Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Saudi Arabia: A Neat and Orderly Police State

The Government of Saudi Arabia kindly wishes to inform you that they do not like your geography blog.
These are hard post to write.  My feelings of Saudi Arabia are incredibly mixed.  The physical geography is beautiful and I can only heap praise on the many Arabs I met in the country.  However, Saudi Arabia is the first time I truly felt in a different world.  Being raised in the United States I have been able to share cultural traits which I encountered while in Latin America, the Caribbean islands, and Europe.  Even Iraq and Qatar had a wannabe, Westernish-modernish feeling to them.  Saudi Arabia though, is different.  My time in Saudi Arabia has given me the impress that Saudi Arabia wants to be modern but on its terms with as little Westerness as possible. 

A Neat and Orderly Police State
The Government of Saudi Arabia kindly wishes to inform you that they will kill you if you bring in drugs.
Doha, Qatar's airport is one of the most disorganized cosmopolitan places in the world.  I saw Americans, Brits, French, Germans, Saudis, Egyptians, Iranians, Pakistanis, and Filipinos cutting in front of each other, pushing, and desperately seeking anything that could guide them to their gates.  At the ticket counter a dolled-up, fake blonde young Arab woman became my smiling savior as she guided me to my Riyadh-bound flight.

When the plane took off I was thinking that Saudi Arabia would be similarly chaotic.  I was quickly diverted though when a East Asian flight attendant handed me a customs form which in bright red lettering threatened me with death if I was trafficking in drugs (If only "Death for Terrorism" or "Death for Human Trafficking" were on the form).  For the rest of the flight I, a non-drinking, non-smoking, non-drug using Catholic, just dwelled on this stern warning while remembering movies like Brokedown Palace.

When I landed the stereotype of an Arabian chaos was shattered.  Everyone quickly yet quietly formed a line and stayed in it.  We all went through security silently.  Heavily armed police overlooked the whole process.  Women in face showing burqas, more skin reveling than in Qatar but much less fashionable as they were cotton and not silk, checked in women while men in uniform (much like Homeland Security in the United States) checked men in.

Qatar relies on cameras for enforcement.  Police cameras are everywhere and used in malls, sidwalks, roads, neighborhoods, and even in restaurants.  In Saudi Arabia police are everywhere while the camera was virtually unseen.  Going to the hotel and around town there were many road checkpoints manned mostly by police but at several places by military-equipped National Guard.  Even the hotel I stayed at had a heavy police presence.

What truly made me feel in another world was the openness of punishment.  Public punishment has gone out of sytle in the West.  The biggest controversy is if the names and addresses of ex-convicts should be placed on the internet.  In Saudi Arabia there is no real controversy over any form of punishment public or private.

The seemingly innocent public square in front of the Ministry of Justice building.

In front of the Ministry of Justice building is the "Ministry of Justice Square."  I visited it on a Thursday evening.  Little kids were playing in the main fountains that came out of a complex gutter system while older kids played a soccer game.  Some adults walked in and out of the square while others were merely enjoying the cooling evening shade. 

While I was enjoying the view someone came up to me and asked if I was going to be in the square tomorrow, Friday.  When I asked why I was told that I should.  "You should come.  We will put you up front so you get to see everything."  I quickly found out that the Ministry of Justice Square was used for executions and amputations for people caught stealing three times.  Crowds and the police will move foreigners up front with the preference for those who they consider likely Christians.  That way foreigners get to see "true, Saudi justice" while the last thing the condemned see are kafir Christians.

The man probably saw the shock on my face.  He responded with "Don't worry.  The criminals are drained of blood so they cannot struggle and no blood will get on.  The rest of the blood and washed away by the fountains."

Later this week: The Gastronomical Delights of Saudi Arabia and Its Enemies


Anonymous said...

From one goegrapher to another: love your posts, good stuff.


Rybu said...

Is the picture of the Ministry of Justice one that you took? Are there any restictions or lists of what is ok and what is not ok?

Catholicgauze said...

Thank you!

Catholicgauze said...

Yes, the photograph is by me. I have several photos of the square but I feel that is the best one that emphasizes the power (size) and punishment.

Goethe Girl said...

I like the makeover. Hillary Mantel's novel "Eight Months on Gazzah Street" confirms the creepiness of Saudi Arabia.

Catholicgauze said...

Thanks Goethe Girl,
I have not read that book but I think I will check it out now. Thanks!