Saudi Love

By Michael Slackman
The New York Times, May 12, 2008

Edited by Andy Ross

Young men and women in Saudi Arabia have accepted the religious and cultural demands of the Muslim world's most conservative society. They may chafe against the rules, but they can be merciless in their condemnation of those who flout them too brazenly.

Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islam is likely to shape how many Muslims around the world will live their faith. Young men are taught that they are the guardians of the family's reputation, expected to shield their female relatives from shame and avoid dishonoring their families by their own behavior.

Nader al-Mutairi is engaged to his cousin Enad al-Mutairi's 17-year-old sister, Sarah.

"One of the most important Arab traditions is honor," Enad said. "If my sister goes in the street and someone assaults her, she won't be able to protect herself. The nature of men is that men are more rational. Women are not rational."

Enad is the alpha male, a 20-year-old police officer with an explosive temper and a fondness for teasing. Nader, 22, is soft-spoken, with a gentle smile and an inclination to follow rather than lead.

Enad and Nader are lifelong friends and confidants. They are residents of Riyadh. It is a flat, clean city of five million people that gleams with oil wealth. It offers young men very little in the way of entertainment, with no movie theaters and few sports facilities. If they are unmarried, they cannot even enter the malls where women shop.

In a restaurant, Nader and Enad were concentrating on eating when a woman entered the restaurant, alone. She was completely draped in a black abaya, her face covered by a black veil, her hair and ears covered by a black cloth pulled tight.

Enad pretended to toss his burning cigarette at the woman, who by now had been seated at a table. The glaring young men unnerved her, as though her parents had caught her doing something wrong. When a man joined her at the table — someone they assumed was her husband — she removed her face veil, which fueled Enad and Nader's hostility. They continued to make mocking hand gestures and comments until the couple changed tables. Even then, the woman was so flustered she held the cloth self-consciously over her face throughout her meal.

To Nader and Enad, prayer is essential. In Enad's view, jihad is, too. They do not see any conflict between their belief in armed jihad and their work as security agents of the state. As a police officer, Enad helps conduct raids on suspected terrorist hideouts. Nader works in the military as a communications officer.

There are eight other children in the house where Enad lives with his father, his mother and his father's second wife. The apartment has little furniture, with nothing on the walls. The men and boys gather in a living room, sitting on soiled carpeting, watching a television. The women have a similar living room behind closed doors.

Enad and Nader were always close, but their relationship changed when Nader and Sarah became engaged. Enad's father agreed to let Nader marry one of his four daughters. Nader picked Sarah, he said, because he saw her face when she was a child and recalled that she was pretty.

They quickly signed a wedding contract, making them legally married, but by tradition they do not consider themselves so until the wedding party, set for this spring. During the intervening months, they are not allowed to see each other or spend any time together. Nader said he expected to see his new wife for the first time after their wedding ceremony.

Nader grew up in Riyadh, and his parents, like Enad's, are first cousins. Enad says his way of thinking was forged in the village of Najkh, 350 miles west of Riyadh, where he lived until he was 14 with his grandfather.

When he can, he has a cousin drive him to his grandfather's home, a one-story cement box in the desert, four miles from the nearest house. Enad hides his cigarettes when his grandfather comes through. He would never tell his father or grandfather that he smokes. Enad remains stone-faced when a cousin mentions that another of his cousins, a woman named Al Atti, 22, is interested in him.

Enad tried to stay cool but was clearly interested, and flattered. He said a real man could not reject a woman who wanted him.

An Outrage Too Far

By Afif Sarhan in Basra and Caroline Davies
The Observer, May 11, 2008

Edited by Andy Ross

For Abdel-Qader Ali there is only one regret: that he did not kill his daughter at birth. "If I had realised then what she would become, I would have killed her the instant her mother delivered her," he said with no trace of remorse.

Rand Abdel-Qader, 17, was murdered because of her infatuation with a British solider in Basra. Her father remains a free man, despite having stamped on, suffocated and then stabbed his student daughter to death.

Abdel-Qader, 46, a government employee, was initially arrested but released after two hours. He said police congratulated him on what he had done. "They are men and know what honour is," he said.

Rand, who was studying English at Basra University, was deemed to have brought shame on her family after becoming infatuated with a British soldier, 22, known only as Paul.

She died a virgin, according to her closest friend Zeinab. She died on 16 March after her father discovered she had been seen in public talking to Paul, considered to be the enemy, the invader and a Christian. Abdel-Qader choked her with his foot on her throat. Her shrouded corpse was then tossed into a makeshift grave without ceremony as her uncles spat on it in disgust.

"Death was the least she deserved," said Abdel-Qader.