Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Harlem Shake - in Jeddah

A few days ago, an epic event occurred on the streets of Jeddah in broad daylight - the Harlem Shake. It was an organized underground event with hundreds of young people participating. The logistics of pulling off such an event here in Saudi Arabia, where public gatherings such as this are outlawed, are challenging. Had word gotten out to the police ahead of time, I'm sure measures would have been taken to quell such an incident from happening in the first place. As it was, apparently the crowd was dispersed by police, but not until several videos like this one were filmed by attendees.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Don't Miss It! Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia

Dr. Maisah Sobaihi (photo: Vimeo)
"Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia" is a one-woman comedy show written and performed by Dr. Maisah Sobaihi, exploring the lives and loves of Saudi women with humor and insight.  I had the pleasure of seeing this delightful show and writing about it several years ago in 2008.  For my review and synopsis of the play, please click HERE.  Since that time, Sobaihi has repeated her performance many times, and this week she is doing it again.


WHEN:     MONDAY, FEB. 18 (in ENGLISH) and 
                  TUESDAY, FEB. 19 (in ARABIC)

TIME:       8:30 PM 

PRICE:     250 SR

Head Over Heels In Saudi Arabia - 3-Minute Promo Video from Maisah Sobaihi on Vimeo.

Almakkiyah: Angawi House

Angawi House is the current residence of famed local Jeddah architect Dr. Sami Angawi.  It is a study of western Saudi Arabia's traditional Hijazi architecture.

The interior of the home is not decorated with expensive museum pieces but is instead filled with ordinary functional and traditional decor.

The variety of materials utilized in the construction and finishing of the home is astonishing.  Angawi is a master at combining materials, textures, and shapes.  Many of the home's objects are quite old, such as a 300 year old carved door at the entrance.

The heart of the home is a beautifully aqua blue tiled indoor swimming pool, the bottom of which is a mosaic tile pattern that looks like a Persian carpet.  This inner courtyard is surrounded by rich carved wood on multiple levels and hanging plants.

Also used throughout the home are stained glass, arches, and colored lighting.  Pillows, carpets, and varied accessories complete the finishing touches in every room of the house. 

Intricately carved wooden architectural details and Moroccan style lamps are just some of the features that all work together to make this home very special. 

There is none of the stiffness and formal pretentiousness that I have seen in some households here in Saudi Arabia.  Instead the home is warm, welcoming, and comfortable. 

Angawi designed the house to fully take advantage of the prevailing winds in Jeddah, which naturally flow from the north and the west, to keep the air stream circulating throughout the entire house much of the year.  This cuts down on the need for air conditioning in this hot climate. 

The living space in this home is maximized and made good use of, with nooks and crannies used for built in seating areas, planters, and even a rooftop garden.

The entire house is a visual treat which is layered with magnificent colors, patterns, and designs featuring geometrics, florals, and Arabic calligraphy.

Angawi graciously opens his amazing home to visitors mainly arranged through special group tours. 

For more information about Angawi House, email:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Saudi Royal Family Steps In to Keep Murderer/Rapist Imprisoned

The Saudi royal family has stepped into the middle of a torture/rape/murder case that stunned Saudi Arabia and the world.  Reports abound that royals were "stung" by the outrage sparked by the case when it was reported that a well known Saudi preacher was going to be released after serving only a few months in jail by paying "blood money."  The preacher, Fayhan Al-Ghamdi, had admitted to torturing his own 5-year-old daughter Lama.  The girl was also raped and beaten, eventually succumbing to her injuries after spending 10 months hospitalized in a coma. 

The details of the brutal crime were horrific.  But the possibility of this monster being set free back out on the streets of Saudi Arabia caused an enormous emotional uproar within the country and around the world.  Fortunately members of the Saudi royal family were listening.

While many screamed for the death penalty for Al-Ghamdi, according to Shariah law which governs Saudi Arabia, a man cannot be put to death for killing his children or his wife.  The country's legal system does allow for executing men and women for other crimes, however. 

Human rights activists are not satisfied with the royals jumping in to intervene when a public scandal makes worldwide headlines in a case like this one.  They call for the entire judicial system to be revamped, as it sorely lacks in providing adequate protection for women and children. 

Eman al-Nafjan, known as “Saudi Woman” in the blogging world and a leading women's rights activist who lives in Riyadh said, "This is just an example of the sort of case that happens all the time in Saudi Arabia.  We have no sexual harassment laws, no child abuse laws. Cases are left to the discretion of the police and the judge. If a woman reports a sexual crime they don't investigate it.
They call the religious police and pressure her to drop it."

For more reading on this subject:

Saudi royals act on child rapist

He will stay in prison for a long time...

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Saudi Arabia's Brand of "Justice"

When barely-out-of-his-teens Saudi poet and journalist Hamza Kashgari tweeted a few thoughts back in February of 2012 on the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, the Saudi government hunted him down like a dog to bring him to justice.  The young man fled Saudi Arabia but was extradited from Malaysia and returned to his country to await trial.   
Tweeter Hamza Kashgari
 In three little tweets that came to just over 100 words, Hamza’s life changed forever.   Saudi clerics were outraged and offended by Hamza’s “blasphemous” utterings, calling for him to be charged with apostasy, a crime in the Islamic country of Saudi Arabia which is punishable by death.
The following are the three tweets that shook up the Muslim world so badly that his words triggered the creation of a Facebook group crying for his execution that within a matter of days grew to over 26,000 members:

“On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.”
“On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.”
“On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you've always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.”

Hamza’s case has been filled with controversy.  His apology and repentance for his “crime” has not been enough to appease the government, although many feel that his repentance should be adequate. 

The manner in which the Saudi government was able to get their hands on him in the first place was, at best, conniving and deceitful.  Hamza intended to apply for political asylum in New Zealand, but he never made it.  There are no extradition agreements between Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, yet that’s where he was arrested.  Malaysian lawyers have stated, "The initial claim of Interpol's involvement was a blatant attempt to varnish the arrest with a veneer of international legitimacy since the arrest could not be justified under international law as Hamza was clearly a political refugee.” 

Disparaging remarks have been made about Hamza’s heritage, with many Saudis expressing in true tribal mentality that he is “not Saudi enough,” as if no pure or true Saudi would ever say the offensive things that Hamza said.

There might be more to Hamza's case than merely an offense against Islam.  Some surmise that it is politically driven and that the Saudi government is using Hamza as an example to those who might be tempted to instigate rebellion within the country along the lines of the Arab Spring, which didn’t really happen in Saudi Arabia. 

One year later, Hamza still languishes in prison, untried.  In Saudi Arabia, the right to a speedy trial isn’t important. 

Rizana Nafeek ‘s case was also clouded in controversy.  The young Sri Lankan housemaid was beheaded last month here in Saudi Arabia for allegedly killing an infant in her care in 2005.  Many claim that she was railroaded and was not given adequate representation or a fair trial.   The housemaid also withdrew a “confession” that she had made, claiming it was made “under duress.” 
Sri Lankan Housemaid Rizana Nafeek
 Legitimate questions have been raised regarding Rizana's age at the time of the “crime,” with some reports indicating that Rizana was only 15 when the baby died of suffocation.  The baby’s family refused to accept the payment of “blood money,” which would have exonerated the young maid, and instead insisted on her execution. 

Most middle and upper class Saudi families employ housemaids.  It is a well-known fact that some Saudi families mistreat and abuse these domestic workers, who come to the kingdom from poorer countries like India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and Malaysia.  Many housemaids don’t get any days off and are treated more like slaves than employees, working long hours for very low wages.  

Nisha Varia fromHuman Rights Watch had this to say about the plight of many domestic workers in Saudi Arabia:  "The Saudi justice system is characterized by arbitrary arrests, unfair trials and harsh punishments.  Migrants are at high risk of being victims of spurious charges.  A domestic worker facing abuse or exploitation from her employer might run away and then be accused of theft.  Employers may accuse domestic workers, especially those from Indonesia, of witchcraft.  Victims of rape and sexual assault are at risk of being accused of adultery and fornication."

At this moment in time, more than 45 foreign housemaids are on death row in Saudi Arabia.   Despite worldwide criticism after the execution of Rizana, Saudi Arabia stands firm in defense of its actions.   You see, Saudi Arabia doesn’t really care about its image to the rest of theworld.  

The last case I wish to highlight in this post is that of five-year-old Lama Al Ghamdi.  Lama was raped, tortured, beaten and murderedby her own father, Sheikh Fayhan Al Ghamdi, a well-known Saudi preacher who has appeared on religious programs in the kingdom many times.  Al Ghamdi has admitted that he tortured his daughter.  Lama’s injuries included a crushed skull, broken back, broken arm, and broken ribs, and reports say that she was raped “everywhere.”   There are conflicting reports as to whether Al Ghamdi is still incarcerated or not.  Some reports say that he was jailed for only about four months and was released. 

Murdered 5-yr-old Lama Al Ghamdi
 Global outrage was sparked last week when it was reported that a judge apparently ruled that the few months that Al Ghamdi already served in jail was adequate punishment and ordered him to pay “blood money” (about $50,000 US).   Anothercourt date is set in about two weeks’ time. 

Three very different cases.  We already know the tragic outcome of Rizana’s case.  The other two cases have not yet played out.  Saudi Arabia’s own brand of “justice” discriminates against foreign workers, political activists, females, and children.   When I read about cases like these in the news, I cannot help but think that Saudi Arabia has screwed up priorities and values and is in total denial about what a dysfunctional society it really is.   

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Reprint From Blue Abaya: Saudi Arabia: Haven for Child Molesters, Wife Beaters and Child Killers?

Perhaps nothing in recent memory has provoked such an outcry of injustice from Saudi Arabia as this story.  I talked about it a little bit in my last post and posted links from SaudiWoman and Omaima, who both wrote about this outrageous and unjust story.  

The following is reprinted from BLUE ABAYA's recent post about Little Lama.  

Maybe you have heard the story of Lama, a five year old girl tortured to death by her own father, a so called religious "sheikh" Fayhan Al Ghamdi. 

She was beaten with electric cables, her back broken and half of her head smashed in. She was raped "everywhere" and her anal canal torn open which the beast also tried to burn closed. She was brought to the hospital where she remained in ICU for 10 months and then died last October.

To make matters worse, this criminal is now going to be let off with just a four months jail sentence and by paying blood money to the victims family. In other words, himself. This could only happen in Saudi-Arabia, where crimes against women and children go mostly unpunished.

Yes there is actually a judge in this day and age who made such a ruling, as ridiculous, horrific and unbelievable this may sound. And this is the image these sick men are giving to the world about Islam. No wonder people think it's an evil religion.
The full story can be read on Saudi Woman's blog:
Omaima Al Najjar also wrote about the background of this case:

I would call Faihan Al Ghamdi an animal, but even animals have more integrity and wouldn't do this to their offspring.

Sick bastards like this exist everywhere in the world but in Saudi-Arabia they can actually get away with their actions. In this so called model state of Islam, men can get away with murdering their children (especially daughters), raping their wives and beating the shit out of their daughters with only minor inconvenience. The courts will always side with the man. After all he is the head of the family and he has the right to treat his "property" as he wishes.

Abuse of women and children are always treated as minor offenses in the Sharia courts. Blood money paid for the heirs of a female victim is half the amount of a male victims. See from the below blood money chart how the life of a woman in Saudi-Arabia is valued always half less that of a male:

  • 300,000 riyals if the victim is a Muslim man
  • 150,000 riyals if a Muslim woman
  • 150,000 riyals if a Christian or Jewish man
  • 75,000 riyals if a Christian or Jewish woman
  • 6,666 riyals if a man of any other religion
  • 3,333 riyals if a woman of any other religion

Truly sickening.

Quran does not mention the amount of money to be paid or any differentiation between the sexes.
"We ordained therein for them: "Life for life, eye for eye, nose or nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal." But if any one remits the retaliation by way of charity, it is an act of atonement for himself. And if any fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (No better than) wrong-doers."
This misogynist attitude and rulings come solely from a patriarchal society, not religion, although some of these clerics do try to justify their verdicts based on weak Hadith. Compare this child rapist-killers 4 month sentence to the recent case of the Sri Lankan maid that was executed without fair trial for killing a baby placed in her inexperienced care.

Abusive Saudi men know that they can beat, rape and abuse their women and children without any harsh punishments. Saudi-Arabia's judicial system doesn't help the abused women and always backs up the abusive men. The law serves as a haven for these kind of men.

According to Saudi Woman's article, if the woman reports the abuse to the police, the Hai'a (religious police) and her guardian (her abuser) are called to harass the victim out of reporting it for up to four hours before the social services are called. How many women in that situation are actually strong enough to face these bullies and end up going back home to her abuser?

A while ago I was faced with the difficult situation of my friend here suffering physical abuse from her husband. She's a foreign wife with a Saudi husband. Her husband has abused her for years even before they moved to Saudi-Arabia. They have one child and he had even beaten her while she was pregnant. Now I'm sure that any woman who has been in that situation knows how difficult it is to leave and how there always seems to be a time of calm and the abuse ends. The husband becomes an "angel", only for the abuse to start up again.

Word of warning to any woman outside Saudi-Arabia currently dating, engaged to or married to a Saudi man with an abusive history: DO NOT under ANY circumstances move to Saudi-Arabia with him, EVER. He WILL continue the abuse here. He might tell you he promises to change. He will, but for the WORSE. Even if he promises to go to a psychologist to get treatment, he won't change his ways. Even if he cries, begs you to come, promises you the world..It simply won't work like that. Don't be naive and trust these men. Instead my advice to you is run the other direction and never look back.

If you end up in KSA with him, he will most likely keep you as a prisoner and limit your life and all the contact you have to the outer world. I have personally seen and heard of women like this. He will not give you a phone or maybe even let you use the internet. If he hits you, no one will or can help you. No laws will protect you. Your life will become hell. His family will not help you, they will protect him. I am not exaggerating. Saudi-Arabia is the worst place in the world to be with an abusive, controlling husband, period.

So on to the case of the woman I mentioned. Her husband had beaten her so bad she broke some bones. She didn't have a cell phone because her husband had not given her one, and since they'd recently moved, she didn't even know where she lived. Her only way to contact anyone was through Facebook. The husband had locked her up in a room without windows and left the house with the child. Since she doesn't know anyone in Riyadh, she asked me for help. Together with another friend we were trying to help her to find out where the apartment was located so that we could go and take her to the hospital since she was in severe pain.

We couldn't figure out where she was and since she couldn't even see outside to give some landmarks, she remained in her agony alone in the apartment and there was nothing anyone could do about it. She asked me the number to the police, she wanted to call them from the husbands phone when he came back. In any other country I would've encouraged her to call the police and report him. In Saudi-Arabia however it's not a good idea, especially if you're a foreign woman.

Will the police believe her or the husband? What if he tells them she fell? The woman is not Muslim, most likely they will believe the husband over her. What if she makes the report in any case, who will protect her from the husbands rage afterwards? There are no shelters for her to go to. No relatives to help. Her husband's family would most likely say it's normal and nothing that can be done about it. Us friends could take her in, but would the husband allow that? Of course not, at least not with the child. He might get upset at her making the report and send her back to her home country. He has the power to do so, and to keep their daughter in Saudi-Arabia and the woman would never see her again. If the case ever were to go forward, the judge would just brush it off by saying she deserved it by disobeying the husband and that he had the right to beat her.

So I told my friend, don't call the police. You will just get yourself into more trouble. What I did advise her is to get out of the country with her child and never come back. She's going for vacation to her home country and I sincerely hope she finds the strength to leave him and never returns to Saudi-Arabia.

Back to the story of Lama. There's still a little hope for the verdict to change but her mother is from a very poor family and they haven't been able to get a lawyer yet. There is going to be another hearing this Sunday. Hopefully the family would be able to get a good lawyer for her and they can appeal the sentence to get this monster locked up. He deserves the same fate as he inflicted upon his daughter.

What is important now is to get her story out there. Spread the word, tell the world about this little angel and her monster father and the cowardly misogynist men who stand behind him. The verdict these judges came to is a disgrace and crime toward all children and women in the world.  He deserves the death penalty for his atrocious crime. This man is sick and will most likely commit such horrendous acts again. Help Lama's mother get justice by forwarding her story.

I hope there is a very very special place waiting for Fayhan Al Ghamdi in hell.
 May the little angel rest in peace.    - Layla

People question me all the time about my motives in moving to a place like Saudi Arabia, where women are seen to be second class citizens with no rights.  I usually don't have difficulty explaining that my life is actually pretty good here.  I feel safe - and my husband and I have been together for 35 years, so where else should I live?  But I cannot stand idly by and watch this injustice being done to poor little Lama without voicing my objections and abhorrence for a misogynistic country that would let this type of thing happen to one of its most precious citizens and not punish her abuser, rapist, torturer, and murderer accordingly.   The world should be outraged.  Saudi Arabia should be outraged.

Susie of Arabia