Fun time in Riyadh

This video contains images, as they say on TV, “that some viewers may find disturbing”. Or amusing. Either way, the YouTube clip is causing a stir in Saudi Arabia because it’s said to show male employees of SABB (part of the giant HSBC banking corporation) having a knees-up in Riyadh.

For Saudis of a certain disposition this is shocking behaviour and a flagrant violation of the kingdom’s strict “morality” code. But in Saudi Arabia it all depends on who you are, and SABB/HSBC has the clout and connections to get away with it.

“A party like this shows that we have two different sets of rules in this country,” Saudi Jeans observes – “one for the poor and commoners, and one for the rich and powerful”.

Those who attended an evening of guitar music held recently in one of Riyadh’s private residential compounds were less fortunate. Nidal M takes up the story:

The second intermission of the show went on longer than expected … The organiser walked up to the stage, and surprisingly calmly told the audience:

“Ladies and gentlemen, can I have your attention please. I am about to say a few things but I do not want anybody to react. The show has been cancelled … I repeat, the show is cancelled. We have been asked to vacate the premises. Please do not remain here as it would be easier if we all left in an orderly and calm fashion. More information will be given over Facebook and via email. Please leave. Thank you and we’re sorry.”

You see, in the west, an announcement like that would mean there was a bomb threat. In Saudi, it means that the Hey’a [religious police] are here.

The problem then was how to leave without being caught by the mutawwas waiting at the entrance. 

“Carrying photo and musical equipment, our crew would have been the first to get nabbed if we tried to get out. After 10 or so minutes, one of the compound officials ran to the waiting crowd that it was safe to leave if we did it quietly and quick. Presumably the mutawwas had been distracted for a short while.”

Luckily, it seems no one was arrested on this occasion. But there is still no word about the fate of more than 60 Filipino menarrested last month after a party in Riyadh where some of them were found to be dressed in women’s clothes. Since they are poor and expendable they will probably be flogged and deported.

Meanwhile, the cream of the British expatriate community in Riyadh remain unmolested after their fancy dress ball whereone of the stars of the evening was a man dressed as Maid Marian.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 28 July 2009