outmoded customs of the past.The Muttawa may have an issue with this, but the important thing is that she's still wearing her veil.

Well, that's all the Good News for today. In fact, if I hear any more Good News, I'll probably burst.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Farewell Turki 

I always take a perverse pleasure in seeing what our smoother spokesmen say in the West, and contrast that with the reality of what actually happens back home. And they don't come any smoother than Prince Turki Al-Faisal, currently UK Ambassador, soon to be US Ambassador. Our loss is your gain.

In a reflective article, he trots out the usual boring platitudes -

Prince Turki recalled the death of King Fahd whom he described as “a much loved king.”
“We are, however, tremendously fortunate in his successor, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, who is well known for his wisdom and compassionate statesmanship not just within Saudi Arabia but within the international community as a whole.”

Indeed. And whilst Abdullah is one of the better ones out of a pretty bad bunch, he has not totally escaped the congenital idiocy of the Saud family. Turki didn't mention this priceless quote of our good prince, when demonstrating his "wisdom" and "statesmanship"

''It became clear to us now that Zionism is behind terrorist actions in the Kingdom.
I can say that I am 95 percent sure of that'', he said.
He regretted that Zionism has misled some of our sons.

Moral - never go for a racing tip from Abdullah. Anyway, back to Turki, who is now getting quite misty-eyed

He mentioned one abiding memory that he would carry with him acquired from the second summer festival of Saudi Arabia in the UK.
Held in Manchester, soon after the terrorist bombings in London, the festival attracted 35,000 visitors, among them 3,000 schoolchildren, visiting on a special educational project, the largest in the UK this year.

He's referring to this festival, as described on his own embassy's site. I have to say that I found this photo totally creepy. After all, having dressed up these young girls as little Saudis, were they told, especially in the session when "A Saudi woman gave a personal account of the role of women to remove some of the common myths in the West about women’s lives in the country", that in Saudi Arabia, they could be required to get married and have sex, with men as old as their grandfathers? Only yesterday in the "Arab News", we were told that
"It’s not uncommon to find old men marrying young girls....One extreme case of such a marriage involved a 15-year-old girl being married off to a man more than 100 in Jizan. ..... In another case, a man above 60 married an 11-year-old girl." I wonder what Mum and Dad would have made of that, as their daughters were being dressed up as little child brides?

Another lecture at the same festival "gave an analysis on current religious issues that face the world and how Islam and the West could live side by side in peace." Well, one way that the Prince could help the two religions to live side by side in peace, would be to tell his disfunctional relation, Prince Naif of course, to stop locking up Christians and trashing their bibles. As recently as June this year,

....reports of 46 confirmed arrests of Christians, with some sources citing in excess of 100 Christians arrested. From last Friday through yesterday, Saudi authorities engaged in a major crackdown involving a joint effort of standard police forces and Muttawa religious police. In the last couple of days the raids have spread from the Capital, Riyadh. This is the largest crackdown in several decades in the religiously oppressive country.

On Saturday, May 28. 2005 at 8:30 p.m. Chittirical John Thomas (Passport # A9757690), an Indian national, was pulled from work in Riyadh by Saudi Muttawa authorities, dragged to his home, and beaten in front of his maid and 5 year-old son. The Muttawa gathered his Bible and all religious paraphernalia, and took 37 year-old Thomas to the Shemaissy Detention Center.

These arrests followed Samkutty Varghese's detention outside of his bible study on March 22, 2005. Varghese (Passport # E8421022) possessed the names and numbers of other Christians attending the same fellowship group. ICC has received credible reports that Varghese was sentenced to 10 months in prison along with several lashes.

Of course, they were "only Indians", so there wasn't a big fuss. And I gather they've now mostly been released. But that'll teach them to be Christians in the center of the Muslim world. We'll live "side by side in peace", once you drop your religion.

So the smooth Prince Turki glides off across the Atlantic, and will no doubt become another charming darling of the diplomatic circuit. He wouldn't be tastless enough to mention all the nasty stuff that happens back home. But when he arranges another festival of Saudi culture, if you've got an 11-year-old daughter, you may want to give it a miss.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The sorrowful saga of the so-called "Booze Bombers" 

(Sorry about the length of this post. However, as the title says, it is a Saga).

This tale is not one of the highlights of our history. I know I keep using the expression "Saudi Arabia at its worst", but this was the absolute bottom of the barrel.

A bit of background first. As you will know from the previous post, "pubs" were a well-eastablished feature of the Western expat life. Everyone knew they were there, but the authorities generally had a laissez-faire attitude towards them. It's a sort of Muslim thing that if you want to sin within your own four walls, and nobody else suffers, then it's a matter for you alone, and no-one should pry and spy on you. As long as the pubs kept themselves to themselves, everyone was happy. Apart from our Interior Minister, "Nasty Naif", "Prince of Darkness".

He also had another chip on his shoulders about Westerners. Some years earlier, there had been a murder case in Saudi, that resulted in two British nurses being imprisoned, with one sentenced to death and the other to flogging. The obscure legal process caused quite an uproar in the UK, and eventually they were pardoned by King Fahd in return for "blood money" to the victim's family, and released back to the UK. Reportedly, Prince Naif was not too thrilled with this, but had to grin and bear it.

(Prince Naif grinning but bearing it).

Anyway, the two nurses, instead of thanking their lucky stars and keeping their heads down, sold their stories to the UK tabloids, appeared on TV, accused each other of the actual murder, and bleated on about how terrible Saudi prisons were. This would of course not be news to a Saudi, but seemed to be some sort of revelation in the UK, that sold lots of papers. Reportedly, our good Prince went ballistic, and vowed that never again would these soft Westerners get let out of prison just because there was a fuss back home.

So, on to our story. I am grateful to an unnamed source for providing much detail of the chronology.

17/11/00 Riyadh at junction of Oruba / Oleya road. Car bomb kills Christopher Rodway and injures Jane Rodway. Bomb placed on driver side in the front wheel arch of GMC 4WD vehicle. Christopher Rodway lies dying, surrounded by crowd of curious bystanders, who are not allowed to approach any accident until paramedics arrive.

22/11/00 Riyadh; car bomb severely injures Mark Payne (British), and injures Steve Coughlan (British), Jacqueline Gill (British) and xxx (Irish – name withheld) travelling in the vehicle. Bomb placed in front wheel arch on passenger side of GMC 4WD. They were believed by police to have been leaving a nearby "pub" after "closing time", either the "Celtic Corner", or the "Legs Arms" (run by a prosthetics engineer!). The police start to put together a "theory".

09/12/00 Raf Schvyens, Belgian. Arrested on 9 December 2000 for the bombings on the 17/11/00 and 22/11/00 (both in Riyadh). He was believed to have been prominent in the Riyadh "drinking scene", and was therefore a likely suspect in a supposed "turf war" between rival gangs in the drinks trade. First embassy visit at interrogation centre did not take place until 28/01/01, 6 weeks after arrest. His video "confession" was broadcast on 05/02/01. Sentenced ultimately to 8 years imprisonment

15/12/00 Al Khobar. Car bomb in the Al-Onaizi District severely injures David Brown (British) – loses sight and fingers hand. Bomb placed on windscreen of Saab Sedan bomb packaged in fruit juice carton. 250 miles from Riyadh. Do the "Booze gangs" operate over there as well?

17/12/00 Alexander Mitchell, British. Arrested on 17 December 2000 for the bombings on the 17/11/00 and 22/11/00 (both in Riyadh). First embassy visit at interrogation centre around 28/01/01, 6 weeks after arrest. Video confession broadcast on 05/02/01. Sentenced ultimately to death.

So they are starting to arrest members of this supposed "gang". The police didn't bother themselves that the "mercury switch" triggers used in these bombs indicated extremely sophisticated bombmakers. It's not a skill that your average Joe Public, or indeed bar-owner or landlord, picks up in an evening class.

17/12/00 William Sampson, British/Canadian. Arrested on 17 December 2000 for the bombings on the 17/11/00 and 22/11/00 (both in Riyadh) First embassy visit at interrogation centre around 28/01/01, 6 weeks after arrest. Video "confession" broadcast on 05/02/01. Ultimately sentenced to death.

The Saudi police must have been feeling pleased with themselves by now. Three men locked up, what a quick result. That'll stop the bombs.

10/01/01 Riyadh; bomb at telephone kiosk in Euromarche supermarket Riyadh. "Bugger", think the police, we still haven't got them all. Prince Naif initially pooh-poohs this explosion as a prank with a "firecracker". Some firecracker. Don't get one of these next 14th July or 5th November - it blew the telephone off the wall.

14/01/01 Riyadh car bomb defused on car of Irish national Noel Rooney outside housing compound. By this time, Westerners had a regular routine of checking under their cars, especially 4WD's. Noel Rooney spotted "his". However the cops obviously haven't got all the gang yet. They need some more arrests.

24/02/01 Les Walker, British. Arrested on 24 February 2001 for involvement in the bombings on the 17/11/00, 22/11/00 and on the 10/01/ 00. Prince Naif had now decided that they couldn't pooh-pooh the Euromarche blast any more, so Les Walker was a convenient suspect for that one as well. Why a Booze "turf war" should result in a bomb in a supermarket wasn't explained - after all, they don't have a drinks section. Video "confession" broadcast on 13th August 2001. Embassy visit 08/04/01 5.5 weeks after arrest. Ultimately sentenced to 18 years.

24/02/01 Philippino national, friend of one of the other detainees, arrested on 24 February 2001 for involvement in the earlier bombings. Released a year later without charge (but no apology!). However, he was "lucky" compared to the others.

12/03/01 Peter Brandon, British. Arrested on 12 March 2001 for acting as look-out for the bombing on 22/11/00 and for handling and making bombs used in other explosions. Video confession broadcast on 13th august 2001. Sentenced ultimately to 12 years imprisonment. Oh well, at least they've got the bomb-maker now, so no more bombs.

15/03/01 Riyadh; bomb in waste bin outside Jareer bookstore. A bookstore very popular with Westerners and the more educated Saudis (not to mention me!). Not an obvious target for a drinks "turf war", because they don't have books on winemaking. Injures lightly Ron Jones (British), Charles Bayer (American) and a Canadian national (name withheld ), who were passing outside at the time . All 3 were arrested, including Ron Jones from his hospital bed. He had only recently arrived in KSA and didn't have time to join any conspiracy by then. The British Embassy jumped up and down with his case, but it was still 67 days before he and the others were released. When he got back to the UK, a scan revealed severe swelling of the tissues in the soles of his feet, caused by the "falakah" beatings he received.

By now, it was fairly obvious to everyone that there were three separate groups waging a bombing campaign:
- a group in Riyadh, doing car bombs
- a group in Riyadh, doing smaller bombs
- a group on the East coast, also doing smaller bombs.
Al Qaeda was the obvious suspect, in spite of the Royal Family supposedly having "bought them off" years before. Who can you trust these days? However the Prince of Darkness and his Keysone Cops were still in total denial about Al Qaeda. If there was a bomb anywhere, they'd go after yet other Westerner with supposed drink connections.

21/04/01 James Lee, British. Arrested on 21 April 2001 for the bombings on 15/12/00, 10/01/01 and 15/03/01 (Once they let the "Jarir Bookstore Three" go free, they needed another suspect. He fitted the bill.) Video "confession" broadcast on 13th August 2001. Sentenced ultimately to 18 years imprisonment.

03/05/01 Parcel bomb Al Khobar (East Coast). Dr. Gary Hatch (American) was seriously injured in the face, hands and left knee when the videotape-sized package exploded at his hospital workplace.

06/06/01 Riyadh; car bomb on vehicle park unattended– no injuries. The cops obviously hadn't got the entire gang yet. Prince Naif demands another Western victim.

07/06/01 James Cottle, British. Arrested on 7 June 2001 in Bahrain (taken across Saudi border and handed to Saudi secret police – no formal extradition) for the bombings on 15/12/00, 10/01/01 and 15/03/01. Video "confession" broadcast on 13th August 2001. Sentenced ultimately to 18 years imprisonment.

06/10/01 Al Khobar. A pedestrian explodes a bomb at a shopping centre on the eve of US bombing strikes against Afghanistan. Michael Gerald, a US oil engineer, is killed. Another American, a Briton and two Filipinos are injured. The Saudis say the suicide bomber was a Palestinian dentist living in Riyadh - clearly a "one-off".

11/10/01 Riyadh, fire bomb attack. German national, his wife and two children escaped unhurt after being attacked while driving back to their Najd Residential Compound. A man had hurled a burning bottle at the car as it slowed to exit a busy road in Riyadh. Time for another arrest.

13/10/02 Glen Ballard British arrested 13/10/01 as the bomb maker for some of the bombings. Not charged, tried or sentenced. Released from prison on the night of 07/08/03.

Then a bit of a lull; enough to convince the cops that they had all the culprits now locked up. However the interrogations, torture and those ludicrous TV "confessions" continued. The British Embassy were very active in trying to get some justice, and clearly must have really upset "Nasty Naif". So some of the prisoners were forced to name Ian Wilson and Simon MacDonald of the British Embassy as their "embassy controllers"! (These 2 officials were accused of involvement and required to leave Saudi Arabia, becoming designated as persona non grata in that country. Upon their return to the UK their potential involvement was investigated by the anti-terrorist branch of the Metropolitan Police. They were subsequently cleared. Since both individuals have received promotion by the FCO, MacDonald being the current ambassador to Israel and Wilson being the 1st Consul in Beijing.) Then suddenly, the pace hotted up again.....

20/06/02 Riyadh car bomb at al-Nakheel housing compound. Simon Veness (British) killed. Peter Howarth-Lees (British) compound manager arrested and accused of being a "British agent" and held for 4 days. Released without charge, although unusually not tortured in his case.
29/06/02 Riyadh Car bomb defused. Found on 4WD belonging to American couple (names withheld). The American man, who has not been named, worked at the King Faisal specialist hospital in Riyadh. After spotting the device, he contacted the Saudi police who removed it. Further checks showed it was a bomb.

29/06/02 Riyadh. A "suspicious object" was attached to a Briton's vehicle, It was removed without incident.The Briton's vehicle was in the al-Nakheel compound in Riyadh, the scene of an explosion on June 20 that killed Simon Veness, a British banker

29/09/02 Car bomb, Riyadh; Max Graf (German) killed on Abdulhamida-Khateb Street in the north of the city whilst driving Ford Sedan

05/11/02 Fire bombing of McDonald’s restaurant in Al-Kharj, south east of the Saudi capital, Riyadh

30/11/02 Riyadh Car bomb detonation failed (fuse failed to set off explosive material) on 4WD vehicle belong to Dutch couple (names withheld)

By this time, Prince Naif was in a real quandary. A total of 22 expatriates had been arrested and tortured and made to confess, and were still locked up. Yet there were even more bombs going off all over the place. Were the guys breaking out of prison, committing these evil deeds, and then sneaking back to their cells before dawn? Now the bombings started to be supplemented by shootings at Westerners on the roads.

30/01/03 Khamis Mushayt. Australian national working for the BAE was attacked (shot at) in the garrison town of Khamis Mushayt – not injured.

06/02/03 Riyadh British BAE employee fired on in Riyadh – not injured.

20/02/03 Assassination/shooting of Robert Dent (British) in his car whilst stopped at traffic lights on Khaled bin al-Walid Street in the Granada district of Riyadh.

27/02/03 Attempted fire bombing of McDonald’s restaurant in Dammam. That's the second attack on Ronald McDonald. How long has he been retailing booze?

05/03/03 Jeddah – shooting incident targeting cars with westerners – no casualties

It was obvious by this time, to everyone except Naif, that Al Qaeda were really getting up a head of steam in the Kingdom, with three separate bombing campaigns, and now a series of shootings. Our Minister of the Interior, either in denial or a catatronic trance, was quoted about this time as saying "there is no reliable evidence of the reported plan by Al-Qaeda to launch attacks against....the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia". Meanwhile the "Booze Bombers" were still being held in prison. He's now locked up 22 Westerners, but it's still mayhem out there. To have released his prisoners would be to "lose face", and we Saudis don't like to lose face, we'd rather look like complete idiots instead. And of course he hasn't forgotten those British nurses.

10/03/03 Jeddah 3 suspicious devices located at 3 separate exits of a shopping mall. Devices dealt with without explosion or injury.

18/03/03 Riyadh –house fire/ explosion. The house was found to be an arms and explosives cache. 1 resident/owner killed (a Saudi male, not a Westerner) blew himself up, apparently by accident while preparing a bomb. The blast, in al-Jazirah district of Riyadh, occurred in a house where police later reported finding three hand grenades, at least a dozen assault rifles, pistols, ammunition and explosives.

07/04/03 Riyadh; bomb scare at the British School. 1200 children evacuated.

06/05/03 Prince Sultan Airbase Al Kharj. Portable SAM missile launched at USAF aircraft – missed.

A SAM missile! You need steady hands for one of those, couldn't be a "boozer" this time. You still don't think that Al Qaeda are active, Prince Naif? Still think that Westerners and their embassies are responsible for all of this? You've got a nasty surprise on the way.

06/05/03 Riyadh – arms cache discovered in a house in the Jazira district. Shootout occurred between suspects and security forces. 19 suspects escape, tied into earlier house explosion

During this week, the US Embassy warns the Saudi government and its Interior Ministry that it has good intelligence of major attacks on Western housing compounds. It asks for increased security measures. Its warnings are seen as unsubstantiated panic, and security is not increased.

13/05/03 suicide car bombers hit 3 housing compounds in Riyadh, Cortoba, Al Hamra, and Jedawal and the Riyadh HQ/housing complex of Vinnell Corporation (military training organisation). 35 people were killed. 194 injured. Followed by...
21/05/03 Jeddah. Three men were arrested as they were about to hijack an airliner and crash it into a Saudi skyscraper.

Finally. Prince Naif and the Keystone Cops "get it". They can no longer pretend that the bombers are Westerners, when a gang of Saudis drive into Western residential compounds, shouting "Allahu Akhbar" and shooting everyone in sight, before blowing the place to bits. In any other country, Naif would now have resigned before he got fired. By denying the Al Qaeda plot, by persisting with this "Booze Bomber" nonsense, he missed the chance to put down a major terrorist campaign in its early days, a campaign that it took another year to finally deal with. However, as a member of the Saudi Royal Family, his job is his by right, not by agreement. He will decide when he resigns, not anyone else. And he's going nowhere. Meanwhile 22 innocent people were imprisoned, terrified, their lives ruined, denied consular or legal access for prolonged periods, tortured, beaten, subject to "joke" executions, and no doubt scarred physically and mentally for the rest of their lives. And all because the Idiot Child of the House of Saud didn't have the brains, guts or balls to say "I got it wrong. I'm sorry. I'm letting you go". Let's take another look at this clown.

Look at those eyes. Stupidity and vindictiveness combined. And do you want to know the really good news? After Crown Prince Sultan, who is 77, he's next in line for the throne. There's something to look forward to.

The prisoners were released by "Royal Pardon", (and therefore still technically guilty), in August 2003. The following developments have occured since then.

At the British Court of Appeal in October 2004, former detainees Les Walker, Sandy Mitchell & William Sampson were given leave to sue the individuals named in their suit for redress for the torture and wrongful conviction that occurred in Saudi Arabia. The three men were part of a group of 8 of whom were convicted of bombing and terrorist offences in Saudi Arabia; Mitchell and Sampson were sentenced to death while the others were sentenced to periods of detention ranging from 12 to 18 years.

The suit names Prince Naif - head of Ministry of Interior, Mohammed Said - governor of Al Hair prison, Ibrahim Al Dali - officer of the Mabaheth and torturer, Khaled Al Saleh - officer of the Mabaheth and torturer's assistant. The basis of the judgement determined that the State Immunity act (1978) did not apply to individuals, particularly where crimes against humanity ( torture, genocide etc.) are concerned, though the court also ruled that the act did apply to the "state", upholding the State Immunity Act (1978) in that instance. Part of the logic was that as torture is illegal, it cannot be an acceptable part of state policy, therefore individuals who conduct such an act cannot be considered to be performing a legitimate state function and therefore cannot be considered immune from legal action. The Saudi government (along with the Department of Constitutional Affairs) are appealing this decision, so the case will now be heard at the Law Lords in April 2006. A favourable decision there will allow the claimants finally to begin civil proceedings in the High Court.

Since the October verdict, an inquest into the death of Christopher Rodway was held on 22 February, 2005 at the Trowbridge Town Hall in Worcestershire, England. Rodway, a British citizen (hence the requirement for an inquest into his death), was killed in a car bomb explosion in Riyadh on the 17 November 2000. At the inquest, the coroner, David Masters, confirmed the cause of death as injuries caused by an explosion and recorded a verdict of unlawful killing. But he added that there was no evidence that would require him to pass the papers to the director of public prosecutions.

So the story is not yet over. I wish the victims every success in finally getting justice. I will report further as things develop. Also, I have a fantasy about the Prince of Darkness finally being jailed himself, somewhere nice like Mogadishu, but of course these things never happen in real life.

Monday, September 19, 2005


I had been meaning to write about "Booze" for some while, as an introduction to a post about the so-called "Booze Bombers". I am grateful to a reader over in the Emirates who has sent me an article about the Saudi drinks industry, that I will refer to later, and it has given me the necessary nudge.

Booze is not allowed in Islam, except for "medicinal purposes", where there is no alternative. Personally I enjoy the occasional "medicinal" pint of warm bitter in an English pub garden by a river or canal, or a nice "medicinal" glass of South African red with my steak. That probably means I'm a bad Muslim. I am very much against getting "legless", however I'm a strong believer that "A little of what you fancy does you good". And like a good Muslim I would never wear a Liverpool Football Club replica shirt ...

Q. Is it permissible to wear the Liverpool football club jersey, as it has the Carlsberg logo as its sponsor?

A. The ruling on wearing such tops and T-shirts is quite obvious, in that it is not permitted for a Muslim to wear anything that advertises and promotes beer, alcohol or any other unlawful item. By wearing such tops, one will be indirectly supporting their beer industry and assisting in sin.

...but that's because I follow Tottenham Hotspur. (Incidentally, colloquially known as "The Yids" by its supporters, many of whom are Jewish. "Come on you Yids" is a familiar chant. I enjoy the irony of joining in).

Right, having now offended our more muttawa readers on two counts, let's go for broke.

Saudi Arabia, as the government and religious establishment will tell you, is a "dry" country, in all senses of the word. But what is the reality? Well, I was once talking with the Saudi manager of a software house in Riyadh. He was telling me about an American guy that he'd recruited and brought over. Excellent CV, and excellent work for the first few weeks. Then his performance started to tail off, he came in later and later each morning, looking as rough as the proverbial dog's backside. So the manager spoke to him, and heard his sad tale. It turned out that the American was an alcoholic, and he'd deliberately chosen to come to Saudi Arabia because "there was no drink there", and he could break his habit. Of course, it didn't take him long to find out that there's plenty of drink, it's just a matter of knowing where to get it, and of course it's expensive. So he eventually headed back home, a saddened but unreformed alcoholic.

When I was young, my older relatives told me that the only alcohol to enter the country was brought in by western expats. What happened was that ships going up and down the Red Sea used to drop off the occasional crate, attached to a buoy. Then, as now, Westerners loved scuba diving in the Red Sea, and supposedly they used to go out on a weekend and bring the stuff inshore.

As I grew up, I realized that quite a number of my fellow Saudis were enjoying the occasional (or indeed frequent) "medicinal" treatment. I found this difficult to reconcile with the odd crate being carried ashore near Jeddah. In fact the more booze that I saw with my own eyes, the more I realized that it was arriving in industrial quantities. And then I picked up the common knowledge that the largest trade was operated by Princes, who had the clout and "Wasta" to get container-loads past Customs officials at the ports, and make sure they weren't searched at the regular roadblocks. Not only that, but the Princes themselves were said to be major customers, by those who occasionally moved in those circles. And it wasn't just my private joke; the late King Fahd was indeed known to be a great Johnny Walker fan.

The Western expat community are of course very resourceful when it come to booze. It's highly unlikely they haul it in from the Red Sea, but they do tend to brew it themselves. Go to any Western-style compound and you'll be plied with home-made wine and beer, some of it very good, some of it a bit rough for my exquisite taste. When they fancy something a bit stronger, they buy a large bottle of so-called "Sid", which is supposed to be 60-80% alcohol, illegally distilled locally. I never tried that myself because I was worried about it containing methyl alcohol, but it has many fans. A favorite trick was to buy cans of "malt drink" from the supermarket, in effect cans of beer without the alcohol, and then replace the alcohol that had been removed. Alternatively it could be used in any drinks that would normally contain gin or vodka.

There were even until recently a number of "pubs" for expats. They had fanciful names like "Pig and Whistle" or "McGinty's Bar", but instead of being High street buildings with flapping pub signs and piano music wafting out, were instead anonymous villas on compounds or in neighbourhoods. Everyone knew about them, including the cops, who turned a blind eye until the "Booze Bomber" campaign gave "Nasty Naif" the chance to close them down.

The non-Western expats are also in on the act, both as shippers and consumers. Stashes of booze are always turning up after police raids looking for "overstayers". The papers keep publishing pictures, a bit like pornography, thinking that we've never ever seen the real thing. The cache on the left has been impounded and is no doubt about to "pay its debt to society" in the homes of senior police officers.

The article in the Khaleej Times is a classic expose of the alcohol trade amongst our Third World guests. Entitled "Saudis shocked at discovery of wine factories", (which is like "Kansas shocked at discovery of cornfields" or "French shocked at discovery of vineyards"), it makes for fascinating reading.

Recent reports in the local media giving details of raids on illegal wine factories across the Kingdom have shocked Saudi society where alcohol is banned.

Shocked? Flabbergasted! We'd never have imagined it!

A number of government departments took part in the crackdown, including the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, with others providing general assistance.

In fact, just about every department has been trying to get in on the raids. However our fearless Muttawa have been elbowing all the others aside, I bet it was like "Happy Hour" all night, there's no stopping them when there's free booze to be grabbed - sorry, illicit alcohol to be confiscated.

On Tuesday, a residential place in the Al Rabwa neighbourhood, east of the capital, was broken-into and a complete alcohol-producing factory was uncovered along with SR15,000 worth of goods ready to be distributed across the Kingdom.
The house had been rented by a Saudi national in charge of the marketing side with a number of workers, mostly from Africa, overseeing the production.

Usual allocation of labor; "darkies" doing the work, a Saudi to collect the money. The whole process was on an industrial scale, but some of the methods were...err..."innovative".

The report said that further searches of the property provided details of how large quantities of wine were being produced, using heavy machinery to process the grapes, rat carcasses to accelerate the fermentation process as well as sewage water and several banned chemicals.

Let's hope that the rat had been hung and aged for a long time; there's nothing more guaranteed to spoil a good vintage than an immature rat. Same principle with the sewage.

And this stuff was selling like "Harry Potter" (which is also supposed to be banned in Saudi Arabia).
(One $ US = SR 3.7)

A two-litre bottle of beer can cost as much as SR 250 with some producers offering discounts for large orders. On an average, the number of barrels used to ferment grapes in each of the twenty illegal factories discovered by the police was 50, holding 500 litres, the price of which was SR 3.75 million, usually sold within a two months period. A single factory could therefore generate SR 22.5 million every year.

That's Big Bucks. No wonder the "Booze Princes" want this sort of competition closed down. They've read "The Seven Secrets of Successful Bootleggers". However, compared to traditional methods of "gaining that competitive edge", using the muttawa is less noisy and leaves less mess on the walls. But where did the intelligence come from?

An official involved in the latest raid told Asharq Al-Awsat that wine factories were, for the most part, uncovered with the help of individuals previously involved in the trade, who regretted participating in illegal activities and cooperated with the authorities.

There's nothing that encourages "regret" and "cooperation" more than a good energetic beating on the soles of the feet, and anxiety about one's toenails being flushed down the toilet one-by-one.

If you're a bit fussy about your booze, and worried that it's been fermented with an immature rat, then without doubt your best bet is the various Western embassies in Riyadh. They are very hospitable and often host events at which locals are invited. And of course their booze is straight from home and perfectly legal, entering the country in a container-size "diplomatic bag". If wine is your thing, obviously it's the French Embassy. July 4th at the US Embassy is ideal for Bourbon and other strong drinks, and St. Patrick's Day at the Irish Embassy brings out the Guinness and Jamesons. And every Wednesday night used to be "Bierkeller Night" with the Germans. However there have been ocasional hiccups in the diplomatic traffic. There was a time in 2003 when relations between the US and the Saudi government were a bit strained. An ambitious security officer impounded the US Embassy "booze truck" making its regular run from the port,and wouldn't let it go. As you can imagine, tempers got very frayed. It almost got to the stage of Colin Powell appearing at the UN with satellite photos and telephone intercepts. Fortunately it was released in time. History doesn't record whether the contents remained intact.

A junior diplomat at one Embassy is reported to have organized his own private booze shipment. It was a huge and heavy crate, and he got the shippers to label it as a piano. He eagerly awaited delivery. His world fell apart when he got the following message from Saudi Customs. "Fork-lift truck in Customs warehouse has damaged your crate. Your piano is leaking. Please advise."

Soon: The sorrowful saga of the so-called "Booze Bombers".

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The "Cannon Fodder" tells his tale 

I know a number of schoolteachers. One of the things about them that has always amazed me, is their ability to sum up a child just by looking at his face. "He's ambitious, he'll go far", or "Dead eyes. Look at those dead eyes. He's trouble", or "I'm afraid there's not a lot in there". I never saw what they saw, but then I didn't have their experience, and they usually turned out to be right.

Take a look at this face. Even I can tell that "The lights are on but there's no-one at home". "The wheel may be spinning but the hamster's not there". Not the shiniest date in the bunch, or the wisest camel in the herd. But I'm not going to make fun of him, he's too easy a target. However he is a member of a very exclusive group.

He is Ahmad ibn Abdullah Al-Shayie, he is a failed suicide bomber, and you don't come across many of those. His tale, (for he can tell it, being a failed suicide bomber), is recounted here, and soon he'll be on TV. One day he was just an ordinary Saudi kid whose progress thru the Saudi educational system had been that of a log in a slow-moving river - ponderous, not really getting anywhere fast, certainly not picking anything up on the way. He'd never have mastered geometry in a million years. However he did pick up the bit about the Joooos being liars, and how we are better than non-believers, and Jihad is good, because that kept getting drummed into him. But he doesn't have a very sophisticated theological or historical understanding, and all those ideas got a bit mixed up. Where was he born? Buraydah, in Qassim. Somehow, I'm not surprised. But no jokes about Qassim today.

So Ahmad graduates from school. He's not bright enough to get a job in a Call Center, and too stuck-up to work alongside those Indians on the supermarket check-out. He would normally look forward to an existence of PlayStation, satellite TV, McDonalds, and trying to get past the doorman into a "family-only" shopping mall. The nearest he'd come to danger would be driving around with his pals in some old wreck, no seatbelts, failing to complete a hi-speed u-turn and getting wrapped around a lamp-post.

However these days, just across our northern border, there is excitement and adventure, beckoning our no-hopers like a beacon. Iraq.

Ahmad said he had gone to Iraq out of a conviction that he should do something to help his Iraqi brothers though he had not consulted scholars about his plans and in fact ignored the advice of his parents and family.

Just two clarifications there. "Iraqi brothers" means "Iraqi Sunni brothers", because even with his limited understanding, he knows that he'll be killing Iraqi Shiites; however he's a good Sunni and like all other Sunnis, doesn't approve of Sunni chest-slapping and other strange ways. Secondly, it was undoubtedly a "scholar", some Imam or teacher with Al Qaeda connections, who, far from discouraging him, actually recruited him in the first place. "Listen Ahmad, you're a good Muslim, there's nothing for you here, you could go to Iraq and fight for the Muslim Brotherhood, think how much better Paradise will be than what you have now. You'll die eventually anyway, so why not go sooner and guarantee yourself the place that all Jihadis have in Paradise?" Fair enough, he says.

....he had entered Iraq through Syria with the help of smugglers.
.... He said he was taken to an Al-Qaeda cell in Doura district in the south of Iraq where he was trained to drive an oil tanker.

Now Ahmad is not trained to fire a rocket launcher or a machine gun. That would be a bit beyond him, and anyway, that's reserved for the Iraqi insurgents who are mostly army trained and certainly plan to "fight another day". Why go and kill yourself when hordes of stupid Saudi kids are streaming across the border asking for the privilege? The Iraqi insurgents are not daft. So he learns to drive his oil tanker. Then comes the big day.

On the day of explosion, he was told to take the tanker to the Al-Mansour neighborhood. “They asked me to stop the tanker near a concrete barrier, saying someone would come to receive the tanker from me.

Do you know, I don't think he's necessarily being disingenuous here. There's just a chance that he actually believes that story. On the other hand, perhaps he's just a lousy liar. Anyway..

But no sooner had I stopped the tanker than it exploded,” he said.

I don't suppose they'd have trusted him with the detonator. Probably some Iraqi with a radio-controlled one at a safe distance.

The young man was luckily ejected from the tanker by the force of the blast,
Ahmad who sustained severe burns all over his body was arrested by Iraqi police who later handed him over to Saudi authorities.

...where he is being nurtured by Saudi medical resources, having killed....

12 innocent Iraqis, including seven members of the same family

He's now going to appear on TV, supposedly to discourage others. However, for those who are reassured by the fact that suicide bombing is not a hereditary profession, take heed of the fact that Saudi Arabia's unfulfilled womenfolk are fuelling one of the largest birthrates in the world, and there are plenty more where Ahmad came from.

Also, and I've no doubt that this opinion will not be universally popular, ten years ago Ahmad and his like would have spent their lives in useless but low-key hedonism, eventually dying a peaceful but definitely lonely death. Iraq has changed all that. For those who believe that invading Iraq has somehow reduced the world's sum total of terrorists, think of Ahmad, and all those who preceded him, and all those who will follow him.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Yet more ice-cream sinfulness 

"The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment."

Memo to self: never again make smug self-satisfied statements. Why? because the Third Law of Sod states "That which you said would definitely never ever happen, will."

The Muttawa are alive and kicking in Britain. They may not be in GM trucks wearing short dirty thobes and beards the length of their fist. They aren't even organized yet. They are operating alone, uncoordinated. But soon, like a bad Sci-Fi movie, they will sense each other's existence, and come together, and greet each other with grunts of recognition. And at that time, good citizens of Great Britain, it will be too late!

What am I on about? Read this, you good-natured and tolerant Yoemen of England, and despair.
Burger King is to withdraw thousands of ice-cream cones because the design on the packaging resembles the Arab word for Allah.
The company has acted after the coincidence was spotted by a Muslim customer, Rashad Akhtar, at its Park Royal outlet last week , who later telephoned its head office to say that the packaging was sacrilegious.

Well, I suppose, if an ice-cream cone said "God" or "Jesus" in English, then it might cause some adverse comments. So we'd better compare the two.

Standard Arabic calligraphy for "Allah"

The ice-cream cone top

Now Arabic is a handwritten rather than a typewritten language, and calligraphy is an art-form in itself that can produce many beautiful and stylish variants, so I've found a variant that most closely matches our ice-cream top.

But it's still not a close resemblance, in particular because that first letter, that down-stroke on the right, the first letter in the Arabic alphabet, known as "Alef", is never joined up with the second letter from the right, the "Lam". You can see in both calligraphy examples, (and it applies to all the others), that they are separate, whilst on the ice-cream top, they are joined.

So it would have to be a very myopic or semi-literate or indeed dyslexic Arabic reader to confuse the two, rather than recognize on the ice-cream top what is fairly obviously the spiral shape of an ice-cream cone, lying on its side.

However it is clear that Mr Akhtar saw what he chose to see, and indeed chose to be highly offended, rather than see what a normal person would see. And of course, we have already covered at great length the moral and spiritual dangers posed by the ice-cream cone. Mr Akhtar is clearly ideal muttawa material, and not surprisingly the Muslim Council of Britain, the Wahabbi Muslim Government-in-Waiting for the UK, has already recognized his great muttawa potential as demonstrated by his religious ignorance combined with his enormous stupidity.

MCB spokesman Inayat Bunglawala said: "It is true that seen from a certain angle, the design on the BK ice cream lid could be read as closely resembling the word Allah in Arabic.
“We commend the sensitive and prompt action BK have taken to prevent any hurt being caused to the religious sensibilities of others by this."

(In case Mr Bunglawala's name is familiar, it could be from this earlier post that quoted two of his little gems

the BBC had allowed itself to be used by "highly placed supporters of Israel in the British media to make capital out of the July 7 atrocities in London

and earlier

The chairman of Carlton Communications is Michael Green of the Tribe of Judah. He has joined an elite club whose members include fellow Jews Michael Grade [then the chief executive of Channel 4 and now BBC chairman] and Alan Yentob [BBC2 controller and friend of Salman Rushdie).

So Mr Akhtar and Mr Bunglawala are indeed a marriage made in heaven.

Sadly, Burger King have "shown great cultural sensitivity" or "crumpled under pressure", depending how you look upon it.

The US fast-food giant said it would withdraw the packaging in ‘the near future’ once an alternative has been designed.
But the action has failed to satisfy Akhtar, who wants the designer sacked and is calling on Muslims to boycott the fast-food company.
...."These people who have designed this think they can get away with this again and again. This is my jihad".

So the poor designer, who is probably some dreamy commercial artist, lives for his Mac PC's graphic software, has zero interest in the outside world, and if pushed for an answer would guess that Allah is a central defender for West Ham United, should be sacked? Merciful indeed. Not only that, but it's Mr Akhtar's Jihad! Holy War, Akhtar, get a life! And some eyeglasses. Now he whines on:

"I ordered my food and then got talking to a worker, a French guy".
"He asked me: ‘Are you Muslim?’"
"He showed me the cone."
"I felt humiliated"

Mr Akhtar, you are right to feel humiliated by an ice-cream cone. Although for a brief and fleeting period, the ice-cream cone will at least serve some purpose in life.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Immune Diplomat 

A reader, "m m", drew my attention to this item.

Saudis silent on diplomat's fate

The Saudi Arabian authorities are refusing to reveal what action was taken against a diplomat suspected of sexually assaulting a child in London.
The man was arrested at the end of July last year but was released after claiming diplomatic immunity.
The Saudis say he will not be able to return to the UK, but have offered no information as to his fate.
The Foreign Office has refused to hand over papers on the case, despite a BBC freedom of information request.
The alleged assault against the 11-year-old girl generated anger in the newspapers when the Saudis refused a request by the British to waive the man's diplomatic immunity.

That just about sums up all I know about the case.

Obviously, had he been charged and convicted in the UK, he would have gone to prison for some length of time. He wouldn't have had his head shaven, but that would have been the least of his problems. British prisoners have a form of 'code of honor' which means that they attempt to kill child sex criminals if they get the chance. For that reason child sex criminals are segregated for their own protection. In the event he didn't get charged and he invoked diplomatic immunity, and the Saudi government, to nobody's surprise, has gone quiet on the case.

For what it's worth, because I have no special knowledge, this is how I believe the Saudi government will see the case. Please bear in mind that I am saying all this with a straight face. This is not one of those 'ironic posts'.

1. Saudi Law, based totally on Sharia Law, does not specify a minimum age for sexual relations. It does require that sex must take place within marriage. However there are no hard-and-fast rules for the minimum age of marriage; it depends upon what is seen as the 'best interests' of both parties.

2. Although there is some scolarly dispute, it is generally accepted that Mohammad married his wife Aisha, the daughter of Abu Bakr, when she was six, and consummated the marriage when she was nine. See here for various items of evidence, pro and con. Interestingly, whilst there has been some dispute, there has been virtually no condemnation within the religion.

3. More recently, the 'Saudi Gazette' trumpeted an article about a man of indeterminate old age, married to a girl of thirteen.

4. Given that Saudi attitudes to the age of consent are more 'relaxed' than those in most other places, the fact that the girl was eleven would not, per se, be a cause for censure of their diplomat, and certainly not if she had reached the age of puberty.

5. What would be a cause for censure would be the fact that the alleged events had taken place outside marriage. However it is sadly a matter of fact that the female is generally seen as the more guilty party on these occasions. I am assuming that she was not veiled or concealing her form in any way.

So, whilst I have no special knowledge, I suspect that the diplomat's fate, punishment or penalty will be...


P.S. For those tempted to go to the website of the Saudi Embassy in London, perhaps to check on recent departures, it seems to be offline. (16.09.05). What you might call a 'diplomatic silence'.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Haircut, Sir? 

The campaign to Saudi-ize the Travel Agency industry is getting nowhere.


Saudization is a very laudable objective. It aims to reduce our dependence on foreign workers, by getting Saudis to do the job themselves. The problem is, it keeps on failing. Travel Agency is the latest example.

We hope to provide trained Saudis who can fit into work in the tour and travel industry and enable the companies to achieve at least 45 percent of Saudization during the first year, Sharif Elabdelwahab, NSJT general secretary, told The Saudi Gazette.
Forty-five percent Saudization is far lower than the latest revised target set for the sector.
That revision was done in mid-2004 after the Saudization Committee began cracking down on expatriates working in travel agencies when a Muharram 1, 1425 (February 21, 2004) deadline for them to achieve 100 percent Saudization of front-desk jobs passed with expatriates still occupying some 90 percent of the jobs.

There are two main reasons why it fails:

So when it's time to recruit someone else, who do the immediate Management (themselves Sri Lankan, or Egyptian, or Sudani) go for? Someone whom the customers will try and avoid like the plague? Or a known quantity from back home, properly trained, a good team worker, with good customer skills? It's a no-brainer, of course.

I'm very much in support of Saudization in the long-term interests of the country, but the only way it will work will be to set and enforce continually declining quotas of foreign workers, for our young men to bear the pain of those menial jobs, and for the rest of us to bear the pain of decades of abysmal customer service. At the moment the government effort is not 'joined up', one department sets arbitrary and unrealistic quotas while another allows in a continual stream of foreign recruits.

As the article goes on to say about the events of last year

The Saudization Committee's raids forced several travel agencies to down shutters and spare their foreign workers the embarrassment of being taken into custody despite holding valid Iqamas (job and residence permit). Those who got arrested from their workplaces were detained in deportation centers.

I love the bit about 'sparing their foreign workers the embarrassment'. It wasn't they who were embarrassed, it was the government, and in fact all of us. It was a complete and utterly abysmal shambles. It was Saudi Arabia at its worst. You see, when a Travel Agency failed to meet its 100% Saudi quota by the deadline, they didn't prosecute the Saudi businessman owners, the ones who were ultimately responsible. No sir, it was a case of 'spare the guilty and punish the innocent'. They arrested the Third World staff instead.

No Letup in Raids Against Travel Agents in Riyadh

RIYADH, 15 March 2004 — Raids and sweeping arrests of expatriate travel agents continued until last night, defying hopes of a grace period for Saudization of the travel industry

Expatriates, you note. Not the Saudi owners, some of whom were and are multi-millionaire busessmen. But there's more. What's this?

No more heads have been forcibly shaved, according to recently released travel agents.

Just imagine it. You're Gunasekara from Sri Lanka, working at your desk in the Travel Agency. You've heard all this stuff about Saudization, but your boss told you not to worry, there'll be a postponement, there always is. Turn up for work as usual. Then the cops burst in. Along with everyone else, you're bundled into a bus, and taken to prison. Your day just got worse....

Meanwhile Ali, one of the prison barbers, is having a lousy day. The good thing about his job is that he has a captive customer base. The bad thing is that his traffic depends on the cops bringing potential customers. And today it's very quiet, no money coming in. Mind you, he's not the sort of barber who will give you a magazine to read while he wraps hot towels round your face. He probably won't snip the little hairs in your ears and nostrils, or apply talcum powder to the back of your neck. He won't even ask, in that arch manner beloved of British barbers of old, whether "you need anything for the weekend?" - believe me, where you are, you won't be going anywhere for the weekend. However, he is a basic but thorough barber. You get used to the cigarette hanging out of his mouth as he leans over you. And he's really good at shaving heads.

Suddenly the gates are opened. Buses arrive. Hordes of 'darkies' pour in. Fresh meat, in copious quantities. It's like Eid came early. All at once, Ali's day just got a lot better...

But all detained workers complained barbers in the detention center used pressure tactics to persuade workers to allow their heads to be shaved — possibly to maximize their income. Some said that while head-shaving was not mandatory, many inmates were tense and anxious during detention and did not dare refuse or simply asked no questions of the barbers.

Not a 'quick trim', you'll notice, but the full works - the blunt razor tracing its rasping path over the contours of the skull. But difficult to refuse when

a few policemen behaved in an indecent manner when some inmates of the deportation center refused a shave.

Well, our cops are very fastidious, they can't stand their prisoners having a 'five-o'clock shadow'. Especially when they're feeling in an 'indecent' sort of mood. Sometimes, a shawarma is not enough satisfaction. Let's not go there.

So that was last year. However, the saga of Saudization and our Travel Agencies trundles on. Ali's business has never been as good again. Next time you're having your blow dry, spare a thought for Ali.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

I say potato... 

The King's pronouncement on kissing his hand has stimulated some correspondence about cultural differences between West and East, particularly with body language. We get used to the body language of our own culture and can be very confused by that of others.

Many Westerners who come to work in Saudi Arabia do so with companies like British Aerospace. As such they tend to be insulated from the world of the real Saudi. However others do brave Saudi companies, and it's always amusing to see their reactions when they first arrive. As in the West, they get introduced to all their new Saudi colleagues. We're a friendly bunch of guys and, naturally, the handshakes are "prolongued", as the newcomer is asked about where he comes from, what religion is he, how many sons does he have, what's their name, "So we will call you Abu Michael", and so on, and so on. His face gets more and more strained as his hand is held in the welcoming grip. He's hardly listening to the other guy, he just wonders when he'll get his hand back. Finally it is released, only to be grasped by the next person. The ordeal goes on and on. Eventually it ends. Then some Saudi colleague comes in, he's just back from vacation. He's delighted to see us all so he grabs us all and kisses us on both cheeks. By this time our Western newcomer is watching aghast, he thinks he's going to get kissed as well. However we are not a cruel people and we spare him this cultural experience.

I was once in Olaya Street in the middle of the Riyadh business district. As you can see, it's a six-lane highway, more of a drag-strip really. You get boy racers trying to set the record for getting from one traffic light to the next, with taxis weaving across the lanes looking for business and beeping at any likely fares. So you have to take care when crossing. I saw a middle aged Western guy waiting at the side, looking for a gap in the traffic. A young Saudi lad spotted him, thought he was obviously a bit slow and doddery, came up to him, took him by the hand, and led him across both carriageways. It was an absolute hoot to watch. The young Saudi was just being kind and hospitable, he wandered off as normal. The Westerner just stood at the far side in shock.

It's always a problem going abroad, knowing how to behave. When I've been to Indonesia, I do know that "Yes" may sometimes mean "No", but what are you supposed to do when they put their hands together and bow to you? Do the same back? Just sort of nod and smile? Perhaps someone can help me out there. It can be very confusing.

To help reduce the confusion, I've drawn on my vast experience and put together some guidelines for the Saudi traveller to Britain.

The Saudi's Guide to Polite Behavior in Britain

1. On the tube (subway), try to make eye contact with your fellow-passengers. When you do, smile, or in the case of females, wink.

2. The British will frequently apologize to you, even if they are not at fault. They appreciate a familiar and jocular reply. Try "Clumsy idiot!" or "I should think so!". Practice your language skills by making up your own funny answers.

3. In a lift or similar enclosed space, it is good luck for someone to break wind. If you do so yourself, look round at everyone and smile, so they will know who has brought them such good fortune.

4. As at home, you are expected to haggle, especially in upmarket shops like Harrod's and Harvey Nichols. If they initially refuse, it may be because they do not wish to take advantage of you. Keep lowering your price until you find common ground.

5. Queues are a British and Western custom where people stand in line for things like tickets, buses, taxis, Madame Tussaud's. They do not apply to those of us from the Middle East. Westerners are a hospitable people and will expect you to go straight to the front.

6. As at home, you may hawk and spit noisily onto the pavement. If you do this in front of their young men, especially those with shaven heads and tattoos, this will provide endless opportunities for comparing our respective cultures and customs.

7. When you meet a British male, he will extend his hand. You may hold on to it, but do not kiss him on both cheeks; one will suffice, alternatively the lips. On the other hand, when he introduces his wife and / or daughter, this is merely a formality. As at home, you should completely ignore them.

...and now in addition, with grateful thanks to Lehihamra, is advice for those making the journey in the other direction.

An Englishman's Guide to Living in Saudi

1. When greeting new Saudi business acquaintences, always enquire about the health of their mothers - you should also make sure you know all your friends' mothers' names.

2. When in the office, show how relaxed and comfortable you are by putting your feet up on the desk during meetings. Everyone will know that by showing them the soles of your feet you feel completely at home with them.

3. When eating Kuzi (Saudi "delicacy" - complete lamb stuffed with rice, chickens, hard-boiled eggs etc.), make sure you delve right in with both hands as soon as the food arrives. As you are the guest from abroad, it is expected for you to eat before anyone else, and using both hands is a sign of how much you are enjoying your food.

4. Men with long beards love heavy metal music, so if you see a group of them driving around in a big GMC truck, drive up alongside and let them enjoy that Motorhead CD you have in the player. They are especially fond of "Ace of Spades" at full volume.

5. Entertain your fellow office workers by whistling a merry tune throughout the day. The sound will bring all kinds of good things to you.

6. Share your English love for pets by taking your affectionate Rotweiller for a walk in the local mall. Oh how everyone will love being slobbered on and licked by such a loving dog.

7. If asked about your religion, engage the person in an earnest discussion about the great spiritual benefit that can be achieved by accepting the Lord Jesus Christ into their hearts as their personal lord and saviour.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Tuesday Tidbits 

More news, although it's no news, about the "Khamys Mushayt Girl", previously covered here and here.

Time is running out for the woman known as the Khamis Mushayt Girl as she moves ever closer to execution.
The woman was convicted of murdering a man while trying to fend off a forcible rape. Repeated efforts to sway the family of the murder victim to grant her pardon have failed, Al-Madinah newspaper reported.
The condemned woman has gained the sympathy of millions of people across the Kingdom. The website covering the case has recorded more than six million hits so far.
Maj. Saud Al-Otaibi, director of Abha prison, said the girl has spent six years wondering whether her fate will be pardon or death. Lately she has become isolated, extremely depressed and her physical condition is deteriorating, Al-Otaibi said. An air of optimism for both guards and inmates that the latest efforts might secure her pardon had now turned to one of disappointment as her execution looms.
A human rights group interfered on her behalf, but its efforts failed. Although forcible rape is universally condemned, some find it ironic that defending against it apparently results in similar condemnation here.

Maybe I'm clutching at straws, but the execution was scheduled for August 18th, and these things are usually very prompt, so perhaps the continued delay indicates some royal interest, and dare we hope it, pardon?


THE Council of Ministers on Monday approved a new system that it said would strengthen the National Human Rights Commission.
The proposal for the new system was submitted by Prince Naif Bin Abdul Aziz, Minister of Interior, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
Under the new system, the Commission will be directly linked to the Prime Minster King Abdullah.
It is tasked with strengthening the protection of human rights by also raising awareness and ensuring the application of its rules in line with the Islamic Shariah.

The idea of "Nasty Naif" sponsoring Saudi Human Rights is as likely as Donald Rumsfeld taking "goody bags" to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. It is of course the second such body; the first one was set up in March 2004. In that same month, a bunch of reformists criticized it for being a "government poodle". So the government showed how commited they were to Human Rights by banging them up, together with their lawyers. I think there was a "Two for the price of one" deal on that month. They finally got out last month; the new King pardoned them, but I'll leave you to guess whether there was an apology.

On a lighter note, my thanks to Shari for this photograph. She asks where it's from. Well, it's obviously a Saudi camel, you can tell from the face. You can't avoid loving camels, they'll just sit there all day, totally unfazed. Not like a highly-strung Arabian horse, it'd be two miles down the road by the time you got your camera out, ask Michael Brown. Anyway, the clue is the advertising hoarding at the top right. It's in......Hebrew! Now the Joooos are stealing our camels!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Talking about apologies 

We Saudis don't do apologies. Hence no apology for our fifteen citizens in airplanes on 9/11/2001. In fact we don't acknowledge them at all. Look thru the Saudi newspapers on 9/11/2005, not a mention of them. You'd think the hijackers came from Iceland.

However, as a general rule, we don't apologize. It's not a particularly Saudi thing, it's an Eastern thing. Because if you apologize, you lose face. And we don't like to lose face. So we may be completely, demonstrably, 100% in the wrong, and still not apologize. We might look complete prats, but we don't apologize, because we'd lose face.

But we do make one exception when it comes to apologies. It's quite a simple rule, really. If I do you some wrong, I won't apologize. On the other hand, if you offend me, I certainly expect a full and instant apology.

You may not know this, but Saudi Arabia declared War on Hungary back in February this year. Why? Well, it was this insult from the Prime Minister of Hungary, Ferenc Gyurcsany.

Riyadh Seeks Apology From Budapest

Gyurcsany triggered the spat following a 0-0 drawn soccer game on Feb. 2 that had been billed as a friendship match. Speaking during a function organized to celebrate the 15th anniversary of his political party, Gyurcsany said: “I think there were many terrorists among the Saudi players and our boys fought fearlessly against these terrorists.”

Well, that put the cat amongst the diplomatic pigeons!

Saudi Arabia has said that it will not receive Szili (Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament) until Budapest officially apologizes for the nasty remarks made by Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany against the Saudi soccer players.

We don't like nasty remarks and we clearly expected an apology. And Hungarians, being Eastern Europeans, don't have the same cultural issues about "losing face", so we fully expected one. The whole thing escalated and finally we declared war on those miserable Magyars.
Prince Turki Al-Faisal commanded our invasion force. It headed off up the road, north-west, and stopped for the first night just across the border in Aqaba, Jordan. There the lads discovered a bar where you could sit and drink cold Budweiser, and look into the grounds of the next-door Radisson Hotel, ogling at the ladies in swimming costumes. Just the same as the hordes of hormone-charged and emotionally-immature Saudi youth on weekends up from Jeddah. So they stayed for a bit, and then a bit longer....Finally, when they ran out of money, they headed back to Riyadh. Meanwhile...

A statement released by the Hungarian Embassy yesterday expressed the hope that the apology offered by the prime minister would bring to an end this sorry episode. The Hungarian Embassy’s press release has quoted Gyurcsany as saying: “As I said earlier, I regret if my statement was misunderstandable and insulting. It was not my intention to insult the government and people of Saudi Arabia. However, if my remarks had that effect, I express my apology to them.”

We had got our apology. The War with Hungary was over. Prince Turki was rewarded with the position of Ambassador to the US.

Personally, I liked the description of our team as "terrorists". Normally, they look as threatening as the inmates of the geriatric ward when it's cocoa time. But their reputation obviously put the frighteners on the Hungarians. So the name might catch on - The Minnesota Vikings, the New York Giants, the Saudi Arabia Terrorists. It's probably worth a goal each half.

Anyway, we do believe in apologies - yours.

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