The day I nearly got arrested in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

There are times when things happen, but the mind and body is a mere guest to the scenes played out. And then in the quiet 4 am of an ordinary sleepless night , the mind comes to an utter realization of the profoundness of what had happened months ago.

Well the story is something like this…
We were 5 people. Myself and my husband Ammar, my friend Umaima and her husband Taha, and good old Ali Bhai. It was weekend night and left with only one choice of entertainment (feeding our bellies), we head out to a Peshawari place in the most crowd-infested streets of Thuqba (an old part of Khobar). Usually cringing away from such jammed areas, we are drawn every time by those hot, mouthwatering, sweat-laced chapli kababs and karhai that remind us of Karachi and its dhabbas.
The deal here however is that there is no place for ladies to sit. Or as in Saudia, “No Family Section”. With saliva filled mouths awaiting our meals, we ladies sit in the car and try to share our food with the seats we sit on. As it happened that on this fine hot desert evening, I went over to my friend’s Camry and hopped in. She was seated in the front passenger seat and convinced me to sit in the driver’s seat because it was practical to put the tray on the box in the middle of the seats. At this point I can hear my enlightened reader’s go “Aaaaaaah ….”. But the Aaaah comes later, after our food was all plunged down our esophagus and the men returned, there came a policeman knocking down my window.
The thing to understand is that its very difficult to make Saudi police or any official for that matter to understand anything at all.
There is the language problem.
Then there is the temperament problem.
Then there is the social problem.
There is the ego problem.
The list goes on.
Anyhow, we made the guy understand with what little Arabic we knew that we were just eating in the car and I had not driven and come out on my own. Oh… did I mention before… women cant drive in KSA??? Yep, this is the world’s only country that doesn’t allow its women to drive. Its a crime and is severely punished. Jail. Fine. The whole works.
So back to the guy and his insistance that I had driven myself to this place to eat, and to top off the frying pan effect, another greasy substance arrives to add to the fuel; a motawwa.
This word brings with it all levels of negative feelings. Motawwas are the religious police from the Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. No I am NOT making it up! Such a ministry EXISTS in KSA. So now the Motawwa who are always all too eager to jump in and pounce on any wrong doing gets involved.
Our story is told again. It gets revalued. The food tray provides evidence.
They reluctantly agree putting all facts that I could not have driven the car to the place, specially with all the men backing us up.
We are told to go.
We sigh ; relieved.
Ready to almost run ourselves out of our skins, we are stopped once again and told that:
“… and if ever … I am ever … seated behind the steering wheel …”

8 thoughts on “The day I nearly got arrested in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

  1. Oh my word, I couldn't imagine living under such circumstances with such strong rules. I am fasinated to learn of such cultures, although it is all alien to me, I respect every countries and religious rules, I'm just pleased I don't have to live by them. Thanks for this interesting read…


  2. chachi: I just had them last night. But Ammar got them home for me.
    Susie: Yes things like these make me mad as well. However you know that people here have a totally different mental train of thought; specially when it deals with women. There have been quite a few instances with women driving and going to stadiums in men's attire and probably that has put out dilemma for them.
    Jane: Saudi Arabia has a vast variety of cultures. Just like any other society , some customs are good some are bad. Yes this is a very female constraining society and expatriates also have to follow these rules. However not all is gloom and doom and this is supported by the fact that so many of nationalities live and work here.
    Mariam: Do not generalize. Statistically its more dangerous for you to live in US… 😛
    Please visit the website below…


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