Mohamed H. Zakaria, Jeddah published 7 November 2006

Culture Clashes

This has reference to the reports (Nov. 3) of Saudi General Investment Authority’s governor, Amr Al-Dabagh, warning the Chinese not to miss the opportunity to invest in the Kingdom. I also refer to the report of a court sentencing a young woman, raped by several men, to 90 lashes for meeting a man alone, supposedly with the intention of doing something bad. The stories’ common link is that they both confused me in different ways.

I have lived in this country for more than three decades and have been wholeheartedly following Islamic practices which, I believe, are reflected in Saudi culture. My wife and daughters have worn abayas and hijab throughout their stay in Saudi Arabia. Incidentally, my daughters got their first dose of culture shock when they attended university in Pakistan with male students sitting next to them.

Until recently, photographs of Saudi women, be they journalists or businesswomen, were never published in the media. Now, all of a sudden, Saudi women are taking part in fashion shows, flying planes and riding horses wearing skintight jeans and T-shirts. I wonder which Islam is true: the one my daughters followed when they were here or the one we are witnessing now in the name of freedom.

As for the invitation to the Chinese to invest in the Kingdom, I feel it is not a good idea. There is no doubt China is an economic power today and a potential consumer of the Kingdom’s crude oil customer but inviting Chinese investments/investors will have consequences on the Kingdom’s culture. If the Chinese decide to invest in any project, the entire project will have Chinese management. Manpower and even materials used in the project – from steel to cement to nails – will come from China. Is Saudi Arabia prepared to see Chinatowns in all major Saudi cities?

The Kingdom is a country with conservative values. Even tried and tested “socialist” and “secular” countries had trouble accommodating the Chinese in their culture.