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.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


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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