Wanted: A Fake Iqama

I’m done with shopping malls in Riyadh. I used to complain all the time about the ban on single men there, but after four years in this town I guess I have come to accept the sad reality of human relationships here. These days there is something else that bugs me. It bugs the hell out of me, actually.

In the northwestern part of the city, you can find the Diplomatic Quarter, aka the DQ, which is basically a nice clean area where most of embassies and consulates are located as well as a group of government offices and other businesses. Most diplomats and embassies’ staff, and also some Saudis, live in the residential part inside the DQ.

Following the terrorist attacks in the country, security on the DQ gates has been much tightened. Entering the DQ has come to mean long waiting lines and slow check points. In other words, it’s become a hassle and such a crappy experience. That is, if you are a Saudi. For the most part, foreigners don’t have much trouble getting inside the DQ.

If you have some friends (Saudis or expats) who work or live in the DQ, then you can expect that every time you need to visit them that the security guards at the gates would give you shit for merely trying to enter what has become a walled garden.

Without a trace of a smile on his face, the guard would ask you: “What?!” You, trying to speak as politely as you can, would tell him the reason of your visit, which is either to see friends or for a meeting at some embassy or something in between, like a dinner with foreign visitors at Scallini, the only restaurant in the DQ.

First, he would ask you to show an invitation. But in this era of email and mobile phones, it is rather the exception to carry printed invitation letters, unless it was a very formal occasion. If you fail to produce the invitation letter that he most probably won’t read because he can’t understand English, he will tell you you can’t enter.

You tell him that you have an appointment and people are waiting for you inside but he is not buying any of it. If he is in a good mood, he would tell you that your host must come to pick you up from the gate. If he is in a bad mood, which is the case more often than not, he would say, “You are not allowed to enter.” If you dared to ask why, the answer could be “Just like that,” “These are the instructions,” or the dreaded “Mamnou3 dukhool al-3izab” (no single men allowed).

I understand the security concerns, but this crap we as Saudis face every time we need to enter the DQ is ridiculous. I don’t mind waiting in a long line at a check point. I don’t mind being a subject for any security procedure with any device as they damn well please. But being treated in this demeaning manner is unacceptable and conveys a bizarre discrimination. Imagine being discriminated against in your own country simply because you happen to be a native citizen?

Is it time to get a fake Iqama?

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