For Sitting with a Man at Starbucks
Other Saudi News: Man Beheaded Yesterday
More evidence the Saudis are the best 11th-century allies a country can have.
A 37-year-old American businesswoman and married mother of three was strip-searched, threatened and forced to sign false confessions by the Kingdom’s “Mutaween”–Saudi Arabia’s religious police–for sitting with a male colleague at a Starbucks coffee shop in Riyadh.
The woman, “Yara”, who doesn’t want her last name published for fear of threats and reprisals, is seeking justice. When she was released from her day in prison, she was bruised over her body.
The woman was interviewed by The Times and said that she would remain in Saudi Arabia to fight the harsh enforcement of conservative Islam and not return to America.
“If I want to make a difference I have to stick around. If I leave they win. I can’t just surrender to the terrorist acts of these people,” said Yara, who moved to Jeddah eight years ago with her husband, a prominent businessman.
Her ordeal began with a routine visit to the new Riyadh offices of her finance company, where she is a managing partner.
The electricity temporarily cut out, so Yara and her colleagues — who are all men — went to a nearby Starbucks to use its wireless internet.
She sat in a curtained booth with her business partner in the café’s “family” area, the only seats where men and women are allowed to mix.
For Yara, it was a matter of convenience. But in Saudi Arabia, public contact between unrelated men and women is strictly prohibited.
“Some men came up to us with very long beards and white dresses. They asked ‘Why are you here together?’. I explained about the power being out in our office. They got very angry and told me what I was doing was a great sin,” recalled Yara, who wears an abaya and headscarf, like most Saudi women.
The men–from the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a police force of several thousand men charged with enforcing dress codes, sex segregation and the observance of prayers–were serious.
She continues her story of an American’s encounter with the Saudi religious police–and the tepid non-response of the American Embassy.
Yara, whose parents are Jordanian and grew up in Salt Lake City, once believed that life in Saudi Arabia was becoming more liberal. But on Monday the religious police took her mobile phone, pushed her into a cab and drove her to Malaz prison in Riyadh. She was interrogated, strip-searched and forced to sign and fingerprint a series of confessions pleading guilty to her “crime”.
“They took me into a filthy bathroom, full of water and dirt. They made me take off my clothes and squat and they threw my clothes in this slush and made me put them back on,” she said. Eventually she was taken before a judge.
“He said ‘You are sinful and you are going to burn in hell’. I told him I was sorry. I was very submissive. I had given up. I felt hopeless,” she said.
Yara’s husband, Hatim, used his political contacts in Jeddah to track her whereabouts. He was able to secure her release.
“I was lucky. I met other women in that prison who don’t have the connections I did,” she said. Her story has received rare coverage in Saudi Arabia, where the press has been sharply critical of the police.
Yara was visited yesterday by officials from the American Embassy, who promised they would file a report.
An embassy official told The Times that it was being treated as “an internal Saudi matter” and refused to comment on her case.
The Saudi religious police number 10,000 in over 500 offices around the country.
An American woman is arrested, strip-searched and jailed for–sitting with a male in a coffee shop?
The Saudis have the right to run their country and enforce their laws any way they see fit.
Americans have the right not to do business with a country that practices such laws.
And, unless and until the American Embassy has issued warnings to American women visiting Saudi Arabia, it has a right to protect Americans from the arcane working of a midieval kingdom and such laws.
Unless such warnings are issued and publicized, Americans who travel have a right to expect that their government will stand up for them while conducting business in the lands of “allies”.
Of course, it’s been some time since the U.S. State Department looked out for American interests.
Meanwhile, we’ll wait for the next story of an American woman being strip-searched in Saudi Arabia: a true American ally.
In other news–perhaps related, perhaps not–Saudi Arabia beheaded a man yesterday in the public square for murder.
A Saudi man was beheaded by the sword in the holy city of Mecca on Wednesday after being convicted of murder, the interior ministry said.
Khaled al-Dadi was executed for stabbing Imad al-Swaihiri to death during a fight, the ministry said in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency
Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking can all carry the death penalty in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom, where executions are usually carried out in public.
Life goes on in the Saudi kingdom.
A couple of reminders of the mindset of a supposedly-modern American ally.
hat tip: radekr
* Religious Police in Saudi Arabia Arrest US Woman for Sitting with a man in Starbucks
* Man Beheaded in Saudi Arabia
Death by 1000 Papercuts Front Page.