Want to Marry a Foreigner? Over Their Dead Body

The Shoura Council is an advisory body comprised of 150 members appointed by the King and serves as a quasi-parliament. Those members are academics, technocrats and businessmen. They are, in other words, the intelligentsia of the Saudi society, the crème de la crème, the elite, the… well, you get the idea.

However, I find myself rather gobsmacked by some of the conclusions they make and the recommendations they reach on some issues. Here’s a recent example: after being equally split over a need to simplify the regulations of Saudi marriages to foreigners, the newly appointed vice president Bandar al-Hajjar rejected the proposal. What a disappointing start for Mr. al-Hajjar who was just a few days ago the president of the National Society for Human Rights.

I do not understand the harsh restrictions enforced on citizens who want to marry foreigners. Why should the government bother with who one chooses to marry? I really do not understand the government’s obsession with interfering in the minutiae of people’s personal lives.

The argument offered by the proposal opponents is embarrassingly weak and wrongheaded they should be ashamed of themselves. “Such recommendations would greatly increase the number of Saudis marrying foreigners while we are fully aware of the complications that such marriages create,” they said. They also said changes would only exacerbate the problem of spinsterhood in the Kingdom. Are they trying to convince us that by taking these unfair measures they are actually protecting Saudi women?

As for the “complications” bit, the best response comes from Sabria Jawhar who says, “Well, those complications are created by the Saudi government in the first place. Perhaps minimizing the complications that exist in the law would help those marriages.”

Now how can a large group of supposedly intelligent people all agree on taking such an unintelligent position is just beyond me. Sadly, it is not the first time and this is not an isolated, single case. Remember the weekend thing?

Around one year ago, my good friend Khaled said that we should not get all worked up over the nonperformance of the Shoura Council because it is nothing more than a dead body that we should respectfully leave to rest in peace. I guess he was right all along.

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?