For Saudis, many things have changed after 9/11. One of these things is that getting a visa to enter the United States has become very, very difficult. The reevaluation of the process to grant visas to Saudis have made it complex and time-consuming. I don’t blame American for trying to protect their country, and to be fair, getting a visa to enter Saudi Arabia is not that easy either.
However, what many Saudis complain about is not the long process and the time it takes, although time can be a very important factor especially in medical cases, but rather the way they are treated when they apply for a visa to enter the U.S.
Mohammed al-Tounsi, managing director of al-Ekhbariya news channel, recently published an open letter to the U.S. ambassador in Riyadh in al-Watan daily where he wrote about the “humiliation” he has had to go though when he applied for a visa to take his wife Rima al-Shamekh for treatment in America. Al-Shamekh who used to host a popular talk show on al-Ekhbariya has suffered a stroke on air when she was interviewing the former British ambassador last year. Al-Tounsi says that apparently every Saudi is “a ‘suspect’ until Homeland Security in Washington prove otherwise.”
In the same newspaper, columnist Ali al-Mousa followed the next day with another letter to the ambassador, saying there are 200 instructors in the university where he works who dose not want to visit the U.S. embassy because they prefer to avoid “humiliation, procrastination and insults.” He says with that this kind of treatment, the millions of dollars America spend on PR are rather pointless. “We will not shave our beards to prove that we are not on terrorists’ lists, and we will not change our culture because we believe we are a peaceful nation with a noble message that won’t be distorted by a few out of millions,” he added.
Needless to say, some extremists could not miss the chance to take cheap shot at al-Tounsi and al-Mousa. Using their mouthpiece, al-Sahat Forums, where they usually accuse Saudi liberal figures of being blindly loyal to the U.S., they seem to be rather happy that “Americans have rejected and humiliated their own loyal agents.” Some of them have even gone as far as describing what is happening here as a conspiracy by Saudi liberals to distance themselves from Mama America.
I have my own experience with the U.S. embassy in Riyadh that I will write about in detail later, but for now I’m wondering how/if the ambassador is going to respond to these letters, and if the U.S. government are considering any change in the process of granting entry visas for Saudi citizens. It has been six years since 9/11 so maybe it’s about time to review the process and consider the possibility of making it less complicated and more streamlined.