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.

Simple Things

abeer21_Arab News offers this glimpse into the lives of some Saudi girls who are studying in the Netherlands. They talk about adapting to life in a liberal society; about how does it feel to be independent and free. They also talk about things like riding a bicycle or doing their own paperwork. Simple things, sure, but are they going to accept being denied of these things, let alone other much more important things, when they come back?

When I wrote about the scholarships girls back in November and suggested that they will play a pivotal role in reforming the country, some people disagreed and argued that this will not happen because the girls are simply as hypocrite as the guys. I think that’s a possibility, but I’d like to remain optimistic.

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