Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

Escaping Saudi Arabia


One of the oddest, and yet most understandable, features of
Saudi society is the need that many of its citizens have to
escape themselves. For the clerics who are given massive
influence in the running of society beyond the key
decision-making areas of government — the preserve of the Saudi
royal family — Saudi Arabia is no less than their own private
Utopia. They are given free rein by the ruling family to
administer their version of Islamic sharia law through the
courts, the education system and the mosques. They even have a
police force all of their own in the form of the notorious
Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Saudi women shop at a market stall in RiyadhBut for the average citizen, this perfect world can be suffocating. Just getting into a shopping mall for a single young man is a wonder unless you happen in to be in the one of the liberalised enclaves like Jeddah or Khobar. Getting to know nembers of the opposite sex can be difficult unless you move among the affluent sectors of society or have the chance to infiltrate the world of foreigners.

 Or you can get away for a weekend break.

 Every Wednesday night literally thousands of Saudis clog up the narrow causeway to freedom that joins the Eastern Province to
the island state of Bahrain. The atmosphere is joyous and triumphant because once you’ve gone through the six checkpoints
of various types, it’s a quick ride into what appears, in that incredible liberating moment, to be paradise. With the social rules out the window, people make the most of it. Families head to the cinema and cafes, bars and nightclubs are heaving with unrelated men and women who actually “mix” i.e. they inhabit the same physical space in a public place.

Indeed, Saudis don’t only head to Bahrain to mix and match with women and alcohol, they also flock to Dubai, Beirut and Cairo. Those are the favourite haunts in the vicinity. If you’ve more time on your hands you head east to Malaysia or Indonesia — “you can spend only 3,000 riyals ($800) on accommodation, food, drinks and women in one month!” someone enthused the other day — or West to Morocco and the resort of Agadir, a royal favourite.