Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Meet the Muttawa

Fundamentalist Loonies in KSAFundamentalist Loonies in KSA
I only encountered one Muttaween during my year in Riyadh, and that was plenty thank you. The American engineer had escaped from his site for a week because his wife was in town before they both went on vacation. We’ll call him Ken, and his wife of course is Barbie. They very kindly invited me to accompany them on a visit to one of the soukhs. After looking at lots of stuff together, Ken disappeared into a shop that I was not interested in. Tall, blue-eyed, blond-haired Barbie followed. She was wearing an abbaya but no headscarf. I waited outside and began rolling a cigarette.

Out of the blue this very scruffy looking Saudi came up to me and prodded me with a stick. I turned to face him and he said ‘your wife should cover her hair’. I was a bit taken aback and explained that my wife was in England. He looked totally confused for a moment, obviously calculating what the relationship might be. He dashed into the shop that Barbie and Ken had gone into, and came out seconds later. It seems they had disappeared (this particular row of shops could be entered from both ends. And exited too, of course). Mr Muttawa returned to me, told me I should not smoke (not completely stupid, then) and slunk off, muttering something under his aromatic breath. I spent an anxious half-hour looking for Barbie and Ken. I found them eventually and we went home.

Barbie and Ken lived in a place called Sahara Towers. This was a Western compound of about six apartment blocks in the middle of Riyadh. It turned out that they would be on holiday in Cyprus for one of the weeks that my family would be here, and they very kindly offered us the use of their apartment during that week. This was too good to be true!