Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Have you ever heard a man being slapped?

Well it was my first experience really. There were seven of us, walking towards the market. My companion was talking to me when she suddenly fell back. I turned round and suddenly heard a loud SMMAAACCKKK!

"You touched me! How dare you touch me!"

"No no I don't know."

Suddenly the street fell silent. The men all came out to look.

My companion picked up her sunglasses and walked towards us.

What happened? We asked. He touched my thighs! He tried to pretend it was an accident but one doesn't just accidentally touch a woman's thighs!

I think he was following us since we got down the bus, remarked one of the ladies.

Well good one! He deserved that slap! Just because she has her hair uncovered she is considered a whore?

Well ladies lets stick together more closely now! Don't go into any shop alone.

I was reeling. I really admired her for her quick reflexes and her strength! I bet the man chose her because she was petite, the smallest in the group. So I asked her what happened. When she felt the hands touching her thighs, she turned round and saw the man walking away. She quickly approached him, turned him round and slapped him as hard she she could on his face. She said that it was all her anger that gave her strength.

To be a woman in this country! Even a trip to the market is full of perils and perverts!

Tales about the religious policeman

If you don't already know, there are religious policemen here, their motto being "The prevention of vice and the preservation of virtue."

Perhaps you wonder what the religious policemen do. Amongst other things is to check out the Malls and public places making sure that women are covered appropriately. The foreign women have now learnt not to argue, to just cover their head and walk away. I did hear of accounts of how a woman's exposed ankle was spray painted with pink paint. Apparently it was a punishment as her as her abaya was not long enough to sweep the streets and thus did not cover her ankles. And the pink paint was the sign of shame like the scarlett letter.

Another woman told us about how the religious policeman insisted that she took off her spectacles. The crime? She had some diamond like studs on her frame of her glasses (which we wore between the face veil in the ninja like manner.) She tried to explain to the policeman that hers were prescription lenses and she will be needing them to see. He dismissed her reasoning and stressed that women's accessories must not be seen. Meekly she took them off, stumbled a few steps into a shop and put her glasses on again.

And the men get it too. A woman told us about her good looking brother who was hauled by the religious policeman to stay overnight in jail. His crime? He sat outside a supermarket while waiting for his family to finish their shopping. Then came the religious policeman who started harassing him, asking him what he was doing there. He told them that he was waiting for his family to finish shopping. But no! The religious policeman refused to believe him. They claimed that he was there to look at the women as they came in and out of the supermarket. When they saw him trying to call his family inside, they took the mobile phone away and accused him of distributing his phone number to the ladies that pass by. And he broke own cardinal rule, by not being meek and walking away, he answered back to them, saying that their charges were ridiculous. They hauled him in the police van and put him in a cell for overnight observation.

Does this make the society more virtuous?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Excerpt from Little Girls Wearing Abayas
By Raid Qusti,

There are those who defend women wearing black abayas in our country and there are those who do not. The fact of the matter is that whatever the two parties may argue, girls who have not reached puberty should not be deprived of their childhood, their moment of joy and happiness.

If the purpose of a woman wearing an abaya in our country is to conceal the shape of her body from preying eyes and to appear modest in public, then a girl who is seven years has nothing to do with either “body shape” or “modesty.” Her age and innocence have nothing to do with the adult world and its problems in Saudi Arabia.

When I see how families dress up little girls in black abayas I get both disturbed and offended at the same time. I get disturbed because I realize that that poor child has nothing to do with society or its problems. The child is at an age where she should be having fun and growing up in a normal way without any hang-ups. I feel offended because I feel that her parents who dress her up in a black abaya at such an early age think most of their fellow Saudi men are sexual freaks who would actually look at a girl her age in a sexual manner and make it necessary for her to be covered up in black.


"Mummy I want to wear an abaya," said little Mariam as she watched her mother and I struggled into our abayas before stepping into the car.

"Well Mariam, you may say that now. I'll give you ten years and we'll see what you think about having to wear abayas." I replied.

"You know you should encourage children good things when they are still young. For me I would always encourage her if she wants to do good things."

I bit my toungue.

You see little Mariam's mum is a Singaporean. And the main basis of our friendship is that we were born in the same country. Other than that, we have very little in common. We have very different views on a lot of things and we do most things very differently.

But what was most depressing to me was why she thinks her small child wanting to wear an abaya is a good thing? Perhaps its true, it does protects a woman's modesty but surely wearing an abaya is not a solution to that! If it was perhaps it would be stated in the Quran or Hadith that all women are only allowed to wear shapeless black robes ,that she may trip and fall on, in public and must keep her face covered in public.

But from the last time I searched, there was no such thing. This was a man made rule for a society whose "virtue" they want to preserve.

Thus it was hard for to accept that this was a "good thing." How can it be good when it perpetuates the belief in society that women must not be seen and herd in public. She must be inconspicuous, almost invisible even and treated like a property to be owned either by her father, her husband or her brother.

Perhaps they start the indoctrination young. I understand the need for the men to indoctrinate the wives and the daughters at such a young age.

But for the women to continue perpetuating it?

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Excerpt from the

Women Won’t Be Allowed to Run in Civic Poll
Abeer Mishkhas & Somayya Jabarti, Arab News

Representing the views that women should not run for office, an anonymous Shoura Council member said: “What do women want with voting and municipality elections? Why would they want to trouble themselves with things that are new and unfamiliar? These issues are against their nature so why ask for trouble?”


Another day, another struggle as a woman in this country.

What is it that the men here fear so much from a woman's independence? Castration anxiety?

Will all the lost if women get any rights at all?

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Another weekend and another shooting

British father-of-six shot dead

A British man shot dead in the Saudi capital Riyadh leaves behind a wife and six children, it has emerged.

Edmund Muirhead-Smith, 55, was killed in a shopping centre car park in an eastern suburb.

Witnesses said two gunmen in a Toyota car shot the victim four times as he walked towards his car on Wednesday.

A statement from the family said: "At this time we are struggling to come to terms with the news. He will be greatly missed by us... our love is with him."

Britain's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sherard Cowper-Coles, condemned the killing.
"His murder will only make the British Government more determined to stand with the Saudi government and people in the struggle against senseless terror of this kind," he said.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends and colleagues."
Mr Muirhead-Smith, from Torquay in Devon, was an employee of communications firm Marconi.

A company spokesman said: "We take security in the region very seriously. It seems that Edmund was a victim of a chance shooting.

"There is no evidence to suggest that he was targeted other than for being a Westerner."
Security sources told Reuters news agency that the shooting was linked to a wave of anti-Western attacks in Saudi Arabia by supporters of al-Qaeda.

Militants linked to al-Qaeda have killed at least 90 police and civilians in a 15-month campaign to destabilise the US-allied Saudi monarchy.

The attacks in the conservative Muslim kingdom, much of whose economy depends on foreign workers, are aimed at driving Westerners out of the country and damaging its oil industry.


I was out going to the Mall that afternoon. The bus was bringing us women to a Mall which I have never been before.

A roadblock was set up on the highway and several white cars were stopped by the policemen. And there was a sharp shooter out pointing his gun, ready for action.

Our bus wasn't stopped and we continued on to the Mall.

2 hours later, a lady who understood Arabic told us that something has happened. They heard that a Westerner has been shot.

We were all uneasy.

I quickly rushed home and checked the net. There it was on the Reuters website, the news of the Western man shot in the Al-Naseem area. He has been shopping at a discount giant super store.

I met some of my friends for dinner that night. Told them about the news I read.

"Do you feel safe in this country?" E asked.

"Well fairly safe I suppose, except for the shootings I almost feel that Ryadh is safer than London."

"At what point would you decide what it is time for you to leave?"

"We don't know really. I guess as soon as we feel that we are threatened directly. After all we are here because we have mortgages to pay and if we choose to move on, we would need to find a new contract first and we don't know how easy that will be."

What is the value of our life? Is it worth this risk?

We thought by coming to Riyadh perhaps we would be closer to Makkah and Madinah. But it is at a cost apparently.

A friend of ours who was in the Al-Hambra bombing last year is still traumatized, although they are still in the country. I guess if they can persevere, so can we.

But is it worth it?

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Women casting stones at each other

I have to confess that I am half amused and half disappointed by my friends recently. Well I call them my friends because I feel a certain affinity to them. We have mostly known each other over ten years now (longer for some), from our University days to the present where we all have our own careers, families and spouses. I do like their company because I thought we had seen each other over the years grown more mature, although some more than others.

We had gone on some trips to KL together. Met various people from the net. Learn about each other's quirky behaviours and temperaments. We were all very different individuals but somehow we learnt to live with each other’s opinions, aspirations, struggles, the ups and downs in life. Sometimes it’s a love and hate relationship, but we managed to forgive and forget.

Somehow the group had a new addition recently. Sometimes the “new” additions brings a new dimension to the friendship. (I myself was a new addition to this circle about seven years ago.) Some of the new additions stay, others move on after a while but the main core stuck to each other.

However the newest addition added a different tension. I have yet to meet this person myself but I got to know her from her various emails to the group. (Not all of us have the luxury of meeting up all the time as some has moved on to live in a different city from time to time. Thus emails became the best method of communication to everyone.) Perhaps being new to the circle of friends, she did not know the temperament of each and every member of the circle of friends and had somehow managed to offend another member of the circle. And suddenly a cold war ensued.

What is it about us women that it is inevitable for us to get bitchy with one another?

I read this article from the New Scientist that Fertile women rate other women as uglier.

Maryanne Fisher, a psychologist at York University in Toronto, Canada, decided to try to find evidence for female competition by presenting heterosexual students with photos of faces. She found that when women were in the most fertile phase of their menstrual cycles, they rated the attractiveness of other women lower than when they were not.
Being more combative during a fertile period backs the idea that women are competing for the best mate. "When you're in a high fertility phase, you have to be more able to judge other women as potential rivals," says Fisher.

The 57 female students tested, along with male controls, were asked to look at colour photos of 35 female and 30 male faces. The models for the photos were asked to display a neutral facial expression, wear a black smock and remove any accessories to help standardise the experiment.
Women with high estrogen levels, in days 12 to 21 of their menstrual cycle, rated other women's attractiveness significantly lower than women in a less fertile, low estrogen period of their cycle.

Fisher does not know exactly how women's heightened sense of competition during ovulation may help them win a mate. "Does putting someone down make you feel better about yourself? Or does saying it to a male make her less attractive to him?" she asks.
She adds that this kind of intrasexual competition could also carry risks - being too bitchy could make a woman look " mean-spirited" to a man. To answer these questions, Fisher is now investigating how men's attitudes are affected by women using such derogatory tactics.

Could it be that my friends were at the most fertile period of the month that they became so competitive?

But for us women apparently it is not so easy to forgive and forget. If any of you found a study why this is so, please forward the study to me.

All I want is for all my friends to be happy and to get along. The world is already filled with such atrocities and hatred that I feel it is so unnecessary to perpetuate more of this feeling of animosity and hostility amongst friends.

Life is too short to be spent on unpleasantness. Is it just too hard for us to get along?

Friday, September 10, 2004

Municipal Elections: Women Only Helpless Spectators?
Maha Al-Hujailan, Arab News

Several commendable efforts have been made to highlight the role of Saudi women as citizens with guaranteed civil rights in building the nation and achieving economic progress. The efforts have included national dialogues that attempt to map out a future with more freedom for women. Women have consequently been offered more employment opportunities and increased participation in nation building. Employment opportunities have undoubtedly been improved with the opening of a women’s section, staffed by women, at the Riyadh Passports office. Further, Labor Minister Dr. Ghazi Al-Gosaibi has issued orders to expedite measures to open separate women’s sections in government offices in the service sector in line with a Cabinet decision.

Despite intense efforts to establish women’s role in overall development, the upcoming municipal election is not clear regarding women. Women fear the possibility of laws banning them from elections. It is ironic that women are present in plans for the future but no importance is given to them when the plans are executed.

There is no justification in excluding women from the upcoming elections because there will be no undesirable consequence if they are allowed to participate. A healthy society is composed of both men and women, working together for the common good. Everyone knows that we have no dearth of hardworking women who are proud to serve their country. Their patriotism is no less than that of men. It would be better if the election regulations had clearly stated women’s rights to contest and vote in the election.
It is unfortunate that questions are being asked about Saudi women’s eligibility to participate in the election compared to women in other parts of the world — as if other women were more intelligent and capable than the women in the Kingdom. The absence of women’s voices in the municipal election will undoubtedly have a negative impact on social development. There is every indication that women’s roles will be marginalized in nation building. The inevitable consequence will be that men will monopolize the process of making plans and regulations. Women will not have the right to change the regulations laid down by men which affect them. Such a situation will undoubtedly reduce the importance of women’s role in society.

The exclusion of women from political activities amounts to legitimizing a dangerous mentality founded on the notion that women have only a marginal, or no, role in nation building. Relegating women to an inferior position will also reinforce the backward view that a woman’s opinion does not deserve to be listened to because she is only a dependent of her father or husband, brother or son. The view is deeply damaging to the position of women in the country. They are too often treated as worthless burdens on the shoulders of men. Women’s inferior status, both politically and socially, will only increase their dependence on others. According to the custom of the land, women are mere appendages of men without an independent identity.

By supporting an ideology based on sexist concepts, the whole society stands to lose an opportunity for a great social transformation with far-reaching consequences.
This article is not an attempt to establish women’s worthiness to enter politics. The point to be emphasized is that citizens should not be discriminated against on the basis of sex. Saudi women have repeatedly proved their worthiness to serve the nation as much as Saudi men.

I believe that there is still time for the election authorities to review the matter so that a person’s sex does not prevent him or her from contesting or voting. I also believe that the authorities should take all necessary steps in advance so that women will fulfill the necessary conditions and cast their votes without let or hindrance.
* * *
(Maha Al-Hujailan is a Saudi writer.)

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

I missed the bus

A friend called me up at 7:51 am asking me if I was going on the shopping bus today. I haven't decided I said. She said, "Please go I need some tape for the cartonage class this afternoon."

How difficult is it to just walk/drive over to the store and buy masking tape you may ask.

In this country it's like a gigantic task! First of all you'll have to have the knowledge of where it might be sold. Now with the knowledge of where it might be sold, you will have to find the means of getting there. And if you found the way to get there, timing is really crucial because the shops don't open all day and if you happen to go at the wrong time, the shops will be close.

Getting there

Women are not allowed to drive. Period. Apparently if she is allowed to drive then it will give her the ability to meet up with men and commit adultery, thus destroying the moral fibre of the country.

She must also not travel alone. If there was an unrelated man and a woman in a car, the woman must sit in the back seat and the man in the driver's seat. If they were found sitting together by the muttawa then they can accuse the woman of being all sorts of things.

She must always be accompanied by a male muhrim ie either her husband, son, brother etc lest she will stray if not accompanied by a male relative.

If the muttawa doesn't harass her then perhaps the general male public will.

How about walking then?

First of all crossing the roads here is hazardous. The drivers would purposely speed up when they see pedestrian crossing. Perhaps they think its more fun that way.

Now, if a woman were crossing, then she will be honked at or the cars would purposely slow down (not to let her cross the road mind you) just to leer at her and making it even more impossible to cross the road.

And the heat. Well it is hard enough to walk in this heat, but under the oppressive black abaya, it feels like a walking oven really!

Public bus? No way. Filled with leering men who will suddenly all "accidentally" brush against you? No thank you. And judging by the dents they are probably mobile death traps anyway.

Taxi? Well they charge you according to your nationality (which they ask a lot here) or if they know where you are going and can get you there safely.

So the compound where I live provide a bus to bring us women to different shopping places every morning and afternoon. Except of course, I missed the bus this morning!

To go to the Mall where the bus had gone would cost me 35 Riyals. All just to get a 5 Riyal masking tape? *sigh*


In this country, all shops are required to close during prayer times. No business transactions are allowed. Most places open from 9:30 am - 12 noon. (Or Dzuhur prayers whichever comes first.) They reopen at 4:00 pm then close during Magrib and Isya' for at least 30 minutes during each prayer time.

What if you were shopping halfway and it's time for prayers, they will switch off the lights, chase you away and tell you to come back after prayers.

What do they do from 12 noon to 4 pm? They have their afternoon siesta of course.

I do not know what it is but I just have this feeling that this is a country where a woman's independence is something that scares the men!

I refuse to believe that it has anything to do with religion! During our Prophet Muhammad's time, women do run their own businesses (Khadijah), and even fought in wars (Aishah) but the women now are rendered helpless and dependent upon their men.

Yes I am upset that buying masking tape is such a huge task. I am upset that I have to be so dependent on the male population... just to buy masking tape!!

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Its been awhile

I havent updated my blog for a while as suddenly I am inundated by a flurry of activities. Most of the expatriate families are back from their summer holidays and thus the social life within the compound has picked up.

Being the private person that I am, I did find all this socializing somewhat difficult. Especially when you are invited to someone's house for lunch and you know you are expected to return the favour in the future.

I hosted such a lunch a couple of weeks ago and I am not even sure if I would be interested to host another one! My house was taken over by nine children and a dozen adults. I didn't mind the adults so much but the children!! Argghh!

As a result, I now have a multicoloured sofa which used to be a nice and clean cream coloured, my beige carpet has some polka dots on them, my souvenir from Paris is broken and the corner of my headrest pillow has been chewed off. Upset! Of course I am. But I can't really tell their respective parents what to do with their children can I?

Why did the parents let the children run amok and misbehave themselves? Didn't they teach their children some manners and told them to behave appropriately in other people's houses?

I've been asked by this other lady to invite her and her family to my house. You see its a novelty to them, being invited to a villa in the compound. I guess they just want to gawk and look at my European neighours. But I assure you dear readers, there isn't much to see. Sure there are some who sit by the pool in their bikinis. (There is one man who sits there everyday in his G string trunks bur errkkkk its NOT that interesting.) Perhaps I see them everyday and thus I don't find it interesting at all. Or perhaps I do feel that I would like to protect their privacy as much as I hope that they will protect mine.

I guess I am very much like a hermit who is happy to crawl in my own shell, in my own world, as long as I have internet access and my books.