The issue of driving in Saudi Arabia is being discussed a lot these days. I remember when I lived in Saudi what a tough time most women had regarding getting around. If women could not afford a driver, they were reduced to riding in a bus, that might or might not stick to a schedule, or take a taxi and risk the taxi driver thinking it was okay to make a pass. I was one of the lucky people as Peter (sweetheart and later husband) had several drivers at my disposal, and Dr. Feteih allowed certain members of his staff to use the hospital drivers, so I can’t remember ever being without a ride if I needed one. HOWEVER, so many women didn’t have my good forture in this regard. And, many Saudi families cannot afford to hire a driver, so the wife has to sit and wait until the husband gets home, often tired after a full day’s work. So, it is a big problem for so many women that women in the kingdom are not allowed to drive.
BUT MY POINT HERE IS: King Abdullah, who just made a very wise and bold ruling.
Thank goodness for King Abdullah, one of Saudi Arabia’s wisest kings.
Thus far, Saudi Arabia has been ruled by six kings, beginning with King Abdul Aziz, who founded the kingdom; King Saud, who was forced to resign by the family; King Faisal, who was murdered by a nephew; King Khalid, who was king when I first moved to Arabia; King Fahd, who was also king when I was there after Khalid died in August 1982. Now, the kingdom is ruled by King Abdullah, who is proving himself to be brave and honorable, more than most who reach such an elevated position in life. If I were put to the test, I would would personally rank the kings in this order:
For me, there is a tie for #1 slot!
1) King Faisal, who ruled with a firm hand but got so much done at a time when the kingdom was very backward. King Faisal even opened the first schools for women. He was murdered for his progressive ways, in fact. (I never met King Faisal, of course.)
1) King Abdullah, the current ruler, who is not afraid of standing up to the religious clerics who act as though they hate all women, nationals and expatriates. (I never got to meet King Abdullah, but I wish I had. Peter met him once as his insurance company insured one of the King’s wives homes and furnishings and there was a question about a fire.)
2) King Abdul Aziz, the father of all these kings, because he was very clever at putting together an entire kingdom, which took the skills of a diplomat and the fierceness of a warrior. (Didn’t meet this king, either, as he died when I was a child!)
3) King Khalid, who ended up being more forceful than most thought, although it was mainly behind the scenes. (I met King Khalid at the King Fasial Specialist Hospital and Research Centre, through my boss Dr. Feteih, who was not only the head of the royal hospital but who was also King Khalid’s cardiologist and became very close personally to the king. I certainly did not know the king well, but the few times I was around him, he was extremely kindly to me and did me a few favors, in fact. And, once when I was in a local supermarket shopping, a roving mutawaa in training tried to force me to get into a car to go to the police station (he said he saw some stray blonde hairs from my head sticking out from my scarf!) I managed to get his name/badge and run away and I had my driver take me directly to the hospital to see my boss, Dr. Feteih, as he was very westernized as he was educated in San Francisco, and often became enraged at the religious clerics for their behavior. (During his time as the head of the hospital, Dr. Feteih banned the mutawaa from coming around the women’s quarters, etc.) Dr. Feteih was furious about what happened to me, and ended up telling the king about the incident. Well, that mutawaa in training was banned from living in Riyadh for 5 years. I was shocked that the king took such a strong action, but was very glad. The young religious students were the most aggressive against women, hoping to make a name for themselves, I suppose. THANK YOU, KING KHALID!
4) King Fahd, who was not a bad king by any means, but he simply had a hard time making up his mind and often just let things remain as they were, hoping for the best. I also met him because of Dr. Feteih. When certain royal family members were patients in the hospital, Dr. Feteih wanted me to be there to help organize the medical files on the patient(s). Several times Crown Prince Fahd and later King Fahd, came to visit, which was a huge deal at the hospital. ANYHOW, I have a fun story to tell about the meeting where I approached the topic of animals in the kingdom. The King didn’t seems to mind at all, but was more amused by my bold behavior. (King Fahd could speak very good English when he chose to do so). But, I’ll never forget how upset Dr. Feteih was that I dared bring up a subject to do with stray animals! He fussed at me about that for WEEKS! Finally he laughed about it.
5) King Saud. Most Saudis would agree with me that King Saud was not a very good king. He so squandered the wealth of the kingdom that the royal treasury was BROKE when his brothers and others pushed him from the throne.
I have so many memories of my twelve years of living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, mostly GOOD memories. But, there were scary moments, too, which usually involved the religious police. I remember well walking around in the shopping souks of Riyadh and how the religous clerics glared at me, a western woman daring to show her face. Although I always wore the abbaaya and a scarf, I only wore the face veil two or three times (out of curiosity, to tell you the truth). Looking into those men’s eyes, I saw the most extreme hatred. Those men not only hate foreigners, but they appear to hate their own women (Saudi) and try to get them severely punished for the most minor infractions.
I look forward to telling my own story about my time in the kingdom. One day I shall find the time to write my own book, but as always, there are so many stories I find more interesting than my own! However, I have managed to write a few chapters over the years describing a few Saudi women I met when I lived in the kingdom. Soon those chapters will be available on Amazon.com available as a “short” or “single.” I’ll let you know when it is to be posted. The title: American Chick in Saudi Arabia. And, I was a chick in those days, young and innocent and full of curiosity about a country that was exotic and immensely interesting. Lucky me to have had the opportunity to live and work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at a time westerners were welcomed into the hearts and homes of Saudi citizens. I hear that things are very different now, and for that, I am so sad.
FOLLOWING IS THE ARTICLE ABOUT KING ABDULLAH and his recent ruling which started me on a walk down memory lane!
RIYADH, Saudi Arab (AP) — Saudi King Abdullah has overturned a court ruling sentencing a Saudi woman to be lashed 10 times for defying the kingdom’s ban on female drivers, a government official said Wednesday.
The official declined to elaborate on the monarch’s decision, and spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
A Saudi court on Tuesday found Shaima Jastaina guilty of violating the driving ban, and sentenced her to 10 lashes. The verdict took Saudi women by surprise, coming just a day after King Abdullah promised to protect women’s rights and decreed that women would be allowed to participate in municipal elections in 2015. Abdullah also promised to appoint women to a currently all-male advisory body known as the Shura Council.
The harsh sentence marked the first time a legal punishment had been handed down since female activists began their campaign in June to break the taboo in this ultraconservative Muslim nation.
There are no written laws that restrict women from driving. Rather, the ban is rooted in conservative traditions and religious views that hold giving freedom of movement to women would make them vulnerable to sins.
Normally, police just stop female drivers, question them and let them go after they sign a pledge not to drive again. But dozens of women have continued to take to the roads since June in a campaign to break the taboo.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women — both Saudi and foreign — from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.