The King Is Dead

The King is dead. Long live the long living King. Etc.

Abdullah is by now cold in his unmarked grave. Or King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, to give His Highness his correct name and title. God rest him. The land of the two holy mosques now has new King Salman. Salman is a half brother to the deceased Abdullah. Same father, different mothers. It’s an Islamic thing!

MB spent two relatively happy years in Saudi in recent times, based in Riyadh. MB wrote blog post after blog post during that time and could have written many more. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) tends to throw up the weird and the wonderful and the not so wonderful by the minute.

MB did not live in a fancy hotel or even in a Western compound. He lived in a small hotel that faced onto a small decrepit street. The type of hotel that ordinary working class or poorer Saudis stayed in. In two years MB only met one or two other Western guys staying there. They must have got lost and found the hotel too late in the evening to find somewhere else. Or something like that.

MB got to know a number of the Saudi shop owners and non-Saudi shop workers on the street, as he shopped in their shops, and dined in the same small dingy eating houses that they did. And ate the same sliced liver, or scrambled eggs, or the Arabic ‘fool’ or hot bread from the mud oven that they did.

Saudi is an enigma. On an individual basis the Saudi people are decent and kind, and not too dissimilar to people in any other country in truth. There is much poverty however, and corruption which is plainly obvious, and low levels of education amongst many. And in any country where such ingredients exist life can be a struggle.

MB got thrown out of the grounds of a mosque one Friday afternoon when a ‘devout’ elderly bearded local took exception to non-believer MB & his camera on ‘holy’ ground. MB was manhandled and flung out the gate to a torrent of abuse. But that was the exception and MB had many more pleasant experiences. Such as the local man and his son that MB happened to meet one night in the local supermarket who invited MB back to their house to join them for a family dinner. MB accepted. The man had no English and MB had very little Arabic but they hit it off and MB had a most enjoyable night eating pizza with his new Riyadh friends. That happened in the same week that two Muslim nutcase fanatics shouted ‘Allah U Akbar’ after killing Lee Rigby on a London street, cutting off his head in the process. Or the hotel guest who invited MB to his village some 4 hours drive from Riyadh after a five minute conversation with MB in the hotel lobby one evening. Again MB accepted, and enjoyed great hospitality and kindness during a weekend trip to the village.

Some have written harsh words about Abdullah since his death. His treatment of a number of his daughters is unforgivable, and inexplicable, given what he has done in assisting women generally in KSA.

But most of the criticisms of the King are more correctly criticisms of the Saudi system. The system dates from 1744 when a fundamentalist Muslim preacher called Muhammad ibn Abd Al-Wahhab entered an agreement with Mohammad Bid Saud. Saud would be the political king and Wahhab would be the authority on all religious matters. That was the start of the Al Saud ruling family dynasty which perseveres to this day. The Wahhab descendants and followers have been good to their word, supporting the Al Saud family for almost 300 years, and taken Saudi down a conservative religious road that was taken by no other. To this day, the King is relatively powerless to pass any meaningful laws that would modernise the country if the religious clerics consider that the law would contravene the prevailing Islamic ‘thinking’. Sadly also, there is very little social life for the inhabitants, especially for the young people. Saudi has one of the highest hits per day in the entire world on Youtube, which tells a tale in itself.

Many would consider that the Saud/Wahhab agreement has been a disaster for KSA. All the criticisms of modern day KSA emanate from that Agreement. So you will read regular KSA stories of utter brutality, based on Western thinking, in relation to the Wahhab/Saudi version of Sharia law.

There are multiple death sentences each year carried out by beheading (same as ISIS). Many will have seen or read about the lady who was publicly beheaded in brutal fashion on a street last weekend in KSA for the murder of her stepchild. Adulterers can be stoned to death; a rare enough sentence but it does happen. Theft can be punishable by cutting off the hand. Again rare, but it does happen. Ladies are not allowed to drive, which is only a small issue, relatively speaking, for women in KSA.

There is a male guardianship system in place that effectively means that a lady can not do much without the permission of her male guardian. She can not take a job, or get an education or travel abroad or get married without the permission of her father or whichever male happens to be her designated guardian. The guardian also gets an automatic text message on his phone when any lady passes through customs on exiting the country, which was widely published two years back when it was made public knowledge. Speaking out of turn or against the existing system can (and does) result in a heavy jail sentence and a flogging, as the Saudi blogger Raef Badawi has discovered.

The Wahhab religious thinking is strange in that it goes beyond the contents of Islamic scripture. ‘A’ might result in ‘B’ which might result in ‘C’. But only ‘C’ is contained in the holy book. A recent example involved a dispute between a well known religious scholar who proclaimed on TV that there is nothing in Islam that requires a woman to wear a full face veil (he is 100% correct). To make his point even more he had his wife sitting in the TV studio beside him with her face totally uncovered (the harlot!). The conservatives were shocked by the behaviour of the scholar and savaged him publicly. The KSA Grand Mufti explained that the scholar was not correct to say the face veil is not required in Islam – because the sight of a female face can cause a man to have sinful thoughts or to act sinfully, leading him to hell. Therefore Islam dictates that the veil is required. In many countries the Grand Mufti would be recommended for some mental treatment. But not in KSA.

Abdullah did much for women’s education during his reign. One of Abdullah’s predecessors faced down the Clerics when he passed a law allowing women to receive an education. Abdullah forced the building of many universities for women and succeeded to such an extent that there are more women than men in third level education in KSA today. Women still struggle to find jobs after the education however and the clerics again want to (and do) place many restrictions on jobs that women (and Saudi women in particular) are allowed to do. Abdullah pushed out the boat probably as much as he could against the backward push of the Clerical descendants of Wahhab. Small steps maybe, but steps nevertheless.

MB has a number of Saudi readers of his blog. For the most part MB believes that they would have had much respect for King Abdullah. So MB extends his regards to all in KSA at this time. Many stated to MB in the past that they were expecting change when Abdullah would pass away. They were not sure what that change would be but they were hoping for change for the better. MB thinks that many will be disappointed that the new King is a mirror image of the old King with not much change in store for anyone. So more of the same for the foreseeable future.

But who knows what the future holds.


On MB’s first night at the village some 4 hours drive from Riyadh, MB’s host organised a BBQ in honour of MB’s arrival and to allow MB to meet some of the hosts family. The venue was the host’s floodlit farmyard. As MB and the others munched on roast chicken and salads, two sons of the host, sitting a few meters away, built a sand castle and played with a toy truck. Just like kids the world over might do.


One Comment on “The King Is Dead

  1. Michael, it is difficult to understand what it is that you wish to coerce from your reader. Journalistically, your writing appears convoluted, but please accept that as MY opinion and not that of others.
    Granted, none of us living beyond the region can fathom the depth of the history of the Saudi’s, and, if i might assume, they are a multiculturally, diverse nation. Thus again, confusing me as to your script.
    If you wish to open a dialog amongst the Nations, the most inherent way to do so would be to suggest the real item. As outsiders looking into the narrow glimpse you have offered has intriqued me, but does it not also continue to the boxing in of a group of people and placing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ mentality?
    Being a woman, i can appreciate the reason a burka or headscarf might help keep sin at bay, but this item is two-fold, is it not? Men are allowed multiple wives, women are chosen and forced into marriage. For me to discuss things i consider violations is a judgement that does not belong to me. I can speak only of my Christian value system, and therefore, i have no right to go into a terriritory i am so ignorant about; buy i am to wonder, is this an end to a means, or are you simply delivering a one-sided view as fonder to display?
    I mean this in a most respectful manner and do hope you will reply.


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