Crime, Vice & Sin — Saudi Style

A couple of years ago, I worked at the Saudi Gazette, a daily published in Jeddah. The SG is the baby sister of the kingdom’s great scandal sheet, the Arabic-language daily Okaz. Part of my job was to help train Saudis (and non-Saudis) who worked as reporters to be better writers. Part of my job also involved editing their copy. I did it for about six months, which is about as long as I could stand being separated from my wife and my bicycle (in that order).

As fate would have it, one of the reporters I worked with — a Saudi woman named Sabria Jawhar, one of the best and bravest writers the SG has and a name you ought to remember — contacted me a couple of months ago. As the Jeddah bureau chief, she was looking for people to do part-time copy editing and re-writing, a couple of hours per day (in the morning). So, that’s what I’m doing with part of my days. The rest of the time, Jennifer (my wife) and I are packing for our looming move to Chicago. And I tinker at a local bike shop.

I got the weekly police report to edit Friday morning, translated from the Okaz version. The week’s top crimes were, more or less in the order they appeared:

1) Two Saudi men were arrested in Jeddah after kidnapping a boy (age not specified), taking him to the outskirts of the city, and the repeatedly raping him while holding him at knife point. The police (interior ministry) comb both the districts where the kidnapping and the assault took place and eventually arrest two suspects. The report says they staked out know hangouts despite not having a good description of the assailants or the plate number of their vehicle from the victim, which leads me to conclude that the police were looking for two men who had done this before or they got the wrong guys. However, the report also said the victim identified the suspects and their vehicle.

2) A young man, identified only as A.H., distraught that the women he loved (his cousin; a lot of that kind of thing goes on in Saudi Arabia) married someone else, ventured out into the middle of a street in the city of Al-Qateef, poured gasoline all over himself, and set himself on fire. Civil Defense (the Saudi version of the UK’s fire brigades, which sounds a lot cooler than merely saying “the fire department”) arrives and takes the young man to a hospital, where he dies. The report then ends with a quote from a family member that the young man was disturbed and a statement from a psychiatrist that anyone with such problems needs psychiatric help. Before they set themselves on fire.

3) Arson is suspected in a fire that guts six “housing units” being built for foreign workers in the southern city of Khamis Mushayt. Civil Defense and police are investigating.

4) Someone broke into three automobiles owned by students attending Al-Ahsa College of Technology and stole “important items.” No, the items are not specified. That kind of thing, the leaving out of important details, happens a lot. Police are investigating.

5) Police and immigration agents arrest several thousand illegal immigrants and visa “overstayers” during March in Taif and Jizaan, including 700 women “with various African nationalities.” Some miscreants are also arrested. All of the illegals will be deported.

6) Police in Jeddah break up a protection and extortion racket run by three “youths” — one Saudi, one Yemeni, and one Pakistani. The “gang of thugs” would beat up businessmen (in an unnamed district of Jeddah) and expanded their operations because, as one allegedly confessed to the interior ministry, the victims were silent and there was nobody to stop them. It’s amazing how many Saudi criminal suspects confess once they’ve been nabbed by the cops. The Saudi police are very good at obtaining confessions.

7) In Asir province, police raid two apartments that had been “illegally” converted into international call centers. Several Bangladeshis are arrested. In addition, pornographic videotapes are confiscated at one of the apartments. (No details.)

8) In the northern city of Tabuk, Saudi and Jordanian police are investigating claims by a Saudi man that he was assaulted and robbed by three men impersonating Jordanian security officials. They “took his money and mobile telephone, beat him up,” the victim said.

9) The oddest report in the batch, a Pakistani national is arrested in the Northern Frontier Region in possession of a large number of used tires. I do not know why this is a crime in Saudi Arabia, but border guards at Ar’ar (along the Saudi-Iraqi frontier in the far west) turned the man over to the police “for further investigation.”

10) A man from an unnamed Asian country is found dead by police in his apartment in Al-Namas. Natural causes are suspected.

11) Religious police in Taif find 10 barrels of liquor buried in a remote valley, and two Ethiopian nationals are arrested after the Saudi Church Police discover they have converted their house into a distillery. (I guess the two items are connected, but the actual story does not really make that connection.) The Church Police — in reality, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice — hand the offending items over to local police. In Khamis Mushayt, a bootlegger (no nationality listed) was arrested, and elsewhere, another Ethiopian man is arrested by border guards for attempting to smuggle 14 bottles of whiskey into the kingdom.

Crimes that could have been committed anywhere. Even the bootlegging and alcohol smuggling. And aside from the rapists, most of these people will spend some months or a few years in jail (no picnic, Saudi prisons, as I understand it) and then find themselves deported. Just another week in the kingdom of the Sauds.