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, February 23, 2006

Guess who's coming to dinner? 

A "prominent Arabist intellectual" called Zogby says that our problem in Saudi Arabia is all to do with Public Relations....

Zogby Says Saudis Need Better PR Strategy in US

....and he has a solution

The Kingdom needs to hone the communication skills of “smart Saudi women” to put across its message effectively to the American audience ....Pointing out that Saudi Arabia should review its communication strategy, Zogby said talented Saudi women from the mass media could be mobilized to explain the Saudi point of view to the target audience, such as the American youth, the elite, opinionmakers and other influential people in the US.

We certainly have no shortage of "smart Saudi women". In fact, we have such respect for their talents, that after their university education, we deny them most employment opportunities, and effectively condemn them to a life sentence of domesticity and child rearing. So you won't actually find any "Saudi women from the mass media", because, with exceptions in the single figures, we don't let them have such interesting and fulfilling jobs. But it's a nice idea, in principle.

It's also an interesting idea. It implies that we've used up all the men, they've been completely seen thru, and have lost all credibility. So let's roll out a batch of women, they have, initially at least, some credibiliy. People will believe them.

The whole notion is based on the theory that, however bad something is, you can make it look good with good PR. Whereas the real truth is that all PR will do is to give something a higher profile; whether it's a good profile or a bad profile depends on the thing itself.

But the amateurs and professionals of PR flatter themselves that they can make something look good, just by "spinning" it the right way. Thus, Foreign Minister Prince Saud, faced with the fact that the Middle East, with 2% of the world's population, manages to contribute 47% of the world's terrorism, span us this Good News:

Prince Saud pointed out that in 2004, 53 percent of terrorist incidents around the globe occurred outside the Middle East.

When the amateurs try and do it, the results are more clumsy, but often funnier. Where would we be without Tanya C Hsu?

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

....and, on not being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia....

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

Personally, I'm even worse at it. Here are three of my contributions....

21% of the 9/11 hijackers didn't come from Saudi Arabia!

When a criminal has his eye gouged out, we've actually halved his eyeglass prescription costs!

The good thing about lashing criminals is that it provides a healthy physical outlet for otherwise lazy prison staff.

....which is why I'd never be any good at PR. Let's face it, if you're sitting on a pile of fetid hyena dung, saying nice things about it won't make it smell any better, it just shows that you are either a liar or have a bad cold.

Anyway, I wonder how our PR gurus might spin this particular tale.

MAID FOR EACH OTHER (the "Saudi Gazette"'s headline, not mine!)

....but before we get to the serious stuff, it's an everyday tale of human frailty.

SAMIRA Khalid was always left puzzled by the mystery of coming home daily to find her pictures turned to the wall or face down. I work as a teacher so I leave my house at 6:30 A.M. and come back at 2 P.M. , Samira said. But each day I came back, I noticed that my pictures were facing away or down.

Perhaps her husband was doing that, while he went round doing the dusting? But, no need, this is Saudi Arabia, we get someone else to do that.

In desperation she quizzed the maid about the bizarre going on. She was the only person who could enter my room to clean it while I am out. But she denied having any idea about what is going on, recalls Samira.

Returning home early one day, Samira discovers the awful truth....

To her surprise, her husband's car was parked outside the house. That was the last hour of my marriage, she says without a hint of remorse on her face. Shocked Samira entered her home to discover that instead of going to work daily, her cheating husband had been staying at home, sleeping with their oriental maid.

Sadly, these things happen. But then it got even worse....

The end of the mystery also signaled the end of Samira's marriage, as she learnt how the amorous pair had gotten married during her annual vacation. That wasn't all either; apparently the new wife was also pregnant.

Only in Saudi Arabia! He's married the maid as well, and now has two wives, but there are still slots for another two! Truly, guys, this is the "Land of Opportunity"! Except it's not supposed to work that way. You're supposed to provide each with their own house. I know it's a great money-saving idea, but you shouldn't really have them both in the same house doing different shifts.

But then we come to the really nasty bit. You see, the husband turns out to be illegally married. Why?

Saudi law forbids a Saudi from getting married to a non-Saudi without governmental permission, something Samira's randy husband did not bother to think about.

Oh, did I never mention that before? And you thought you'd heard everything about Saudi Arabia? You see, we can't just marry whom we want. No, we have this law, you see. You can have up to four wives, no problem. But they need to be Saudi. It's not a religion thing, although there are a whole other set of rules about that. No, it's a nationality thing and, because we don't have permanent immigration, it de facto is also a race thing.

The Kingdom's marriage procedures demand that a Saudi must seek permission from two civic authorities before he is allowed to marry outside his own race.

So, in theory, you can marry a non-Saudi, outside your own race. Surely, you just ask for permission? Isn't that simple enough?

Firstly from the Emir of the region in which the marriage will take place.

Sure, just drop in and ask some crusty geriatric misogynist Prince. One whose only notion of foreign women is based on his silent and subservient Indonesian and Filipino domestic staff. He'll want to know what's wrong with you, why can't you find "a nice Saudi girl" to marry? Still you may get lucky. He may be in a good mood, and give you permission. But if he does, we have a special "Gotcha"!

Secondly permission must be sought from the Ministry of Interior....

That's Prince Naif's people. Really warm and lovable, they are, and to get permission from them....

.... the non-Saudi in the marriage has to be born in Saudi Arabia.

Gotcha! Nobody off the plane will do. They must be born and bred in the country. So the hordes of domestic staff who come for a few years are completely off-limits, such as Samira's maid. The only women who are elegible, are the daughters of men who have been here two or three decades at least. And for those men to bring their wives and be able to stay for that length of time and raise families, they must be in good professional jobs. So now we've screened out the poor and humble.

But still it's not all plain sailing. There are more hurdles, and several layers of Saudi bureaucracy to navigate - and imagine how quickly they move! The next bit of "small print" is best read out in hushed tones but at breakneck speed by those people who do financial services or medical adverts.

In addition, the man must provide information about his financial status, a letter of confirmation from his employer, a copy of his fiancee's iqama, as well as her father s Iqama and passport. To prove that the wife was born in Saudi Arabia, a birth certificate and a medical report must also be included in the application. To have official approval, the wife should be born in Saudi Arabia and both the husband and wife should be older than 25. They have to submit their papers and then go through several interviews with officials. During these interviews the Saudi must also provide valid reasons as to why they want to marry a non-Saudi.

Oh, and both need to be 25. Didn't I mention that before? Not to worry, start your application when you are 20, you'll be old enough by the time you've gone thru the whole process. But as you may imagine, very few do actually succeed.

(This of course applies to Muslim-Muslim marriages. It gets a lot more complicated if one of you is not Muslim. Let's save that for another day. I've also not dealt with Saudi women marrying non-Saudi men, which might occasionally happen abroad. That's a whole other "can of worms", and don't expect their children to be able to live in Saudi Arabia.)

Is there any other country in the world that has laws limiting mixed-race marriages in such a way? I'm not aware of any. We've had visitors from 110 countries in the last seven days, so if someone knows of one such law, could they please leave details in the "Comments"? The only two examples that I know of are both historical. They are:

The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor , Germany, 1935; prohibited marriages and extra-marital intercourse between “Jews” and “Germans”.

The Immorality Act, South Africa, 1949; one of the most controversial legislative acts of South African Apartheid. It attempted to forbid intermixing of couples of different race both in the area of marriage as well as casual sex.

What is the reasoning behind our law?

The main reason behind these procedures, according to the Governorate spokesperson, is to guarantee the non-Saudi wife her full rights and to allow for a transition between her old and new culture....

....which is of course pure Officialspeak, full of words, but entirely devoid of meaning. The real reason should be fairly obvious by now. It's to protect the purity of the Saudi Arabian "race". We're a very xenophobic nation to begin with, and the last thing we want is your genes in our pool. The only time that a foreign woman is going to add to our gene pool, is if she comes from a good well-established professional family, and has a very persistent fiance or one with lots of wasta.

And if what happens if there's a baby born outside marriage, as in the case of Samira's husband and the maid?

He now has a child, which was officially born out of wedlock.

Yet another bastard child of a Saudi man and a foreign domestic worker. He or she will get shipped out on the same plane as the mother. No citizenship rights for him or her.

So how would Mr Zogby and his "smart Saudi women"spin this particular story? How would they sell our approach to mixed marriages? I wouldn't know where to start.

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