I’ve written many times about the confusing contradictions about living here in Saudi Arabia. Things really haven’t gotten any better - except that women are now employed in sales positions around the country and we women are no longer required to purchase bras and panties from strange perverted men! - and life continues to be as confusing as ever.
For example, right now, at least one young Saudi man, Bandar Al Swaid, has just spent his 4th night sitting in a jail cell. His crime? Following the worldwide feel-good peace and love craze of offering “Free Hugs” to total strangers. Twenty-one year old Abdulrahman al-Khayyal was also arrested in the conspiracy. The young men had the audacity to post a video of themselves holding a sign saying “Free Hug” and hugging three men in the Saudi capital city of Riyadh. They were charged with “violating local laws and engaging in exotic practices.” In another incident, seven young men ranging in age from 16 to 20 were also arrested in Dhahran for carrying a sign that offered "Free Kisses."
While these cases might be considered by many to be the crimes of the century in Saudi Arabia, another Saudi man who posted a video of himself threatening the lives of women who might dare to drive in Saudi Arabia still walks free as a bird here. Apparently threatening the lives of women here is of no concern to the authorities while giving out free hugs is taken much more seriously.
Foreign workers in Saudi Arabia have come under attack for “taking jobs away from Saudis” in recent months, and many illegal workers have been deported back to their homelands. Some of these foreign workers have lived and worked in KSA for decades, doing lowly jobs that most Saudis would never do that are considered beneath them. Many workers from poorer countries are treated inhumanely, tolerate horrid living conditions, are not paid fair wages, and are even considered slaves in the eyes of many Saudi employers. Very few are ever granted Saudi citizenship. Workers’ rights in this country are pretty much non-existent. Most labor disputes and issues go largely unreported because the outcomes are almost always settled in favor of the Saudi employer.
However, a Saudi writer, Abdulrahman Al-Zuhayyan, wrote a controversial opinion piece published in the Arab News a few days ago called “Say No to Expats Calling for Saudi Citizenship.” The 225 comments garnered by the article overwhelmingly disagreed with Al-Zuhayyan’s racist and degrading position. While Al-Zuhayyan criticizes expat workers for failing to assimilate into Saudi society, the truth is that there is a barrier put up by Saudis preventing assimilation. He also failed to mention that many Saudis have a superiority attitude toward foreign laborers.
Meanwhile, the women’s driving campaign continues to gain momentum with many women posting videos of themselves behind the wheel. The campaign has attracted worldwide attention. Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive and must depend on male drivers to take them places - this in a country with all male drivers and ranking among the highest traffic fatality records in the world.
So what are the available options for women's transportation here? Many affluent families have been able to bring in and hire foreign men as drivers for their women. But now that many drivers have been deported, there is a shortage of drivers. Other families frequently rely on underaged and unlicensed males in the family to drive the women around. Some women must rely on taking taxis driven by strangers, but gender mixing is also disallowed in this country, so this is something that is allowed that I just don't get. Many of the "drivers" brought into the country do not know how to drive, yet women like myself, who have driven safely in other countries for many years, are not permitted to get behind the wheel. Somehow it is considered safer for a woman to get into a car driven by a little boy or an unrelated man who doesn’t know how to drive than to allow a woman to drive herself.
At least I don't have to buy my panties from perverted men any more here…