Girls of Riyadh

I hate summer colds, but I do get them once in a while. Like an ass I kept my windows open when the temp dropped to 76 degrees one morning (and yes it shot up to the triple digits well before noon) after it rained, bringing in a cold breeze. I also had my fan blasting atop me, so when I began getting a dryness in my throat two days later (making it worse I was trying to clean the fan from the inches of dust and soot that blew in my face ’cause I forgot to unplug the fucking thing) I knew it was time to restock on the Theraflu.

I discovered Rajaa Alsanea’s Girls of Riyadh while searching for Nedjima’s, The Almond. In this post-9/11 Islamophobic world, I know that libs and lefties are running to embrace these “oppressed” women of a country that is guilty of countless human rights abuses. But here’s the rub: Miss Rajaa is a member of the well-heeled “velvet class” she describes in her fiction that was based off the women in her elite world whose lifestyle is kept behind high gilt marble walls surrounded by armed guards and the Saudi Religious Police. So Rajaa’s view of things aren’t necessarily skewed, just somewhat myopic.

The unnamed narrator (sitting in her easy chair wearing red lipstick) posts on a Saudi Yahoo! group the tales of four university-aged friends Gamrah, Lamees, Michelle (or Mashael since her mom is American), and Sadeem and their romantic pratfalls- as romance can happen within the boundaries of fundamentalist Islam. I suggest dear reader, that you read the introduction, because while Rajaa might live in Chi-town and wear a hijab (at least in the photos I’ve seen of her), Saudis are definitely schizo regardless of how rich they are. There is a clear double-standard of women and men. Gamrah’s husband divorced her after she confronted his long-time Japanese girlfriend leaving both her and their son to linger in the kingdom. His family could honestly care less about Gamrah because she did her duty and produced a boy (named after the paternal grandfather). Michelle whose mother is American and the most “westernized” of the four suffered through two bittersweet romances: the first with a man named Faisal whose mother wouldn’t consent to the marriage because her father’s tribe was unknown, and for the fact she was half white. And the other was dubious with her American cousin (YEESH!) Matti while living in San Francisco (apparently Saudis still marry their cousins in the 21st century). Now her father can do whatever he wants and he won’t even permit his daughter to even attend journalistic events that she was invited to during her internship in Dubai when her family forced her away from Matti. Her mother supported this because even though she’s Muslim in name only, the greedy lazy bitch just doesn’t want to hear her husband yell and scream. The silly Sadeem who was nearly made the second wife through Firas, a control freak, ended up marrying her cousin Tariq because she wanted a “safe man” after having her life blotted out by man who did every scam in the book to string her along- even after his wife gave birth to their first child! And finally Lamees, a medical student, found her match in her classmate Nizar who became a prudent Muslim wife by wearing her hijab before men that aren’t her family paying her dues to Allah for giving her a husband and daughter. They moved to Canada to get their doctorates, but I have no doubt they’ll send their daughter to SA for a “proper upbringing”.

Sex in the Saudi City it ain’t.

So if you’re looking to understand what it’s like to live in a country that lives by the strictest moral codes (men and women have separate banks, for example) combined with tribalism (if you aren’t from the right clan your life goes nowhere and you can’t marry just anybody) and discrimination (Saudi Sunnis call Saudi Shia rejectionists because they believe that the caliphate should belong to Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib and his offspring), then some of the facade will dissolve around the House of Saud. And then we wonder why people fancy blowing themselves up. It doesn’t mean (as Westerners) we will grasp their high ideals, and frankly, fucking insane protocol. But after reading this, as a woman I was especially appreciative of being allowed to walk outside alone, and uncovered. Saudi women aren’t even allowed to drive. And no, I don’t consider that drop-dead gorgeous, fair-skinned Saudi princess the first woman to drive in the kingdom reform.

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