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Saudi Arabia has no time to waste

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Progressive Saudis would look at Dubai and wonder when pleasant social etiquettes would be part of the Kingdom’s daily life

By: Tariq A. Al Maeena

I was on my way home last Thursday afternoon, when my cell phone buzzed with a frantic plea from my 10-year-old.

Would I please pick up an HDMI cable for him from any store along the way?

Luckily, at that moment, I was driving past a newly-opened hypermarket and quickly pulled into the underground parking lot.

From the looks of the full parking lot, the place seemed surprisingly crowded for a late afternoon. I noted throngs of shoppers emerging out of their vehicles and making their way over to the escalators that would transport them inside the hypermarket.

Noticing a vehicle just pulling out from a parking slot, I waited patiently with my turn signal blinking.

As soon as this car had pulled out, a large GMC Suburban, with all its passenger windows heavily blacked out, pulled into the slot that I was waiting for, from the opposite direction with nary a hesitation, forcing me to go hunting for another slot.

But I had to give the motorist a piece of my mind.

This was discourteous and I just had to let him know. I pulled behind the GMC, got out of the car, and quickly walked over to the man who, without a glance backwards, was leading his family inside.

“Excuse me,” I said loud enough for him and the seven members of his family to hear and turn towards me. Focusing my eyes on the man’s face, I continued: “I want to talk to you.”

The man eyed me suspiciously, but muttered something to his elder son who quickly escorted the female members away, while he approached me.

He was middle-aged, heavily bearded, and dressed in a thobe tailored several inches above his ankles.

Aah, a fervent believer, I gathered. Perhaps he would realise the error of his ways, I told myself.

“Didn’t you see me waiting for the parking slot that you so rudely occupied?” I asked.

“Well, find another one,” he retorted sardonically. “I have a family with me and you are alone.”

“So, you did see me waiting there and yet felt you had more right just because you have a family. Or is it because you think you are a pious Saudi and myself, dressed as I am in western clothing, deserve any less?” I snapped back with tempers rising.

Just then his son returned and whispered something, and the man turned without a word to move towards his family. I had to get in the last word.

“And one more thing,” I said loud enough.

“Perhaps you should go read the Book (Quran) and the Hadeeth again, to really understand how to conduct yourself in public.”

Words on deaf ears, I realised, as he continued in the direction of his family.

In the few minutes it took me to find another parking slot, my tempers had cooled enough for me to face the throngs of shoppers inside.

Once inside, I raced over to where the electronics items were located, picked up what was needed and headed towards the army of cashiers by the entrance.

The place was swarming with people out on errands or an outing — families, children … you name it.

Noticing an express checkout stand with only a couple of customers waiting to pay, I made my way there only to be pushed back by a fully-laden shopping trolley forcefully guided by a lady in a fully hooded niqab, black gloves and all.

This can’t be happening to me again, or is it?

“Excuse me, but this checkout stand is for ten items or less,” I stated politely in her direction, believing that she was perhaps confused.

It was a new hypermarket after all.

She mumbled something back in my direction along the lines that she knew it, but because she was a lady and alone, it was OK for her to do what she did.

Another lecture?

I just couldn’t figure what shopping had to do with her being a lady and unaccompanied.

I could have started another lecture — and quite likely, ended up addressing a granite wall — but I just decided to ignore the episode.

Making my way over to another checkout stand, I asked myself: ‘Do these people just adopt the cosmetics of what our religion preaches, or do they really understand its contents? It is not just beards and hoods, but Islam and its observance that is a way of life.

Unfortunately, for decades, such messages were glaringly missing from our preachers’ sermons, who were more inclined to bring up segregation and full covering of women and their isolation as the main topic of conversation.

Either that or it were the ills of the western world that led some people down this path of deprivation.

Sadly, generations have adopted such doctrines.

It is such attitude that has left Saudis lagging behind most of their Gulf Cooperation Council brothers. Progressive Saudis would look at Dubai and wonder what could have been.

But there is hope today as Saudi King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman are addressing such attitudinal problems head-on to bring the country up to speed. The Kingdom has no time to waste.

  • Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Source:

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