The View: What Do We Look Like?

Intro

Saudi Arabia is terribly misunderstood, by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Many Muslims look up to Saudi Arabia and consider it the model Islamic state which represents religion in its purest form. Many non-Muslims, especially in the West, view Saudi Arabia as this mysterious land of desert and camels, oil and Usama Bin Laden. However, both parties are mistaken. There is much, much more about this country, and unfortunately it is one of the most stereotyped places on this planet.

The world lacks perfection, except in our dreams and fantasies. The imperfect world confuses people and makes them feel unsafe. People use stereotypes in order to simplify it and feel more safe. But stereotypes are very bad, because they are blinding; they prevent us from seeing the reality of things. Sadly, we, Saudis, have contributed to and promoted the stereotypes.

In the hope of a better understanding, I will try to take a closer look into some of the stereotypes surrounding Saudi Arabia. There is two parts of this post: the first is going to deal with the view from the West, and the second will talk about the view of some Muslims regarding this country:

From the West

For many Westerners, Saudi Arabia is such a big mystery. They don’t understand it. They don’t know much about it. They know we have oil, much of it, and they think we charge them a lot of money for that, which is not true because we don’t really control prices. They associate it with Usama Bin Laden, who left the country about 20 years ago and was later divested of his Saudi citizenship.

This mysterious picture of Saudi Arabia, along with many stereotypes and misconceptions, in the eyes of Westerners have much to do with the fact that we are a very closed society. It is astonishing how multiple tides of foreigners who flooded our country after and during the oil boom have failed to understand and/or open up our society.

I don’t know whose idea was to build residential compounds for foreigners where they can live behind high walls and closed gates. It was a cleaver idea in the past probably, but it had some very negative implications. These compounds that we made have isolated them in their own little world, minimizing contact with locals as much as possible. We have chosen to put them in a shell so we can enjoy the warmness of our shell too, and this is, imho, unhealthy. I have never been to such compounds, but the idea that some of them go as far as to ban wearing thobes and abayas inside them is disturbing.

It is said this can’t go forever, and I believe it is already changing. A landmark in this course was the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and what followed, including attacks in our homeland. 9/11 has made more people in the West look suspiciously to Saudi Arabia, a behavior that we have used with outsiders for a very long time, but this suspicion soon resulted into more interest and effort to understand this country.

It is not just politicians and journalists who seek a better understanding. You won’t expect what kind of email I receive from people coming from different parts of the world and from all walks of life who express their genuine interest in Saudi Arabia and ask all kinds of questions. Here is some examples: a tourist looking forward to experience the unexplored natural scenes in this land; an investor who want to put large sums of money in this country but not sure if he is making the right decision; a film director who wonders about the possibility to shoot parts of her new work here.

What can we do when we have people curious about our country? In the end of this post I will offer some suggestions that might help to decrease the misunderstanding and change the view, but now let’s move to the second part.

From the East

Muslims see Saudi Arabia in the light that it is the birthplace of Islam and its Prophet (pbuh), from where he started his eternal message that shone over the whole world. When they think of this country they think about Mecca, the land of the Ka’aba which they face its direction whenever and wherever they pray five times a day. They think of Medina, the city of the Prophet (pbuh) where he founded for a civilization that spread out its light for centuries and contributed significantly to knowledge and humanity. They have this picture in their hearts, and they are afraid if this country ever changed the picture will diminish and be lost forever.

Reforms, no matter how trivial they seem, are hard to implement, because as the old Arabic saying goes: humans are slaves of their habits. And reforms become even harder when others expect you to resist these reforms and remain standstill.

The way many Muslims view this country as the model Islamic state has given the wrong impression to some Saudis that, considering the place of their country, they are better Muslims than the rest of Muslims in the world. It is hard, of course, for these Saudis to make such claim publicly, but I think it can be clearly seen in the way they try to impose their beliefs on others. This a case where a stereotype has led to more stereotyping: the way many Muslims stereotype this country has made some Saudis start to stereotype themselves and the others as well.

With all this stereotyping, many of us find it very difficult to accept criticism, not even from ourselves, let alone from others. If many Muslims in the world think that our country is the “almost” perfect Islamic state, how can anyone, including us, say there is something wrong about it? Heck, we are even better than what they think, we are actually much better than them!

To make matters even worse, some currents in Saudi Arabia use this stereotyping as a weapon against those who disagree with them. “See, all Muslims think we are such a great country,” they say, “and now you want to come and ruin this beautiful picture.” Something else these people tend to use is calling those who call for reforms as “unoriginal Saudis,” forgetting that those they call unoriginals have inhibited and been living in this land for so long probably even before this country has come into existence less than 100 years ago. It is pathetic how some of those who claim to be the guardians of religion would use such tactics to strengthen their position.

What should be realized is that perfection, or anything near it for that matter, does not exist in this world. Saudi Arabia is neither total good nor total evil, and Saudis are neither angels nor demons. It is a country that has some uniqueness, but such thing should never make us overlook the fact that no matter how “unique” or “different” we think we are, in the end of the day we are a part of something much, much bigger. Saudi Arabia is a part of this larger world, whether we like it or not, and it cannot be simply isolated and it cannot be easily melted.

Exit

As much as it is easy and tempting to do that, we cannot and should not blame others for this situation. Probably they need to go out and look for the truth, but there is a good chance that they might never find it if we kept on closing doors and windows. Then, it is our duty to make the most out of everything in order to get rid of the stereotypes and get over the misunderstanding. I would like to finish with two examples of what can be done:

- Two years ago, Saudi Arabia started an ambitious project to send thousands of its students to receive their higher education in different parts of the world: Europe and America, East and Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. The project is expected to last for more 8-10 years. These students are supposed to contribute to the development of our nation when they comeback, but while there they should think seriously about what service they can offer to their country. Get involved, don’t isolate yourself, and don’t miss a chance to teach others about the culture you belong to.

- Blogging for the past two-and-a-half years, I have come to learn that “bridge-blogging” is such a powerful tool to communicate, reach out, and deconstruct the stereotypes. I think Saudi blogs can play a role in that because they show the real face of Saudi Arabia: males and females, liberals and conservatives. We have a good opportunity to show the world our true colors, and we should not miss out on it.

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75 thoughts on “The View: What Do We Look Like?

  1. “Two years ago, Saudi Arabia started an ambitious project to send thousands of its students to receive their higher education in different parts of the world: Europe and America, East and Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. The project is expected to last for more 8-10 years.”

    As a Saudi student studying abroad, I have had many encounters with those sponsored by the Saudi Ministry for Higher Education’s ‘study abroad’ program. Considering some of the individuals I’ve met so far, I recommend the administrators of the aforementioned program be more selective in choosing recipients of such sponsorships; some of them are considering the whole thing a big vacation, and nothing more. In addition, some of those whom I’ve met are really giving a bad image to other Saudis. It might sound silly, but once you’ve seen it for yourself, you’ll know how serious this is.

  2. about Westerners interested in Saudi, i recently came across the web page of a canadian singer called LORELEI LOVERIDGE. i don’t know if u heard about her before. but here is what is written on her bio:
    “Since leaving her homeland in 1996, she’s been living “behind the veil” in one of the most closed and exotic countries in the world — Saudi Arabia — reconfigurating herself as an artist and penning songs for a new album.”,
    interesting page. it contains photos of Saudi. and her music of course. and other stuff like her journal.
    good post ya Ahmed by the way.

  3. salam, :)

    yes, you’re right. in my heart, i do hope to see righteous saudis. you’re where mecca & madina is. what you do as a society, near these holy places, might be a mirror to islam.

    i don’t know is i make sense, but if i look at a mosque i do kinda expect to see people worshipping God & be pious. but if i see people kissing in there (like those written in saudi blogs), it’s just… wrong.

    ok, i know. saudi is not a mosque. i shouldn’t expect saudis to be sinless. & yes, i don’t. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said arabs are not superior than non-arabs, alhamdulillah. but is it wrong that i love to see pious saudis. why can’t i hope that? it’s the same hope for all muslims, really. so relax, i’m not putting anyone on a pedestal. being good is good for you, good for me. spread the good. good is just good.

    honestly, to be proud of bloggers – i’m afraid i’m growing critical of saudis after reading saudi blogs. there are nice saudis, yes. but i see a worrying trend. God Knows Best.

    please don’t feel bad, i want to love you. really. i do hope the best for you. it’s not wrong is it.

  4. Great article. I admit I had my misconceptions about Saudi. When I married my Saudi wife she corrected a lot of those. I did think that things were different in Saudi, boy was I surprised when I learned how everything that happens in the outside world happens in Saudi, often worse.

    The stereo-types here in the USA are legion. My wife spent a lot of time in the states when she was younger, between Virginia and Jeddah. Everyone here thought all Saudis were rich, and she was often asked if she had oil wells, even in her back yard.

    As to the study abroad program, my wife got her Bachelors like that, as did her older sister, and the youngest sister is on the program getting her Bachelor’s and the just younger sister is getting her Masters on it.

    My wife’s family is actually good friends with the head of the cultural mission here in the DC area that runs the program here in the USA. They are bringing in thousands more Saudis to the USA, or at least trying to.

    Fedo is right that many students who come here on the program use it as a 4-6 year sex and party binge. Most of those that come already have a lot of money, so the little monthly stipend the Saudis give really isnt needed. Compare with the about $4,000 that the Emirates get.

    Anyway Fedo, since my wife’s family knows the head of the cultural mission here be aware that there are “informants” that look for Saudi students doing bad things and will report them. These students have their visa pulled and are sent back to Saudi.

    However, this is only in the areas where there is a big concentration of Saudi students. So what has happened is some people have gotten hip to this and now go to schools where there are not so many Saudi students, hence they dont get caught.

    A good example of Saudi students getting into trouble was the Saudi student who was badly beaten outside of a bar in the Northwest right after 9/11. He got drunk and got beat by men mad about 9/11.

    Here in the DC area there are places that are well known for Saudi students, and like you said, they have a very bad reputation. This isnt just with other Arabs, but with other students and the community alike.

    There are places I know that my sisters in laws and other Saudis avoid on purpose because of the Saudi students who hang out there, coming drunk, causing issues, and the like.

  5. “I don’t know whose idea was to build residential compounds for foreigners where they can live behind high walls and closed gates.”

    It was definitely the foreigners. I have to say that I enjoy areas where abayas are optional, though I am apalled by that photograph you linked to. Despite the walls around us, there are western expats who enjoy friendships with Saudis and who can explain about the kingdom to people back in their home countries.

  6. Nowadays, I tend to associate Saudi Arabia with the bloggers like Saudi Jeans – people who have already opened up to the rest of the world. What I hope to see is slow but steady progress towards some kind of democracy in SA, with a constitutional monarchy as in several European countries.

  7. Nice article Ahmad. It reminded me of some of the stereotypes that we have around us. Granted, I don’t think this one is that popular.

    While visiting Germany in the summer, I met a guy from Munich visiting friends in Berlin. We got to talking, and he asked me where I was from.

    “Saudi Arabia. You know, sand and oil and covered women ?”
    “Oh yeah sure !! No offense, but you guys are really crazy !!”
    “Err…why do you say that ?”

    He then showed me a video he downloaded off Metacafe, which shows guys drifting (taf7ee6) in and around Riyadh. This is a clip that showed all the accidents, cars running into each other in the desert, crashing into lamp poles and trees. Apparently, he thought that it was a national pastime of all young people here, from the huge amount of videos he found online. I then very patiently explained what people actually do and not do over here. Another mistaken soul put on the right path =)

  8. This is a very important blog idea-
    I have often thought that your King
    has been completing some interesting projects-ideas that I wish the Saudis would share e.g.
    fields of solar panels, new highway
    projects etc. On the other hand- I also wonder about those highly educated saudis that tried to destroy our country- were they unemployed? Why doesn’t the King
    have them go to out to other countries and provide expertise and
    training for vast projects that they seem to need..kinda middle eastern peace corp. just some thoughts- I love your blog…
    Just mom in sacramento
    sheril

  9. Abu Sinan said: “Everyone here (in the USA) thought all Saudis were rich, and she was often asked if she had oil wells, even in her back yard”. Yes, as an American, I must admit that that is what I think of when I think of Saudi Arabia. As I said on Mahmood’s website, the good thing about the Internet is that people all over the world can talk to each other and not just form opinions from what we read in the news. Yes, there are very many different religions in the world but if we can just get to know each other then we will realize that we all have more in common than differences. We all just want the same things from life, to live our lives the best way we can. Governments often have differences but the people of those governments usually have nothing but good will towards each other. I know this is a controversial thing to say, but I don’t understand why Arabs hate Israel so much. Yes I know there have been wars with Israel and many Arabs hate Americans because we think that every nation should have a right to exist, but how did it all get started? Why is there so much hate? I wish happiness to you all.

  10. Anonymous said…
    “All Saudis aren’t rich? How could they not be? I would love to see statistics.”

    statistics? hehe
    yeah, see statistics!

  11. Nice article.. as u said most of us non – saudi have differnt picture & mindset of SA, Conclusion is Good & Evil exist everywhere.. but Allah has blessed Saudi to be Origin of Goodness & purity.
    Progessive & Clear view.. keep bloging…

  12. I was in Riyadh for work last week. I have spoken to many Indian and Philippine people, but I haven’t spoken to a single Saudi. The people in the company where I worked were all foreigners, as where the taxi drivers and the staff in the hotel. There was a Saudi at the reception of the hotel sometimes, but he did not understand English.

    Saudi Arabia makes me think of the Roman Empire. The Romans also considered themselves superior. They also needed foreigners to do all there work. But unlike the Saudis, the Romans produced art and scientific research. Saudi Arabia does not appear to be capable of producing anything but terrorists.

    My view on Saudi Arabia did not improve by visiting the country. It got worse, as did my view on Islam.

    • wrong !! just ask simple people about salaries they get ! you will be shocked. unemployment is getting very high percentage and every ministry charges the ministry of treasury , and the joke is that the minister says , every thing is fine.!! I worked as a teacher for only 666 US !the irony is that I am lucky because I worked and I do not have big family ! could you imagine the situation for those who have 3-5 children and responsible of their parents? imagine ! 7 hours and full duties with a shit of money ! when the king order a bonus in salaries which is 5%, traders raised their merchandises prices directly 20-50 % some say 70% .. How come we a rich ! we are the poorest country in the world because we have resources but cant benefit from them. u see?

  13. I had a friend who lived in Saudi Arabia during her late teens. Her father was a contractor. Of course, being a white, non-Arab American she stayed in the compound most of the time. She seemed to like the Saudis, at least to the extent she could really experience life in the country. Her mother found it repressive though.

    My university has a number of Saudi students. However, they tend to congregate with each other, which is understandable given the differences in language and culture, but it doesn’t do much to foster interaction or understanding.

    The one Saudi I’ve met personally was a Shiite from the far south, near the Yemeni border. He was in my dorm last year. He was a nice fellow though his speech was difficult to understand. Perhaps the fact that he was a Shiite, while most of the other Saudis here are Sunnis, made him feel less connected and more able to reach out and meet other people. He told me about an instance where the people in his town nearly had an uprising a few years ago over something the government had tried to implement. I had a difficult time following what he was saying, but I got the impression that the government was trying to take a handful of the children from the town and expose them to Sunni Islam by some means like attending school in a nearby Sunni community or going to live, kind of like an exchange student, with a Sunni family for a while. Perhaps, the government was just trying to implement some project where children from the town were exposed to greater Saudi society and the Shiites misinterpreted the gesture.

    In any event, there was something of an uprising. No one was killed, but some of the people leading the uprising were arrested and some are still being held by the Saudi government according to the individual. He stated that many of the people in the town possessed AK-47s. I wasn’t aware that Saudi Arabia was so heavily armed.

    He also mentioned that he thought King Abdullah was a “good man.” He seemed to have a lot of confidence in the King.

  14. hi. i like reading your blog.
    i admit that i don’t know much about saudi. and what i have heard so far isn’t exactly the most positive.
    i guess bad things always spread far and wide and very easily.
    but keep blogging. cos i think it’s good to know and understand more!

  15. as an expatriate who lived in Jeddah for 28 years (thats my entire life) i loved Jeddah! I am now an ambassador for saudi arabia and where ever I go, I make sure to tell people how much fun it was to be in Jeddah, and I love correcting people’s misconceptions. its unbelievable how many people are sitting with a completely wrong image of Jeddah.

    Mansur

    • Saudia has about eight to ten families/tribes that were loyal and fought with Abdul Assiz Al-Saud for independence about 100 years ago establishing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. King Abdul Assiz married into each of these families through the years having over 100 children, Thus, establishing financial and political connections to support the ruling structure. Usually, he gave each family/tribe control over a city around Riyiad, the capital and made them Princes of the cities. And, to this day, these families only marry into each other to keep the money and power consolidated. When a Nejd marries an outsider, their children have trouble finding marriage partners because they are considered to not have pure Nejd/Saudia blood. This also has created a very small gene pool causing a lot of birth defects. Pretty much all those families come from the center region of Saudia called Nedj. These tribes consider themselves to be the “true” Saudi’s.
      Now, to answer your question. Oil money is not passed out to all citizens. The same families I mentioned above, are given a certain amount of money each money depending upon how many male and female family members they have. The family I used to know received $1,000 for each male member and $750 for each female member. That was a few years ago, so,perhaps they received more now. The remainder of citizens get their share through public programs and services. So, this exposes that not all Saudi citizens are rich. And, since the government is the only source to stimulate the economy, unless they are passing out contracts or starting businesses, the economy can be pretty flat, hence, the high unemployment. To get anything done in a timely manner, most people have to pay “bribes” or have a personal relationship with the person in charge. Civil servants aren’t paid high salaries and make most of their money from bribes. And, if you work directly for a Prince, your job used to be described as “cleaning the a*s” of the prince. Don’t know the current slang. They used to call going to the bathroom, going to ‘visit” Bush or Clinton, whoever was the USA’s current president. I hope this gave you the answer you wanted.

  16. My understanding is that Saudi Arabia is quite economically stratified. The country has a high GDP but that is largely because of an exceptionally wealthy ruling class. I’m sure the average Saudi is probably a bit better wealthier than the average inhabitant of neighboring Arab countries, but probably not by a great amount.

  17. Salam & hi, :)

    for anti-saudis, kindly. i have to highlight that saudis donations are very much appreciated.

    in the medical field, i know King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz generously help siamese twin Ahmed & Mohammed, separation surgery with no cost, at King Abdulaziz Medical City in Riyadh. many other conjoined rwins, God Knows Best.

  18. AS long as Saudia Arabia’s main representation in many foreign countries is structured around and through Wahhabism, there’s a lot of potential friens you will never get

  19. A good example of Saudi students getting into trouble was the Saudi student who was badly beaten outside of a bar in the Northwest right after 9/11. He got drunk and got beat by men mad about 9/11.

    Here in the DC area there are places that are well known for Saudi students, and like you said, they have a very bad reputation.

    Although I’ve had a number of heated discussions with Muslims, it seems I only receive death threats when they get drunk.

  20. Are Saudis rich? I guess it depends on your definition of rich…

    Until the recent boom in oil prices, the per capita income of Saudi Arabia was equivalent to that of Mexico–around US $8,000/yr. Maybe Mexico is rich, compared, say to Bangladesh or Mali, but it’s not rich like most of the European or other North American countries.

    Following oil price increases, the per capita income has almost doubled, at least on paper.

    The problem is that not all Saudis get an equal share in the GNP. There are certainly very rich Saudis–take Pr. Alwaleed bin Talal as the exemplar. He happened to earn most of his money from very smart investments outside of Saudi Arabia. Then there are the notorious spendthrift princes, of course.

    But they represent a very small–but visible–slice of Saudi demographics. You need to balance them against farmers in Asir or Jizan who are lucky to earn $5,000/yr. There are far more farmers than there are princes, BTW.

    Fishermen from Qatif, small businessmen/women around the country, government employees… they all end up far below the average income because there are a few spectacularly rich Saudis who skew the distribution.

  21. I had a rose-colored National Geographic kind of view of Saudi Arabia from taking a year of Arabic at the US Air Force Academy. I knew people who had gone to work in Saudi Arabia. They said the money was good but the Saudis treated them like “white slaves.” Every American I talked to who worked in Saudi Arabia had bad things to say about how they were treated by Saudis. Most striking were my friends who flew Stealth fighters out of Khamis Mushait, who said the Saudis there were arrogant. So it sounded like an unpleasant place to work.

    My opinion of Saudi Arabia and Saudis turned for the worst on Sep 11 and has steadily worsened since then, as I visited the Pentagon and the hole where the World Trade Center used to be. I was absolutely flabbergasted to learn of the hate espoused by the Wahhabis, how it had been institutionalized, and how it had been exported around the world. When I likewise learned how my America had built Saudi Arabia, the ingratitude of it all fed my rage. It is positively inhuman to return such evil for good. In my view, Wahhabism has stripped away every normal and decent human instinct from the Saudis and left them with the morality of animals.

    Every new terrorist atrocity comes with a Saudi connection. The media brings new stories about how Saudis have spread hate throughout the world, even in my own neighborhood. I find that Muslim kids in the local Saudi academy are being taught to hate non-Muslims, that it is OK to steal from them and hurt them. Some of its graduates went on to become terrorists.

    I see the Saudis have identified us as their enemy, the Great Satan, in their mosques and religious rituals. They collect money in their mosques to murder us. They send their sons as suicide bombers to kill Americans in Iraq. They celebrate when Americans die. There is no nation which has benefited so greatly from its relationship with another nation as Saudi Arabia has from America. There is no nation in history that has reciprocated good will with such bloody murder. I have no doubt that Saudis will kill Americans to the utmost of their limited ability as an expression of their hateful and depraved Wahhabi death cult.

    Consequently, I don’t think Americans will be safe until Saudi Arabia is destroyed. We should not be wasting our military in Afghanistan nor Iraq, but sending them against our main enemy in Saudi Arabia, which has made itself our Great Satan. Saudis have made jihad against America and we have granted them sanctuary within Saudi Arabia to do so. It’s time we returned their jihad to their doorsteps. The Saudis owe us a blood debt for three thousand lives which remains to be collected with interest.

  22. Nothing is probably more unknown to the non-Islamic world (West) than the Islamic/Muslim faith. The only thing I have against Islamic/Muslims is that it seems to be the most violent religion in the world. If the average per capita income of Saudis is $16,000 US then how do Saudis feel about the Royal family who make billions of dollars a year, and the princes go all over the world spending money like money was endless to them? By the way, I am disappointed to read what people are saying here about Saudis. I don’t know any Saudis but it sounds like a country that really needs to learn what is in it’s best interest and please stop the violence and hatred of people who are not Islamic.

    • Don’t judge all by a few. Most Saudi’s are just like you. They want the same things out of life s you. There are many who have “basterdized” and are hiding behind the religion. They have exploited those who could be influenced. Now, I’m not a pollyanna. I know a lot about Islam. What I don’t like is that the religion allows lying in order to further Islam and why are the heavenly rewards better for men than women, and are centered around a sexual, earthly, physical reward system when we are a spirit? Islam suffers from being influenced by the culture of whatever country it is residing in. So, that’s why some countries seem to have different standards than Saudi Arabia. Islam was formed from Nestorian Christianity and local Jewish culture/religion and the pagan religion. Allah is the most popular stone moon God worshiped prior to Islam. Mohammed kept him for the one God. So, now you know that their is NO connection between the Allah of Islam and the God/Jehovah of Christainity/Jewish religions. How could their be? Islam seems to be too full of hate and punishment in its theology when compared to Christianity. C. is about a relationship and assuredness of your end destination while I. offers no guarantee that you will make it to heaven and you have no idea until Judgment Day. Yes, many will say it is a religion of Peace but I really see nothing but Submission and Slavery to Allah, with no personal relationship – more of a distant master/slave relationship. I am not putting it down. Just my view after years of being around it. I don’t see much forgiveness and it seems to center around never questioning anything and threats to you when you do, But, it also depends upon what the philosopy of the family you come from, too.

  23. Sharique, I know you are a Muslim in India, but do you know why so many Islamic people are violent and hate anyone who is not Islamic?

  24. You are right. To the West, Saudi Arabia is a mysterious country. That is no problem as long as you are not scared. The fact is, that Saudi’s are normal people, like anywere else on this planet. They are as good as the average earth-resident. Their culture is different, but as long as we are not trying to force people in another lifestyle, there should be no problem.

  25. Hi there, I’m a Sunni Muslim from outside SA, and I don’t think it’s a perfect Islamic country. There is a lot of hypocrisy going on. And I also don’t like being called a kafir because I don’t agree with Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab on many points… and then of course things like women being forbidden to drive and so. Don’t worry, we don’t all idealize the place.

  26. “I don’t know whose idea it was to build residential compounds for foreigners where they can live behind high walls and closed gates.”

    It was the Saudis’ idea to build those compounds to segregate foreigners from the Saudis. When I lived in Saudi about 10 years ago, as a single woman I was given compound housing as my only choice. While I was not specifically told to not socialize with Saudis, it soon became apparent that doing so would draw the attention of the muttawa. Most of the people I knew who got in trouble with the muttawa were because they socialized with Saudis. The muttawa/government did not want our “western morals” to rub off on the locals.

  27. “How All Of Muslim World Looks To This American”

    The President of Iran is busy preparing for the end of the world. He’s convinced he and his like-minded will inherit paradise, and the rest of civilization will inherit hell. As he works toward nuclear bombs and test fires missiles to deliver them, the UN stalls and delays any move to stop him. The Europeans are on a perpetual vacation from reality and see nothing, hear nothing, know nothing. Bombed Planes, trains, buses, churches, subways, buildings etc. are to them just “misguided bad people acting out.” They can’t bring themselves to say the words “Muslim killers” because the bombers may get angry. The American President and to some extent the U.K. Prime Minister have tried to awaken the world from its stupor, but in each of their countries almost 50% of their respective populations are too lethargic, lazy or just plain stupid to see what the Islamic fundamentalists have planned for them, even when Muslims have told them to their faces.

    Israelis are not much better, they too would remain in the same state of denial except the Muslims kick them in the rump so often they can’t doze off for too long. They may sometimes hit back but only very carefully, so as not to hurt the murderers too badly or heaven forbid embarrass them. The UN, a gang of degenerate thieves, led by an eloquent but obvious bigot and himself a thief will do nothing that threatens their comfortable positions. States that deal openly in slavery, murder bigotry, racism and rape are honored in the assembly of the UN and sit on the UN Human Rights Commission.

    Repeated ad-nauseum, “…all Muslims are not terrorists.” Perhaps, perhaps not – it’s hard to tell, when their collective silence from condemnation of murder and quick defense of the killers in almost every case and after every attack speaks so loudly.

    Perhaps then, Western civilization is indeed beyond saving from its own corruption, perhaps the future of the world is indeed a return to the past 7th century. Is that the future? Or perhaps will Iran successfully frighten the Israelis enough with their threats to murder every Jew, actually achieve Ahmadinijad’s goal of turning the middle east into a burning cauldron of hell. What if Israel decides it has nothing to lose and fills the skies with 3 or 4 hundred of their own nuclear missiles. What if the Jews really mean it when they say “Never again” will they go quietly to their deaths. Maybe this time, the holocaust will engulf us all.

  28. I live in San Francisco and my impression of Saudi Arabia is what I see and read about. That is why I read your blog. How do I see your country. To me it is weird. You treat women as second hand citizens, they can’t drive and have no voice. To see the plight of women is scary, specially in 2006. Saudi are supposed to be the guardians of Islam yet when they hit cities like San Francisco, the young Saudi men hit the night clubs, have sex with both male and female prostitutes and drink alcohol until they pass out. Saudi Arabia does not allow Christians to build churches or heaven forbid, Jews to have a synagogue. Yet Saudi finances the building of mosques all over Europe and the United States. This is hypocracy and where is the reciprocation? I could never live in your country. I would die of depression. Beheadings on Fridays after prayers. Man, that is really gross.

  29. You may find tempting to de-construct sterotypes of any kind but don’t let’s forget sterotypes to begin with, at least are born out of certain baseline truths.
    We may not like them, said about us very much but think about where the practice of modern medicine might be in the absence of stereotypes and/or generalization.
    In Saudi Arabia?! :) :)
    We would each need to look a little more carefully into our backyards before we start to wash others dirty linen in public.
    Progressive education education education is the only way forward. Oh, that and blogging, learning a foreign language, visiting a new country each year and celebrating difference in all aspects of Life and Living.

    • Say, Ms. Angel, you’d better stop packing your Escada clothing because it’s practically impossible to get a visa to visit Saudi Arabia. You have to be invited and sponsored by a citizen, and then you have to agree to follow every rule as if you were a citizen. So, plan your vacations somewhere else. While you may be interested in learning about other cultures and languages….the religious police aren’t interested in learning anything about your culture and language, except that you know a single Arabic word, “la” (no), as in no, we don’t want to know you. There are a lot of great historical sites in S.A. that I would love to see. But it would be awful to have to view them through a black piece of material, because that is how you would see them if you are a woman. It’s a culture that has been legislated for the happiness and enjoyment of men.

  30. I think sudia Arabia is one of the most important in the world and especially in the Gulf, so we (Muslims) should show the world the truth of this country. Also we shouldn’t balm the West because they don’t have enough idea about us.

  31. You’ve certainly made some good points. It’s good there are growing concerns within Saudi about what the country and its people stand for. I just have a few comments to make here.

    Firstly, Saudis need to mix more with the foreigners in the country. Saudis do not make an effort to do so. On the issue of residential compounds, I’ve lived in a few of these. You’re right. Behind these walls, residents make every effort to erase any hint of Saudi. It’s a make-believe world where the rules and norms of Saudi do not apply. You are also correct in that this is very unhealthy.

    Also, Saudi is one of the most openly racist, prejudiced places to live. You say that Muslims look up to Saudi. I’ve known quite a few young Muslims from Bangladesh whove spent their entire family savings in order to buy a visa to Saudi. Once here, their Saudi sponsor says to them “I don’t care where you live, work, or whatever, but I need SR2000 from you every month. If you fail to pay me, I’ll have you deported back”.
    These poor guys then scramble around looking for ANY job they can get. They have to earn as much as they can to pay their Saudi sponsor. Whatever’s left is sent to their families back home (their wives and children not being allowed to join them in Saudi). Often, they’ll work for years under abusive, appalling conditions, only to recoup the money they’d spent for their visa and tickets to Saudi. They could go for many years being seperated from their families and children because they cannot afford to visit them.
    I once had the opportunity to see a young Bengali man brought to hospital because he had collapsed while working. On speaking with him privately, I learned that he shares a 2 bedroom flat with 14 other men. He had collapsed while working because he’d been suffering from malnutrition. Like the other men, he could not afford a proper diet, subsisting only on boiled rice for days. Their Muslim Saudi sponsor couldn’t care less and had threatened to have the man deported if he didn’t get back to work.

    I relate this because I have seen how a Muslim Saudi treats other Muslims. The same Bangladeshi man could expect a FAR better standard of life in any non-Muslim Western country.

    Another story: I met a Muslim man from Pakistan who’d worked in Saudi for over 30 years. This Muslim man’s Muslim children were born in Saudi. They were brought up in Saudi. They were entirely educated in Saudi. But then their dad was fired from work. What rights do you think this man had in Saudi for his over 30 years of work? What rights did his kids have, being born and brought up in Saudi? Nothing. They had to return to a country they knew nothing about. Saudi did not offer them natualisation or nationality like Australia, US, UK, Canada or New Zealand would have.

    I have a great respect for Saudi. And I know that culture and tradition should be preserved. But it makes my blood boil to see this kind of maltreatment of people. I keep hearing about the hospitality and benevolent nature of Saudis. But how can you treat other human beings, other Muslims like yourselves with such cruelty and inhumanity???

    I hope these change quickly. I’d like to see Saudis practice what they preach.

  32. Who the fuck are you kiding, dude? Are you serious? Are you trying to color the UGLY fact we are living here in this shitty place? Go get a life man and give me my passport so I can leave this place …

  33. “I have never been to such compounds, but the idea that some of them go as far as to ban wearing thobes and abayas inside them is disturbing.”

    Inside these compounds life is as close to “home” for westerners as possible: As you stated no abayas, no mens/women sections in the restaurants and recreation areas eg. swimming pools.
    Alcohol is out of bounds.

    I think that the cultural shock or however one may call it for an average westerner is pretty big, as KSA is, in my opinion, one of the few states on Earth banning what seems normal for people from the west. That may be another reason for the creation of the compounds, to gain a piece of home in an alien society.

    Bit philosophic ;)

  34. i used to dislike arabs quite a bit (i’m muslim ), but after i met a few on blogs, in real life, and on the internet, i’ve drastically changed my opinion. right now, i loovvvee all arabs. they just seem to be very good people. i guess your coutnry needs to open up to other societies coz shunning “western decadence” is futile, because if someone is gonna become bad becoz of it, they will. that’s not the answer. and of course, foreigners should respect saudia’s rules and society and not condemn or ridicule it. i wish you luck ‘coz you’re trying to change a lot of the world’s opinions on your countrymen and gulf people in general.
    i like your blog. and you. nice post. thanks.

  35. salam!
    Im ur average american girl! Im not saudi, but one day i would love to travel there. In my opinion first off I would like to say that its very bold of some westerners to travel to Saudi Arabia and scrutinize their laws and ways of life. I read the entire paragraph, and I would like to say I agree with everything, but then I would be lying. I was born in Ohio. My mother is white and my father is Lebanese. So for the westerner part, I can honestly say I dont feel like any Arab is better than one an other! Were all the same . Gods Children! But for people of the east who feel that being Saudi makes you closer or better to “something” your wrong as well. Just because you live near Mekkah, or your Saudi doesnt make anyone better then anyone else. For one reason, simply because in Gods eyes no matter religion, were all here for one reason TO LIVE proper, and healthy and humaine lifestyles. And if you can not comply with that then maybe you belong in an asylum! Anyways I never read this newsblog befor and I have to say hands down I really like it! Its so political and I THRIVE ON POLITICS! HENTZ im american! lol But once again I self educated myself on Saudi Arabia. I love culturalization if everyone in the world could be as open minded and maybe a bit opitmistic as us on this blog we would have atleast 30 complete minutes of peace!

  36. thanks for the blog post. i am an asian american, and i didn’t know a lot about saudi arabia and its relationships with foreigners until i read this.

  37. I’m an American woman married to a Saudi. Westerners don’t know anything about that country because it is one of the only places in the world that does not allow tourist visas (except to muslims). I cant even get a visa to visit my husband’s family. Anyway, as a westerner I can tell you why people don’t understand your country. First of all the Saudi women’s dress code is so absurd in our eyes and the fact that many women wear veils over their face is repulsive. The fact that the sexes are seperated is ridiculous and offensive. The fact that they have beheadings and amputation is barbaric and medieval. I’ve seen saudi culture close up thru my in-laws and although I respect it from an anthopological perspective, beleive me, the less westerners know about Saudi, the better! Just like the many islamists that think our culture is bad, to us, saudi culture is offensive on so many levels. But it’s none of our business…Peace.

  38. May Allaah preserve Saudi Arabia…Aameen. Despite any mistakes the Saudi leaders make, that country is still the ONLY place on earth where it is not permissible to openly commit shirk, and that is HUGE!!!!! If that’s all the Saudis have to offer in our times, than that is enough for them!!!! This was the result of Muhammed Abdul Wahhab’s da’wah (rahimahullaah), and it is the single cause of Allaah’s blessings upon that land. EVERY other Muslim country on the earth is indifferent about people committing shirk, and allow to happen without penalty.

    O Muslims in the land of Tawheed, your wealth, safety and security is a blessing that Allaah will take from you if you persist in sins and being negligent in your Deen.

    Allaah has also blessed your land to have the caliber of scholars that no other country can touch.

    “Which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?”

    • Exactly, what blessings have been placed on SA? The last forty years of oil money? When it runs out, life goes back to rice/beans for dinner and more control so the ultra rich can stay rich. When a religion has to be spread through the “sword” and not because someone wants to embrace it, and, then, if someone changes their mind but has to be killed to stop them, then something is “off” and wrong. That type of behavior and reaction represents an extreme insecurity and need to control. Kind of the same way women have to live in KSA. I don’t hate Arabs or Islam. I’m just stating my observations and experiences.

  39. The people of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar, and Oman are almost the same. we share values, culture, and religion. However as a country Saudi Arabia always stands out as something different.
    I find myself (as a Saudi) asking my self is this because the people are different, or because our laws are different. well its a bit of both.
    the minority conservatives here control the majority. its not that all saudis are extremist and want to see every infidel killed. and here is where the hypocrisy starts. those so called pure muslims who want to see everyone but them selves be killed so they burn in hell, are the ones who treat the Pakistanis, Indians, and other workers in saudi arabia as slaves. they see themselves as higher than everyone else.
    the main problem is that the government doesn’t condemn such behavior. and its up to us to change this.

  40. i have had the pleasure of making very good freinds with a lovely saudi family who are studying here in Melbourne Australia.They are very educated people and open to learning as much as possible of the western culture and customs while here in australia. I have found them to be honest, hospitable and very likeable. We are planning to visit them in saudi when they return back to KSA.I really enjoy chatting with them and having a cultural exchange…..although its still a bit strange when we invite them to our house and the wife cannot talk freely with my husband…..

    • please do not go there!! it’s going to be a different story once you’re there. Just a
      warning.. better to have a “cultural exchange” in your territory!

  41. first I am really enjoying your website. On your comments about how the west perceives you and how other muslims perceive you. It is very easy to understand how people can sterotype or have the wrong opinion about Saudis. Infact I went to college with them in the 80s. The picture was not nice. 99 percent of the students engaged in drugs, alcohol, chasing women, getting young girls pregnant and then leaving them to raise halfsaudi kids. I know people get very angry when I bring this up. Over 20 years later I still cannot get this out of my mind. In America, it is a free society, people may do as they like and go out with who they like. So this is how people are raised. People are a product of their society. Being a Muslim however I expect a higher standard for Saudis and other Arabs who visit the US. I am sorry to say that they come here to the US and they forget who they are. Always remember that Allah never takes a vacation. So it does not matter where you are in the world, outside of Saudi Arabia. You do not have the right to act inappropriately in any country. You should be the shinning example of the birthplace of Islam. Next time you take a vacation, think about this before you go to have relations with women you are not married to. I have met so many people who the minute they hear Saudi, you should see the look on their face. I have to constantly defend them. But I dont defend what they have done here in the US.

    • I, too, know of many half Saudi children left in the USA. It’s awful for a child to never know their father. It creates a big hole in your heart, personality and ability to be a positively contributing person in society. The problem also is that if they were to visit their father they would be considered the property of the father and would then be kidnapped to stay in KSA. Otherwise, the honor of the father’s family would be in danger.

      That is another big difference in culture. Honor and outward appearances count for everything. And, never directly confronting anyone about anything because it usually leads to blood being spilled and then the goal is obtaining honor again. Back in the 7th century, honor and tribal philosopies made sense because survival was important. But it doesn’t fit anymore and is much about what is holding back the progress culturally in KSA. The other thing is the two faced self righteous attitude.

  42. Rashid.
    I’ve red most of the commonts.Im as Saudi admiting that we have our own strange life.Thereore,i do not blame most of you for taking bad idea about us.I lived in Canada for five years, and i met bunch of students from different countries around the world.I’d found that people in Saudi arabia show off alot,and they think that they are the best.They allege Islam, but they act out of Islamic rules.Lets be honest guys.Most of them have deep hated against other religions and even other muslims who do not cry their belief.Also, they look down at their own people who do not belong to tribes.They abuse women, and they do not treat them well.They cheat on them,and never give them respect.They abuse workers cleanin even their butts.They buy under age girls for sex in Morocco,Egyipt and others.They blew up many inncocent people in the world under the name of Islam.They do not trust even themselves.People living around them ( gulf states) hate them ,along with people in other Arab countries.
    Their women enjoy sex with non Saudi workers and drivers, because their men are busy having sex with housemaids \.It is a mystery country and culture which non one can understand.Plus people are flattered and materilistic.This is the fact

    • Rashid, you are one of the most intelligent Saudi’s I have ever heard. What a refreshing read. That said, I truly sorry you have to live in the middle of such hyprocrisy. It must just kill you some days.

  43. Hi
    Im a Brazilian and i live in São Paulo (Brazilian biggest City. The metropolis of São Paulo has a population of 20 millions). I could say we have the opposite problem. People think that every body in Brazil is very poor. It is true that in Brazil we have many very poor people. But we do have a lot of rich people and a slow growing middle class. So as I was traveling in Europe people did asked me if i lived in the jungle, if in Brazil we have cars, electricity or computers… An old lady in Germany asked me if in São Paulo it is common to see Indians and monkeys on a bus. Like Saudi Arabia we are a poor country, and we should have many similar issues. But I really did not knew people had such an impression of your country. Hope we will be able to make a better world to every body!

  44. “I don’t know whose idea was to build residential compounds for foreigners where they can live behind high walls and closed gates. It was a cleaver idea in the past probably, but it had some very negative implications. These compounds that we made have isolated them in their own little world, minimizing contact with locals as much as possible. We have chosen to put them in a shell so we can enjoy the warmness of our shell too, and this is, imho, unhealthy. I have never been to such compounds, but the idea that some of them go as far as to ban wearing thobes and abayas inside them is disturbing.”

    Never knew this before!!!!!!! I only heard that the foreigners are “oppressed” because they can not live how they want.
    I often (or always) hear negative stuffs about SA :( .
    But I am glad to read that it isn’t like what they used to tell me.

  45. Can someone kindly explain why do all Saudi’s think that every thing they do is becasue of their way of life is different ….culture…. laws etc. .
    I was brought up in Saudi, and lived there sixteen years, and once I left that country I was really able to compare the treatment of Saudi people (not authorities) with other nations. I am from Pakistan, and have spent most of my life in Saudi (16 years), Australia (10 years) and South Asia.
    Within Riyadh I lived in 3 different areas, and everywhere I found that Saudi’s kids and adults would go out of their way to humiliate and bully anyone who did not look like a Saudi.
    Now you explain to me how that is part of your culture or being a Muslim.
    No offence to Saudi guys, but I think all the previous generations have done is; make alot of Babies ( which is a big number quick with more than one wives) and paid no attention to their education or their moral and behavioural up bringing. The result is this huge generation with no tolerance i.e.no knowledge of how to treat people who are even a slightest different in appreance, dressing or language. I am sure things have changed in the last 10 years (since I was last there)
    PS: we did not live as slaves in Saudi, my father was a plant manager, my mother was a Teacher and both got paid very well, even then it was too hard for Saudis to accept to work under an Ajmi (non Arab)
    I have lived major part of my life in Saudi and Much as I love Saudi for Islam, for the food, for how Saudi’s treat other saudi’s – I found the Saudi people to be extremely ignorant and in tolerant.

    • Look at what is respected in KSA. Even though a women does all the work of having the baby – who is rewarded and respected regarding the baby? The father. The more children he has, the more virile he is considered. In the past it was important to have a lot of children because it ensured your future survival. But in today’s easy life, it’s not so important.
      And, as far as the prejudice goes against foreigners, men have legislated all the rules to make men seem like “super men”. When it’s against the law for most normal behavior for women and foreigners, men will win all the time.
      The entire culture and laws are designed to support total prejudice and mistreatment of the people under you, from the King down through the family structure of husband as ruler over wife(s), to wife ruling over children, to ruling over workers, down to the lowest worker. Everyone is insecure in their position, so they mistreat everyone under them to keep control and consolidate their position. The entire population is frustrated and bored so they abuse anyone under them to make themselves feel better about themselves and their crappy life

      Basic psychology about dysfunction.

      But no one wants to be the first to make the changes.

  46. I totally agree with ExpatEverywhere. I’m a Pakistani and have lived half of my life in Saudi Arab. During my childhood, I always experienced the Saudi kids bullying all the kids belonging to the region of the indo-pak subcontinent. Even the adults were looked down upon by their Saudi counterparts. They always thought of themselves as the superior beings.
    I was out of the Kingdom for 6 years and now that I’m back, I still hear the same complaints from the Asians, particularly Bangladeshis,Indians and Pakistanis. I know for a fact that majority of Saudis look down upon Asians.I know that they hire people and make pay scales based on race and skin color. For Saudis (and again I’m taking majority into account) , every Asian is an uneducated ,undeserving lesser human kind.
    Saudis would go out of their way to welcome and facilitate the people from the West. Even in most of the blogs I have seen Saudis trying to sell their country to the West only. My point is, by all means do that, but at least try to do something on the same lines for the Asians too. I can assure you that a Saudi who ever visited Pakistan will never complain about racist behavior and treatment he received at the hands of Pakistani people (the majority of course) . On the other hand, I guarantee that you can not find many Asians living in Saudi of the same opinion about Saudis. I personally think that the Saudi blogs should also focus on this issue along with rolling out the red carpet for the Westerners.
    I read somewhere on a blog about how an American lady was immediately asked to step out of the line at the Saudi Airport’s immigration counter and moved to another counter where it was only her and other Americans who were cleared by the immigrations officer instantly and the remaining Asians were asked to stay in their positions where they had to wait for hours to get clearance.
    Why such double standards ?. I have nothing against the people of the West or Saudis or people of any other country for that matter. The whole argument is why are we treated differently, bitterly and inhumanely?.

    I would like to request Ahmed to put some light on this issue and ask his blogger friends to do the same.

  47. Only people who are insecure about themselves, their culture, their beliefs, their status quo, and feel threatened that they are not in control of their life, position or security, feels the need to control and treat others badly. This is typical behavior going back generations after generations being repeated because no new information and knowledge is flowing into the culture and brains. The ones currently in control fight very hard to keep control even if it means creating lies and rules to keep control and the status quo going so they don’t lose the power they have.

  48. ewwwwwww!!! God Bless America! for real… i never thought in a million years i would say those words… but after checking saudi culture beliefs injustices, enslavement of household workers….marrying children,praying 5 times a day,chop chop square..women wearing those ridicously hot cover ups (abayas)etc the list goes on and on ewwww
    Good Lord!! what kind s**t is that!thank God I was born here!!

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