During my 15 years growing up in Saudi Arabia, there was one tenant I, like most expatriates, strictly abided by. This simple unwritten rule was; minimise your interaction with locals.
This is because many, though certainly not all Saudis we encountered, looked upon foreigners as if they were insolent slaves. From interactions in the neighbourhood, workplace, shops, and more, the Saudi disdain for foreigners was pretty clear.
With Saudi media towing the Kingdom line, it was only through word of mouth that we learnt of expatriate girls, women, boys, and boyish looking men escaping capture from Saudi groups. These gangs often travelled in hulking SUVs that sported tinted black windows, and would usually take their victims out into the middle of the desert to assault them sexually.
I myself evaded a child molester, when my childhood friend and I were followed by a big bellied man with a large beard who tried to bribe us with money and candy. This monster regularly prowled the neighbourhood for a few weeks.
In my blog, ‘In Saudi Arabia, Oil will always be thicker than blood,’ I wrote about other such disturbing events.
One person we knew left Saudi Arabia merely six months after moving there with his family. A few days close to his arrival, a maid had been found lying dead on a balcony near his house, undoubtedly the victim of her employers. This family friend was in his mid-20s though still looked like he was 15, which is probably why he was targeted constantly by Saudi men. Growing a thin moustache did little to deter their advances, and he gave up his attractive salary and left the unattractive country.
If it was bad for middle class expatriates, it was infinitely worse for blue collar workers. The further down the economic class you were, the more easily a prey you became for a local. A Sri Lanka man working as a house cleaner would tell me tales from Saudi houses he worked at, where Filipino, Sri Lankan, Indian, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani maids were easy victims for lecherous Saudi men, and would share their sorrow with him. These women from poor economic backgrounds had few options of escape, especially with their passports locked away with the very men who targeted them.
The Sri Lankan worker, who was a good man, and became a friend, would explain how while cycling home from work at night he would regularly be followed by Saudi men driving around in large petrol chugging vehicles. I believed him, because it was a similar story for me, when returning home at night from a game of cricket.
Since my departure and the explosion of the internet, stories of Saudi human rights violations, especially against maids, have become very public. Away from their countries, these women are raped, sexually assaulted, accused of stealing, pinned for crimes of murder, and worse. Report after report expands on how these poor women are beheaded with alarming regularity in Saudi Arabia.
I heard some terrible incidents during my time in the Kingdom, but the recent report of a poor Indian maid abused by her Saudi employer is blood curling. At the age of 58, she began working in Riyadh three months ago. To her dismay, she was not being paid, was facing abuse, and was being denied full meals. Obviously, this household, much like so many others in Saudi Arabia, assumed that they had bought a slave rather than hired an employee.
Upset, Kasthuri went and complained to the police. When she came back, her employers reacted how any owner would behave when their slave would dare humiliate them. Tragically, they taught her a terrible lesson, by chopping off her arm.
It is difficult to come to terms with this woman’s ordeal. Thankfully, her embassy is coming to her aid.
Chopping of hand of Indian lady – We are very much disturbed over the brutal manner in which Indian lady has been treated in Saudi Arabia.
— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) October 9, 2015
Amnesty International reports that almost 50 per cent of the people beheaded each year in Saudi Arabia are expatriates. A significant percentage of these foreigners are blue collar workers.
If you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll learn of how many of those facing the sword are being tried for crimes likely to have been committed by their employers.
The latest Amnesty International report says Saudi Arabia now beheads one person every two days. I am sure ISIS is looking at this statistic with jealousy.
The Guardian reports,
“Amnesty said almost half of those executed during the last 30 years were foreign nationals, many of whom lack the Arabic skills to understand court proceedings and charges. Almost a third of those executed were for drug-related offenses.”
Thankfully, some nations are wising up,
“Indonesia announced in May that it would stop sending new domestic workers to 21 Middle Eastern countries after Saudi Arabia executed two Indonesian women. Siti Zainab and Karni binti Medi Tarsim were found guilty of murder and executed in April.”
There is also the heart-breaking story of the Ethopian maid ‘Almaz’, told in a superbly illustrated free to consume graphic novel by Benjamin Dix and Lindsay Pollock. Almaz was raped, beaten, and treated with utmost cruelty until she finally escaped back to her country.
Then there is Pahima Alagai, whose employer poured boiling hot water all over her in anger.
As you would expect, Saudi citizens are no more respectful of vulnerable women when overseas. In India, a Saudi diplomat and his friends, gang raped two Nepali maids for a period of months.
“There were days when seven to eight men — all from Saudi Arabia — would assault us. If we resisted, the diplomat and his family would threaten to kill us and dispose of our bodies in the sewer.”
If you would like an idea of what life is like for a maid working for a Saudi employer, then look no further than this video shared on RT.com.
This Saudi woman recorded her husband harassing their maid on her cell phone, and uploaded it on to YouTube. As you can see from the uncomfortable footage, the Saudi man constantly gropes an employee who begs to be left alone.
— Alexander Marquardt (@MarquardtA) October 6, 2015
In a cruel twist, the biggest victim of the incident is the man’s own wife,
“According to Saudi lawyer Majid Qaroob, cited by Emirates 24/7, the man’s wife “faces up to one year in prison or a fine of SR (Saudi Riyal) 500,000 (around $133,000) for defaming her husband.
The law ‘on information technology crimes’ stipulates ‘stiff punishment’ for anyone who films others with various devices, including smartphones with cameras, in order to ‘defame them,’ the Saudi lawyer said.”
Here we are, with enough material on the Kingdom’s human rights violations to fill a large book, yet the international community continues to bend over backwards for the custodians of the holy oil reserves.
Recently, the United Nations (UN), in a twist even M Night Shyamalan would find absurd, awarded Saudi Arabia a key position on the UN Human Rights Council. This would be like putting Count Dracula in charge of a blood bank.
It is perplexing that Saudi Arabia, a family monarchy which came into power through force, and allows the royal family to rule in decadence, can earn such an honour. This is a country where Saudi women are abused, denied basic rights, and are in essence shackled to their husbands or fathers, where detainees are repeatedly tortured in harsh prisons without access to basic rights, where more people are beheaded every year than by ISIS. This nation is said to have spread its extremist values in places such as Pakistan. This is a nation which imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi for writing about free speech, sentencing him to a thousand lashes. This is a nation that has sentenced Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, a 17-year-old boy who protested against the government, to be beheaded.
After Saudi Arabia beheads this teenager publically, making a spectacle for all to see out of his brutal death, it shall crucify his body, leaving it displayed for three days.
How very humanitarian of them.
The only group of people in the world who match Saudi Arabia’s thirst for cruelty, and carry a similar passion for using murder as a form of grotesque public theatre are ISIS. Yet, the world rightly acts with horror with every execution ISIS carries out, but turns a blind eye as Saudi Arabia dances in blood with the childlike glee of a toddler.