Monday, September 27, 2010

The Good of Saudi Arabia

All the news and rumors about Saudi Arabia plus some of my own encounters have created internal negative feelings towards Saudi Arabia.  However, to be fair I must stress the kindness of the Saudis I met.  In fact, I must say that people were friendlier in Saudi Arabia than in Qatar.  The stereotype of all Saudis being authoritarians was also proven false during my time in country. Below are two of my many experiences that reflect the goodness of Saudi Arabia.

The Camel Hunt:  Everyone Was Real Nice

During my first full day in Saudi Arabia I went looking for wild camels.  I bought some apples to feed to the camels and made sure to bring the camera in case I was able to get a good Kodak-moment.  I was unable to locate any roaming camels but I did find the Riyadh camel suq (market) while managing to drive for hours in the desert.  During the hours in the desert I encountered several people, some who did and some who did not speak English.  Everyone who I met was extremely kind to me.  Everyone greeted me with the standard Islamic greeting "Assalamu Alikum."  This was somewhat of a surprise as most orthodox schools of thought forbid the Asslamu Alikum greeting to Christians and other non-Muslims.  No one in Iraq or Qatar has ever greeted me with Asslamu Alikum yet everyone in Saudi Arabia did.

Jeddah: Pro-Liberty, Pro-Woman

After the Al Baik adventure I was ready for bed.  Peter, the "eight piece" friend, and me caught a taxi back to hotel.  The taxi cab driver was in a fantastic mood, talking a mile a minute, and using his broken English skills to tell us about how "all Jeddah loves freedom."

The People versus the Religious Police (as told to me by the taxi cab driver and remembered by me):  A female guest worker was doing gardening work.  Apparently, too much of her hair was showing and a religious policeman took notice.  According to the taxi cab driver, the religious police man went up to the woman and wacked her on the leg (I can vouch that this is standard practice by religious police to dress code violations).  Other female guest workers saw this and jumped on the religious policeman.  Other people, both men and women, walking nearby then got involved by joining in the anti-religious policeman beatdown.

Anti-religious policeman violence does happen in Jeddah.  Some Hijazis still feel like they are occupied by Riyadh-based backwards, fundamentalist tribesmen.

Final Note

My time in Saudi Arabia ended after a week.  I did not come down with a case of Orientalism but instead had my eyes open by the materially wealthy Qatar and the personally friendly but organizationally hostile Saudi Arabia.  All I can hope is that all my future travels be as much of a learning experience as was my Middle East 2010 trip.


Ryan said...

These are the posts that make me love this blog!

This got me thinking about the "unlikely trio" article in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs. The article by Mustaka Akyol cited a study that claims "75% of those surveyed in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, and Syria named Turkey as a model for the synthesis of Islam and democracy". If you haven't read that article- check it out.

Even after reading that, your story about the religious police fascinate the heck out of me.

Catholicgauze said...

Thanks Ryan! I'll check out the Foreign Affairs article tomorrow.

Greg said...

The KSA always fascinated me, but with all the news about it post-9/11, it sounded dangerous. Your posts reminded me of the slant on all news we get here.

But were there any instances where you had to be careful or perhaps were surprised by a cultural taboo?

Catholicgauze said...

Hi Greg,
No, no cultural misstep moments for me. However, Peter had the misfortune of being by very protective husbands. Each time he would eat or walk down the street it seemed like men hide their wives from him.