Sunday, December 04, 2005

Visit to Riyadh under new regime

As I was about to keep my bags for x ray screening at the customs of Riyadh airport, I realized my carrying computer CD in my bag. I was dessparated to avoid being caught by customs authorities and being stranded at the airport while they take their own time to check the contents. I looked around for any camera while I did my best to shove it in my trousers pocket. It turned out to be too big for the size of my pocket and I decided to leave it inside the bag to face the ordeal. But I was in for surprise; customs either didn’t notice that or just were generous to let me pass without even opening my bag.

I was received by my Filipino colleague from our distributor who was also waiting to receive customers from army establishment from Jeddah - Filipino woman nurse and Saudi male officer. It was another surprise for me to learn that we would all be going in a single car . I could realize a glee on my friend’s face of having a woman nurse next to him while driving us from airport to the hotel. I am sure, it was his first experience in his Saudi life. I think, he got a courage in doing so with Saudi male army officer sitting behind the wheels with me and also the fact that we were traveling in the middle of night.

Both incidents I hadn’t experienced earlier. The question came to my mind. Is Saudi changing under the new regime? It seemed so!!

Winter is the best time to be in Riyadh. Our conference was at National Guard Officer’s mess – a well maintained garden surroundings. It’s very confusing to understand various security establishments in Saudi. National Guard, Security Forces, Defense forces etc. The Saudi Arabia National Guard is a tribal force forged out of those tribal elements loyal to the ruling family. Their mission is to protect the royal family from internal rebellion and the other Saudi Army, should the need arise. It is also a counterbalance within the royal family to control over the regular armed forces.
During my stay in Riyadh, I could see decoration and illumination all along the main arterial road – I was told that this was being done in anticipation of official inauguration of King Abdullah.

One of the evenings while having dinner in local Indian restaurant, I saw elderly man giving a treat to youngsters – they could be his nephews or just friends from neighborhood. These youngsters were wearing a local dress with baseball cap worn in opposite direction – a sign that is getting increasingly common among youngsters in Saudi Arabia. But this time, these youngsters weren’t boisterous or unruly as observed in restaurant ; instead they greeted this elderly man by approaching him with kiss on his forehead, sat in orderly manner on dining table. Was it a just an isolated incident? Perhaps. But I was delighted to witness that.

I also read about nearly 20,000 Saudi students going to USA for higher studies at the expense of Govt sponsorship. This is a deliberate move on part of US Govt administration to bring Saudi youth into US fold and making them less vulnerable to anti US/west campaign. When you meet educated Saudi nationals who are educated in UK /US, you come across them as finest human beings- immaculately dressed, well mannered, aesthetic with charming Saudi hospitality and belief in their own culture. I am sure these young men would also bring dramatic results when they return. Another incident that was making news in local newspapers – was that of woman’s elections for Jeddah chamber of commerce. Election and participation of woman, these two terms so rare to hear and see in the recent history of Saudi Arabia.

All in all, this two day trip turned out to be positive experience. I really hope future visits make gets better and better.

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