Misogyny bullying and brutal violence; what is there to worry about in the Middle East?  

My eldest daughter, a primary school teacher, returns to Qatar this weekend as do hundreds of young people from these shores supporting the education systems across the Middle East.  With developments over the summer I felt anxious as we said our farewells; she was sanguine as young people are.  Having left the Emirate in June just after the borders and airspace were closed, and sanctions imposed by a coalition cobbled together by Saudi Arabia, no fresh chicken or milk were her only inconveniences.  And anyway she assured me this happened before and it was quickly resolved.

While the Gulf nations slumbered in the overpowering heat of their summer, Saudi Arabia’s resolve to cower its smaller neighbour with thirteen demands did not diminish nor did Qatar’s resistance to be censured.  This is a family dispute make no mistake and it could turn nasty quickly.

In the first months of 2012 I travelled across this region.   I find travel and experiencing other cultures always exciting and exhilarating but Saudi Arabia was a shock.  It stood out starkly in its extremes and my two week stay in the Kingdom proved a lonely and dispiriting experience.

A kindly Egyptian named doctor was assigned to look after me.  From Saudi Arabia, we travelled together onto; Oman, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and finally Qatar.  Aware that I was entering a different cultural zone I telephoned in advance to ask him what I should and should not do.   “Dr Terry”, he confided, “do as you are and do what you want and I only give one piece of advice; do not attend Friday beheadings in Riyadh”.  An American colleague had done this and two years later was still paying for the psychotherapy.

Just before our half-fully BA flight into Riyadh landed all women passengers disappeared into the toilets and came out dressed in black head to toe.  At immigration, after a considerable wait, I had my palms and finger prints recorded on a computer screen by an indifferent young soldier who avoided eye contact yet during my processing engaged in horseplay with his colleagues at one stage throwing a heavy stamper across his kiosk striking it off the wall.

I was detained without explanation in a glass cubicle and waited for two hours.  During this time an Indian worker, one of a few hundred being processed through another section, was dragged into the room and while being held by two young soldiers sustained a number of severe facial punches from a senior official.  He lay unconscious for some time on the ground bleeding from nose and mouth before being taken away by colleagues.

My handprint it seems could not be confirmed by the London Embassy as the computer server was down.  I was eventually let go; met my driver who already had my luggage and I was soon at my hotel a palatial building with a stunning inlaid marble foyer and a calm serene ambience. When I got into my room I locked the door.

During my stay, I saw few women and those I did catch sight of were always escorted by men.  Riyadh is a strange men’s only world.  My Doctor guides wife, also a doctor trained in Egypt, could not work.  She stayed at home with their daughter and could not visit the shops or be in a taxi without her husband.  She was finding it very difficult and he believed she was depressed but his salary was so much more than they both could earn in Egypt and having made money they planned to go home in a few years.

My days were spent at meetings during which my audience, always non-Saudi medical professionals, just wandered off when it was time for prayer leaving me at a lectern talking to myself.  My evenings were spent alone in my room watching TV- my doctor guide, wonderful as he was, only worked nine-five.  I had access to the hotel buffet which was always decadent and delicious but you can eat only so much.  I approached the concierge one evening and told him I wanted to go out.  He looked at me bemused and told me to go out.  But where would he recommend?  There are few parks, no paintings on the walls, no art galleries, no play houses, no cinema.  Shopping malls I do not do and I had already eaten too much so my entertainment was severely restricted.

How different I found the other Emirate countries.  They are of course Muslim and therefore apply strict laws and my hotels were “dry” but there were women in the streets and things to do.  If the King of Saudi Arabia orders his troops across the border into Qatar I worry my daughter won’t need to lock her door as it will be locked for her.

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  • A Bit Left and a Bit Lost

    It won’t happen as this is quite a lot of scare mongering. I lived in Dubai for a few years and have been to Qatar and KSA.

    On the Saudi/Qatar spat I think there are already behind the scenes diplomacy. It was very ill thought out plan from Saudi Arabia and they underestimated Qatari resilience.

    Plus Turkey was a lot keener to help out than anticipated. Below are my initial thoughts when spat erupted. Slugger If this isn’t allow please let me know and won’t post link again…


  • Brian O’Neill

    Link away. We are also always looking new writers on slugger if you want a wider readership for your posts.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Now I understand why Saudi Arabians are so keen on London. It is basically their
    playground away from prying eyes.

  • | truthaholics

    This poignant and telling piece – from a visitor’s point of view – is another damning indictment of the fallout from Sykes-Picot, the gift which keeps giving.

    Despite the theory of the UN Charter, today’s fragmentary post-colonial polices are just as morally bankrupt in practice for they prop up paranoid puppet dictators and lucrative arms sales to them to appease and perpetuate their concomitant paranoia while positing that democracy is too good for the backward citizens who live there and all because natural resources are available there to exploit.

  • Korhomme

    A kindly Egyptian named doctor was assigned to look after me.

    It almost sounds as if he was your ‘minder’. Was he? It sounds a grim enough place without that as well.

  • Korhomme

    Nightlife, booze, girls; what more does a prince want?

  • The folly of religion

  • Granni Trixie

    Unless I have misunderstood, you are saying that the experience Terry outlines is “scare mongering”? How can you say that when its so clearly an authentic account?
    Why not say instead that you have a different experiences of the country leading you to different conclusions. It’s a bit like my denying the terrible experiences of youngsters in a children’s home on the basis that I was treated kindly.

    Aside from that, I too would welcome posts from yourself to extend this educational discussion.

  • A Bit Left and a Bit Lost

    I didn’t articulate my point clearly. It’s a good account and I should have started with that.

    When I used the term scaremongering, I should have specified that it referred to the final paragraph. There are plenty of people with a relation or loved one teaching in Qatar. This could lead to unnecessary worry. There are an estimated 10,000 US troops in Qatar. An invasion is highly, highly unlikely.

    “If the King of Saudi Arabia orders his troops across the border into Qatar I worry my daughter won’t need to lock her door as it will be locked for her.”

  • Granni Trixie

    Fair enough, thanks.

  • William Kinmont

    We almost had a bit of that here in seventies/early 80s. Going up M2 past Templepatrick and Parkgate village you can see the Jim Baker stadium. In those days it was a big horse set up bank rolled by some one from Saudi . I can remember the security gates and houses being like something from another world.It was becoming a big local employer paying well above local wages and starting to draw in other outside wealth Vaguely i think it was some sort of personal tragedy that caused it to pack up.

  • eamoncorbett

    Wonder what it would look like if there was no black stuff in the ground.

  • SDLP supporter

    A horrible, authentic account. But why blame the awfulness of Saudi Arabia on religion? Totalitarianism is to blame. It sounds like North Korea, which is a wholly atheistic state.

  • Carl McClean Uup

    Because it’s Wahhabism to blame for this, which is the dominant religious force in Saudi. It’s quite grim, and Saudi life is lived according to it. The counter-examples the author provided are also totalitarian states, or dictatorships, as are most countries in the region, so that by itself can’t be the answer.

  • james

    To be honest, and I’ve lived in Saudi, religion there (while undeniably powerful, run by some very bad people, and always threatening to burst the reins) is in reality a tool of the dictatorship.

  • james

    It’d be like the Yemen.

  • Gopher

    “How different I found the other Emirate countries. They are of course Muslim and therefore apply strict laws and my hotels were “dry” but there were women in the streets and things to do.”

    I have been to Dubai many many times and have never been unfortunate enough to stay in a “Dry” hotel and by coincedence the hotels I seem to book appear to be oasis’s of liberality which judging by the attire and trained eye of a Northerner which makes divining ones religion a penalty kick, suggest they are popular among our Moslem cousins. Bacon however unless it is made of turkey is more problematical. After I night on the tiles round the fleshpots of Dubai I can never get my head round that theological conundrum. Call to prayers is a bit of a pain as amplification is used and always seems to be for an athiest like myself at an ungodly hour, so a high floor is always recomended. You cant get a drink outside a hotel, bit like here at Easter. Streets are safe and clean and the Phillipinos who seem to make up the bulk of the population dont seem to understand the social rules as they seem to break most Moslem social conventions as I understand them unmolested by the law. The arms race between western woman with regards appearance suggests they suffer from worse dyslexia than myself or like Nelson reserve the right to disregard dressing ordinances they dont agree with impunity. Aint been to Saudi but unless their is a liberal revolution dont intend to.

  • PeterOHanrahahanrahan

    You should see the lower Sukhumvit in Bangkok on any given night.

  • Reader

    Korhomme: It almost sounds as if he was your ‘minder’. Was he? It sounds a grim enough place without that as well.
    I guess he was a corporate minder, not a government minder. So that would not be very far out of the ordinary.

  • Hugh Davison

    I’ve never resolved the conundrum of Irish people, well paid as nurses, doctors and other professionals working in countries where the culture is so alien, their freedom is so constricted and their opinion is irrelevant. I know the money is important, but is that the only thing there is in life.