A Letter from Saudi Arabia

Passed on from a friend from a friend. I can assure that the person is writing from Saudi Arabia.

Dear Friends,   

As I am sitting in front of my home computer, an intense pounding  is  trying to break through my forehead. I am wondering how quickly  the  Tylenol will kick in. I have been up this morning since 5:30 AM,  which  any of you who know me well will be surprised to hear. I was  awakened  this morning by a telephone call from the Booz Allen senior  employee in  Riyadh who works on the Saudi Navy Project and lives on the Arizona  Compound. He informed me that an American had been kidnapped  either  late last night or early this morning. I was aware that an  American had  been shot and killed yesterday in an area not far from my place of  work.  For those of you who know Riyadh, the shooting occurred in the Hayy  Al-Dhubat area, behind Shola Mall and the former Hyatt Hotel. If  memory  serves me correctly, this is the fourth shooting this month in  Riyadh.  To enumerate, there was a shooting of an American leaving ESKAN, a  shooting of a BBC reporter and his cameraman in the Al-Suwaidi  District  in the south of Riyadh, a shooting of a Vinnell employee as he  entered  his home in Al-Khaleej District (to the east of Rawdha), and now an  AEC  employee last night in Malaz. With the exception of the ESKAN  vehicle  and the BBC reporter, all other shootings have been fatal. I  assumed  that the Booz Allen Principle was calling to inform me of the  shooting  yesterday. “Have you heard about the kidnapping?” he asked. Still  groggy, my mind raced to process the words I had just heard.  “Kidnapping?” I thought. “He must be talking about yesterday’s  shooting.” But he was not. In addition to  yesterday’s shooting of  an  AEC employee, an employee of Lockheed Martin has been kidnapped.  “Until  we get further information about the circumstances of the  kidnapping, we  are advising all Booz Allen employees to stay home on their  compounds,”  said the voice on the other end of the line. “Do you have anything  pressing today?” he asked. While I hated the thought of falling  even  further behind on the mountains of work in the office, I realized  that  it was not worth my life. “No, I will stay on the compound,” I  said.  It is now nearly 1:00 PM, and I thought it might be interesting to  inform you of a few stories I have heard over the past week, to  give a  flavor of the mood in Riyadh.    While I feel that we Americans are the prime target, I believe that  all  Westerners are feeling the tension. After all, it was a German  citizen  who was shot last month in Riyadh. I sincerely doubt that the  terrorists can distinguish between an American and the various  European  nationalities, many of us sharing a common European heritage. And  even  Saudis are feeling uptight, with many parents who have the means  making  plans to place their children in schools outside of the Kingdom  next  year – either Lebanon or Europe.

It has occurred to me over this  last  week, in talking with my educated Saudi friends, that current  events in  the Kingdom are not only resulting in an exodus of expatriates from  the  Kingdom, but also a brain drain of locals. Certainly this will  have  negative implications for the future of this country, for it is the  educated and open-minded intelligentsia who are considering their  options outside of the Kingdom, as they contemplate life in a  terror-ridden – or worse, a Taliban-style – country. I worry for  my  Saudi friends what the country will be in another ten years.    I wanted to present a few anecdotes from life in the Kingdom:  

1) A friend was speaking to her boss last week. The boss is a  Saudi  physician, bearded but well-educated and fond of Westerners. He  informed my friend that in the mosque he attended earlier in the  week,  the Imam was preaching death to Westerners. “Did you speak up  about  this?” asked my friend. The physician stated that he was afraid to  speak up in the crowd of people. I was personally surprised and  disgusted to hear this story, as I thought that the Saudi  government had  cracked down on this type of preaching of hatred and violence.   

2) A friend reported to me that her friend was performing duties as  a  nurse at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital. A Saudi man was  standing  in the hallway, blocking access. The nurse requested that the  interpreter ask the man to step to one side, making room to move  equipment through the hallway. The interpreter and the Saudi had a  conversation in Arabic, after which the interpreter said to the  nurse,  “I think you should just leave the floor and return to your  station. Do  not ask any more questions, and I will explain to you in a moment.”  When the interpreter returned to the nursing station, he explained  that  the Saudi had asked what right the nurse had to request him to step  to  one side. “Besides, she is a Westerner and we do not want them in  our  country,” he said. The interpreter suggested to the nurse that she  should avoid contact with Saudis as much as possible, and try to  avoid  any confrontations whatsoever. It appears that local sensibilities  (or  perhaps insensibilities) towards the West have been emboldened by  recent  events. 

3) A Saudi friend has a cousin who is quite fair. His 9-year-old  son is  blond and blue-eyed. Within the last two months, the son and his  mother  paid a visit to a clinic in Jeddah. While in the waiting room,  another  Saudi woman began hurling insults in his direction in Arabic,  calling  him a dirty American. The boy approached her and informed her  that  he  was a Saudi. “Who is your father?” she demanded to know. “An  American?” The boy told her the name of his father. “Well, you  had  better dye your hair black, because people will mistake you for an  American,” she responded.   

4) A Saudi employee of King Faisal Specialist Hospital is concerned  about where the country is headed. He is of the opinion that the  security forces have been infiltrated by members of the terrorist  organizations. He stated that while many Saudis do not approve of  the  murders that are taking place, they are happy that the government  is  under pressure. Being no fans of the House of Saud, they would  like to  see the downfall of the government. Being an enlightened and  well-educated man, this Saudi knows that the regime that would  replace  the current ruling family might be something closer to a  Taliban-style  rule. He is therefore looking into establishing a business and  home in  Egypt for his family.   

5) Saudi  friends have had occasion to speak with security guards  and  members of the Saudi security forces. One guard in Jeddah stated,  “I  make two-thousand riyals a month (equivalent of $533). Do you  think I  would put my life on the line for that amount of money? If a  terrorist  confronted me and threatened to kill me, I would open the gates and  run  away.” Another friend presented the following analysis to me.  “These  soldiers in the security forces make around two-thousand riyals per  month. Their counterparts in Kuwait make three times that salary.  They  have a wife and ten children at home to feed. Do you really think  that  they are going to lay down their lives for your protection?” I  thought  about it, and wondered what the guards in front of my compound must  think. They see Westerners – “nonbelievers” in the minds of many -  driving their nice company cars, and living in what appears to be  relative luxury behind the walls of the compound. We pay for all  of  this with money earned from the riches of their country, while  locals  are struggling to make ends meet. We contravene their perception  of  Islam – and I do mean THEIR perception of Islam since it is not  shared  by all Saudis and certainly not by Muslims in other nations – with  men  and women mixing together in what must be construed to many as akin  to a  brothel. Should we expect unmotivated, poorly-paid soldiers to lay  down  their lives defending a compound of decadent nonbelievers?  

I have recounted these snippets of life to illustrate that the  anti-Western sentiments are shared by a segment of the society.how  large, I do not know. Of course, not every Saudi thinks this way.  My  friends certainly do not. Already four Saudi work colleagues have  called me at my house to make sure that I am doing fine. An hour  ago,  the Major General, Commander of the Armor Corps, called me at home  to  check on my state and inform me that I should do whatever I believe  necessary to feel safe. “Your safety is the number one priority,”  he  said, “and as long as you feel that you need to stay on your  compound,  please do so. God willing, we will overcome these bastards.” I  felt  that I heard a tinge of dismay and sadness in his tone. Until a  few  years ago, one could go anywhere and leave your house unlocked,  knowing  that crime was virtually non-existent. For Saudis who have lived  their  lives in what was once one of the safest places on earth, it must  now be  shockingly unbelievable to see what is happening. And as a  long-time  resident of the Kingdom who has many Saudi friends and a great  investment in the success of the SWORD Project, the decisions that  lie  before me are difficult ones. 

2 thoughts on “A Letter from Saudi Arabia

  1. I worked in Riyadh many years ago, for AEC. Kenneth Scroggs was my boss when I worked there in the Electronics Repair Department, shortly afert Gulf War I.
    He is the AEC Employee you mention in your post.
    It is interesting and scary to note, that Paul Johnson was also working at AEC. He was working there in a partnership between his employer and AEC. Two AEC employess targeted by AlQueada in one day is scary.
    I wrote bit about Kenneth Scroggs on my blog.
    If anyone who reads this know anything more about what happend to Ken I would like to hear about it.
    The news in the US about Ken is sparse.

  2. Bill, I’ve sent your comment on to the person who forwarded the letter to me. Hopefully you’ll get good news soon.

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