Monday, January 14, 2013

Nightmare in Saudi Arabia: Plight of Foreign Workers

My Article for Newsweek Daily Beast on the Dire and Often Slave-Like conditions migrant works may face in Saudi Arabia (Applies to GCC and many other Arab countries as well):

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Precious Moments with Saudi Religious Police

Some days I wear hijab, somedays I don't.

Being new to Riyadh, I was not accustomed to the common harassment from religious police to "cover my face". In most other cities in Saudi Arabia it's rather rare to experience a run in with the country's notorious religious police, and I never had to deal with it until moving to Riyadh.

A day prior - with my hair fully covered by Hijab - a frustrating argument arouse when 4 religious police followed me and insisted that I cover my face. I explained my reasonable condition; (as a crowd inconveniently began to surround us) only if the four religious police would first cover their faces would I cover mine. Upset by my remark, and perhaps in attempt to appear in control of the situation in the eyes of the gathered spectators, they summoned a police officer to "escort" me out of the mall.

Frustrated by the prior days events, I decided that day to leave my little black scarf behind at home. No scarf, no tool for which to cover my face with.

I waltzed into Riyadh Gallery Mall, grabbed a coffee and took a pathetic stroll along the indoor mall river. About half-way through my coffee, I heard a voice summon from behind; "Fear God and cover your hair, the end of the world is nearing..."

I turned and saw a familiar sight; a young man with a long beard, shortened thob, and shymagh draped over his head without an 'agal; surely religious police. Thinking myself to be clever, I replied "Ooops! I left the scarf at home". He gave me glare, then I swear he almost smiled as he disappeared.

I delighted in my victory over him; the second half of my coffee was more delicious than the first, and the indoor river became more magical. I felt myself more free and powerful than when I had first began the coffee.

The victory was short lived; "girl!" I heard a familiar voice call from behind me. The same young man who had just disappeared had reappeared with a small GAP bag in hand that he was stretching out towards me in ofference. I froze, absolutely confused. Receptive to my confusion, he reached into the bag and pulled out a small blue scarf with a subtle design and fresh GAP tags hanging from it.

He bought me a scarf! I covered my mouth as I embarassingly started laughing. He looked around confused by my reaction, unsure as to how he should interpret my laughter. I shook my head refusing to take the bag, he insisted and looked very pleased as I finally took the bag. "God be with you", he told me. "He always is", I replied.

Though I don't appreciate or agree with the religious police, rather than try to get my point across I decided to let him win. An image of a little girl who often begged in a dirty clothes and hijab in a market near my home popped into my mind. I told the driver to pass by that market on the way home. Sure enough the little girl was there begging, I stretched out my hand with the GAP bag in ofference, in the same way the religious police man had done to me.

She took the bag and gave me a HUGE smile as she pulled the new scarf out of the bag to examine, an instantly put it on her head.

Somedays I wear Hijab, Somedays I don't.