So few days ago in Dammam some members of the religious police somehow got the impression that they could storm a women’s public restroom on the courniche to arrest someone. They went in and moments later emerged dragging a girl who was crying, screaming and begging them to leave her alone. She tried to run away but fell on the ground. The Haya’a men apparently thought it was okay to hit and kick her, so they did that in the street while people were watching, then they carried her and threw her in the back of their jeep.

Al-Hayat daily, who published the story on Monday, said they tried to contact Haya’a offices and spokesmen in Dammam and Riyadh for comments but none of them returned the calls or text messages. Probably we were overoptimistic when we hoped that the new head of the religious police would keep his men under control. Probably.

UPDATE 23/12/09: According to al-Watan daily, the girl has been released. The newspaper quoted security sources who said the girl was arrested based on the suspicion of a khulwa, while the boy who allegedly was with her managed to escape. The haya’a in the EP declined to comment on the case. The police said they received the case and they are searching for the boy.

Visa Wars and Reciprocity

For the past few weeks, Dawood al-Shirian and his colleagues in al-Hayat have been waging a ferocious war against the embassies of France, Germany, and Italy for what they describe as unfair treatment Saudi citizens have to endure when they apply for visas to enter these countries. Other newspapers joined the campaign, with calls to boycott, especially against France. Meanwhile, the British embassy has been enjoying much praise in the local media for the speed and efficiency of their visa process, which is outsourced to a private firm, and the Americans seem happy that for once they are not the target of criticism.

The government recently weighed in, accusing the European embassies of discrimination. Saudi applicants are forced to submit more documentation and wait much longer than citizens of neighboring countries for Europe’s Schengen visa, the foreign ministry said.

After weeks of giving every kind of lame excuse for the unreasonable delays to secure a visa to his country, the French ambassador came out to admit that the delays are related to the 9/11 terror attacks and to the 2003-2005 Al-Qaeda bombings and murders in the country. He also accused the Saudi media of being unprofessional, which simply won him even more enemies in the local press.

I have to say that I find this matter very annoying. I have had my own bad experience with another European country last year, when I applied for a visa to Hungary. After a long, complicated process, they denied me a visa without offering any reason. However, I have always said that Saudis should not complain about how hard it is to get a visa to any country as long as it is still extremely hard to get a visa to come here. The foreign ministry is not making a good point when they compare Saudis to citizens from other Gulf countries; these countries offer visas to EU citizens on arrival at the airport. It is all about reciprocity.