Saudi Arabia: Kathy Cuddihy – An Original Expatriate of Riyadh

Kathy Cuddihy is a familiar name to many expatriates in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  Besides having lived in Riyadh for a number of years, she is the author of two books considered a “must have” for any expatriate residing in or traveling to the Kingdom.

So Kathy, let’s start at the beginning.  Where are you originally from? What is your nationality?


When did you arrive in Riyadh and what brought you to the Kingdom in the first place?

1976. Bechtel transferred my husband Sean from San Fransciso. He was part of the team building Riyadh’s international airport. I went on the condition that it wouldn’t be for a minute more than the initial 2-year contract!

What did you know about Saudi Arabia prior to your arrival?

Nothing! The only ‘current’ information was in a book called At the Drop of a Veil, a story about an American woman in Jeddah. There was no practical information, not even from the Saudi Consulate in San Francisco.

How did your perceptions of Saudi Arabia compare to the reality when you arrived?

I had traveled around the world before going to Saudi so I thought I’d see it all. I hadn’t! Riyadh was like a scene from a biblical movie! Many food items weren’t available, water and electricity supplies could be dicey, ditto for telephone (which we were lucky to have). But I loved it. Most of all, I loved the Saudis: the wizened characters in the suq, the young wags at the vegetable stalls. They had a sense of humour, a wisdom, and a philosophy that appealed to me.

How easy was it to get around and meet other expatriates back in 1976?

OK if you had a driver. Difficult if you didn’t. Few streets had names, no buildings had numbers. People got maps or verbal directions to destinations but landmarks (eg a crane, a wrecked car, etc.) could change overnight. Also, in those days, activities weren’t so well organised. Success depended on being proactive.

Do you think it was more imperative as an expatriate in Saudi to know Arabic then as compared to today?  Why or why not?

Saudis speak such good English that it’s never been ‘imperative’. It’s always a tremendous advantage, though, to learn the language of the host country. It opens many doors that would otherwise remain shut and it gives a far better understanding of the other culture. Also, the Saudis are wonderfully appreciative of people who make an effort to speak Arabic.

What were some of the most significant changes and growth you saw and experienced within Saudi Arabia between 1976 and 1990?

Traffic immediately springs to mind. When we arrived there were only 2 traffic lights in the city and no stop signs. Relatively few people owned cars. Unfortunately, people were acquiring cars faster than they were learning to drive safely. Licenses weren’t a requirement in those days! Another major change was the availability of everything. In 1976 we couldn’t get fresh milk or cream or unfrozen meat. Celery didn’t arrive until 1978. By 1990 ‘scarcity’ was no longer part of the Riyadh vocabulary.

Please share one of your favorite humorous experiences while adapting to a new culture and lifestyle.

Shortly after arriving in 1976 I went to a tailor to get caftans made for myself. He unwrapped a frayed tape measure from around his neck, looked to make sure no one was watching, then asked me to put the tape around my chest. He then took the 2 ends, stood a respectful distance from me, and made a note on a dirty scrap of paper: 54 inches! The end result was a surprisingly comfortable caftan that was a compromise between my 36 inches and his 54!

Twenty four years is a long time to spend in a country so different from your own.  At what point did you feel “at home” in Riyadh?  What made Riyadh home for you?

I loved Saudi the first night I arrived. I have no idea why but it felt ‘right’. My husband Sean and I settle quickly and easily into places. ‘Home’ is where we spend time. I think people are the important ingredient. We made a concerted effort and were rewarded with a large social circle of expat and Saudi friends. The Saudis treated me like a queen. It was hard not to feel ‘at home’!

How interactive were you with Saudi nationals?  What experiences did you have with Saudis?

Right from the start we made an effort to know Saudis socially. It wasn’t easy. There were high walls around homes and Saudi women didn’t go out with their men socially. Our perseverance paid off, though. We invited them into our home and they reciprocated. We loved sitting with our Saudi friends by a campfire. They have a wonderful gift for conversation. One of my favourite memories is when I convinced a few journalists and photographers to include Najran in their magazine story. Our friend was the mayor there. He arranged the most amazing journey into the Rub Al Khali desert for us. We camped in the heavy sand dunes with some bedu, made bread in the fire, watched the sunset and generally had a magical time. There were no support generators to provide power, no portable toilets. It was just us and the desert. We all felt renewed the next day. The journalists, who had to have their arms twisted to go to Najran, ended up making it the main part of the story!

Did you ever feel that you had to make special concessions or adaptations in yourself for acceptance into Saudi life and society?

Never. The Saudis graciously accepted me for myself…warts and all. I made mistakes, of course, but I learned from them—and the Saudis always kindly overlooked them.

What advice do you have for expatriate women in the Kingdom today on how they can get to know and interact with Saudi women?

I asked Sean to ask a Saudi colleague if I could meet with his wife. I had seen her at a coffee morning and liked her. My objective was to practise Arabic. To meet English-speaking Saudi women, in Riyadh there is the Al Nahda Society. It’s a charity. Other cities must have similar organisations. Otherwise, just ask around. People are always willing to help and the Saudis are famously hospitable.

What are the names of the books which you have published?

I’ve done 6 books but I think only 2 are available on amazon: Saudi Customs and Etiquette and An A-Z of Places and Things Saudi. The names of the others are Familiarity Breeds Content, Marriage: Motherhood’s Occupational Hazard, Gifts of Arabia, and The Hostess Book.

When and how did you get the idea to write your books?

It’s hard to make money as a writer. I figured that if I could recycle articles, it would give extra income. I used to have a syndicated newspaper column. My first book Familiarity Breeds Content was a collection of humorous articles from the column that dealt with life as an expat. Four of my books are self published.

The most popular book, Saudi Customs and Etiquette, came about because I saw that most expats were totally ignorant of the Saudi culture. They either had the wrong information or none at all. I addressed only the issues in the culture which most interested expats.

The other book on amazon, An A-Z of Places and Things Saudi, is an amalgamation of information I collected doing research for various articles and from personal experience.

What do you think is the biggest misconception expatriates have of Saudi Arabia and its people?

The biggest misconception might be that Saudi women are badly treated, that they lead a life of miserable subjugation. For the most part, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

You returned to Saudi for a second time.  When was that?  What brought you back to the Kingdom?

We returned in 1993 after a 3-year absence. I had been working as a PR consultant for the King Faisal Foundation before we left Saudi and continued to work for them while we lived in Hong Kong. When they decided to build the Al Faisaliah complex they offered Sean the job as project manager.

Did you find many differences on your return?  Did you perceive any changes among Saudi nationals or expatriates? Please explain your answers.

Riyadh had grown into a world capital. The city had spread, smart shopping outlets had multiplied—and the traffic was crazy. We noticed a change in the type of expat who populated Riyadh. The original expats had been ‘pioneer stock’. The newcomers expected more and were less willing to do without. The originals were builders, the follow-up teams were operators. Subtle but noticeable differences.

What should an expatriate neither challenge or question about Saudi Arabia in the way of customs or traditions?

Respect should be a fundamental ingredient in a foreigner’s baggage. Saudis are happy to explain their ways. Understandably they don’t appreciate an aggressive challenge. They do many things differently than we do…but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is part of the growth process of living in a foreign land: seeing life from a different perspective.

Islam is their way of life. Again, enquiries are welcome; criticisms are offensive.

What is the most important piece of advice you wish to pass on to new expatriates in Saudi Arabia?

I think the important thing is to go with an open mind, a mind that’s willing to learn and to change. Your way may be right in your environment but it doesn’t necessarily transfer well. Instead of trying to cconvert people, take time to listen to why they think or act the way they do. There’s a good reason why traditions develop.

I understand you now have a book which is near completion and also about Saudi Arabia.  Please give American Bedu readers a sneak preview of its contents.

This is a memoir of my Saudi years. There’s plenty of humour in the accounts of all my adventures and misadventures. It’s written with love but it’s not sugar-coated

How can interested readers obtain your books or contact you?

Check amazon. Otherwise, I have a small stock of some of the books in Ireland, where I live in the summer. (At the moment I’m in Mallorca, Spain.) I can mail them from June onwards.

In closing, do you have any additional comments you’d like to share?

Some people may find a transfer to Saudi a little daunting at first. Just close your eyes and take the plunge. If you make an effort, you’ll be glad that you did. It’s a remarkable experience. Enjoy it!

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions Kathy!


148 Responses

  1. Reading this interview makes me want to move there ASAP! Hopefully, one day I will make it to KSA.

  2. Thanks for this — I knew Kathy quite well when we were in Riyadh. (Nice to “see” you, Kathy — and I’m still using my DesignArabia mugs and pitcher!)

  3. Loved the interview!

  4. Loved the interview and her positive attitude!
    Life in Saudi is what you make of it 🙂

    I have her book Saudi customs and etiquette and can recommend it for all expats coming to KSA!

  5. Loved reading the interview, of a woman to be highly respected for her ability to see with her heart, understanding and decency.

  6. @ Layla
    i liked what you said, allow me to build on it: ” Life is what you make of it”.

  7. This is the first time I’ve been part of a blog! It’s great! It spurs me on to finish writing my current book!

  8. It is amazing! You would not believe from this interview that we are talking about a country without laws. A country riddled in corruption. A country which is having it s riches sucked dry by a royal tribe. A country where sex-obsessed clerics rule evry facet of life. A country where bearded men chase women for not covering ”properly”. A country where a woman cannot drive. A country where a man can marry 4 women. A country where women cannot leave the country without permission from a man. A country where children are sold in ”marriage” to pedophiles. A country where women get punished with imprisonment and torture for being raped. A country where women are slaves. A country with the worst record in treating women.

    Kathy must be extremely naive.
    Or must live in a very confined protected environment.
    or has some serious financial reward to write this sugary confection.

    you say life is difficult as a paid writer?
    you are paid to write this book?
    Do you get paid for the propaganda in this interview?
    Because all women who live in saudi know you are not speaking the truth.

    ”I had been working as a PR consultant for the King Faisal Foundation”
    This explains a lot.
    Bad pr job: a bit of nuance would have made this more easily believed

    i hope you don’t make a dicision to go to saudi based on this book. Because it is obvioulsy not the truth.
    the life you will save may be your own

  9. @Save the women,
    If and when I come to Saudi Arabia, I will take into consideration all the good and bad points about living there. I agree with the people who said that it’s what you make it, as this is true for most situations in life. Although there may be corruption in KSA, it seems like there is also a lot of opportunity there, too, and (positive, interesting) life experiences that may be hard to find elsewhere. My desire to live there is based off of the curiosity, love and interest for the country that developed through talking with people from there.

    But of course, I am not the type of person to stay in one place for long and I enjoy learning about new cultures and places through experiences- even if I still prefer the US overall (so far). Besides, I doubt the crime is worse than the city in which I grew up. So, as long as it’s not that dangerous, I’m comfortable with it. Having less money doesn’t bother me as long as I’m happy. I really don’t need that many things. Experiences are far more important to me.

  10. “The biggest misconception might be that Saudi women are badly treated, that they lead a life of miserable subjugation. For the most part, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

    What? That is one of the most ludicrous statements I have ever read. Saudi Arabia is the country with the worst record in the world in treatment of women. If the writer of the article actually believe in this statement, she shows extreme naivety and I would seriously question the credibility of her books.

  11. As I have said numerous times since starting this blog back in 2006, consider Saudi Arabia a large pie. Depending on where “your” piece of the pie is located and what conditions/circumstances brought you to the Kingdom as an expatriate, the experiences are going to differ. These experiences will include contacts and exposure with local Saudi nationals too.

    A memoir is an account of an individual’s personal life and experiences. I’m glad Kathy has had positive experiences and is sharing them. Her earlier books remain in popular circulation in the Riyadh expat community.

  12. carol – i agree 100%, if not for the bad incident at the v aend of our stay , i had no issues w/ saudi at all. had a car, career,driver,lots of friends and nthing to stop me…so yes you are correct depending on your circumstances it can be as diff as heaven or hell

  13. “The biggest misconception might be that Saudi women are badly treated, that they lead a life of miserable subjugation. For the most part, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

    A book may be personal memoir- but the above statement isn’t qualified in any way. I have to agree with MoQ on this. Saudi women are subjugated to a very harsh legal system and have very little recourse when they are mistreated or abused. Legally they are basically owned by their Guardian. It seems all the women the author me have been well treated, and they all speak English as well- but that doesn’t make Saudi women as a whole well-treated English speakers. Most don’t speak English. Also, even those that don’t seem subjugated still are legally.

    I don’t understand how people can have no problem with Saudi because they have a good piece of the pie. Don’t they care about everyone else with a bad piece? I meet people like this all the time Saudi and ex-Pat. They have it good and suddenly Saudi isn’t so bad, and it’s misunderstood. I have also seen people with a good piece hit a bump in the road and suddenly they find out what no legal protection can mean.

  14. @Sandy – ‘I don’t understand how people can have no problem with Saudi because they have a good piece of the pie. Don’t they care about everyone else with a bad piece?’

    That is what baffles me as well.

  15. I agree with Moq and Sandy. Just as people remind me (and rightly so) that my experience in Bahrain isn’t every woman’s experience (obviously)…her rainbows and kittens experience can’t be viewed as the norm for many many women there.

  16. “Depending on where “your” piece of the pie is located and what conditions/circumstances brought you to the Kingdom as an expatriate, the experiences are going to differ.”

    I agree with that statement. But she claims spending 30 yeas in the country. So in all this time she did not care to learn about the sever issues of the country. She also wrote books about Saudi. One would assume that she is bringing some expertise on the subject or she is misleading her readers. If she does not research the facts and get out of her protected environment to see what happens to women in Saudi, then why would anyone give her writings any credibility.

    Sorry, if what I say is harsh, but sugar coating the situation in Saudi for women who are considering moving there can be harmful.

  17. Wow! The comments are hot and heavy! Very interesting. Please let me make some clarifications.
    First of all, we went to Riyadh in 1976. Saudi Arabia was a totally different country then. We stayed for 14 years. When we returned in 1993 the city had ‘grown up’. Probably the worst side-effect of the change was the rabid power of the mutawwa (who hadn’t been a problem in earlier years).
    Yes, I had a good piece of the pie. I worked hard to make it so. I made an effort to move from my expat environment into the Saudi world. It was a strange world to me. One of my first ‘mistakes’ was to comment to a Saudi woman friend about the ‘difficulties’ of her life (wearing a veil, not driving, etc.). This usually gentle person gave me a comprehensive lecture on her culture. I quickly learned that because people don’t do things ‘my’ way, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t agree with many of the Saudi traditions but I respect that people have made those choices for a reason.
    During my nearly 24 years in Saudi I met many Saudis—not just men, but also families. Decent, ‘normal’ families. As far as I could see, within the home, the woman ruled!
    I have no doubt that there are instances of abuse, misuse of power, etc. Show me a country where this doesn’t exist! The difference with Saudi Arabia, you might argue, is that many of their ‘hardships’ are enshrined in the country’s laws and traditions. But these laws and traditions are based on Islam. Over the years I witnessed several instances where the government tried to initiate change, only to have the religious conservatives stymie the efforts.
    Change will come and no doubt it will be youth who brings it about. I applaud any movement that makes life better for people.
    If you look for the negatives in life, you’ll be sure to find them. I looked for the positive in Saudi Arabia and Saudis and I wasn’t disappointed. Believe me, I had my ups and downs (including going to jail) but I keep in my memory the big picture, a picture of a hospitable people who welcomed in a stranger.

  18. first off, she was not married to a saudi for 30 years living in ksa. huge huge big big difference sugar plums. life was good for her and hubby. so much money to be earned for sure. even now days still, expats are treated better, and paid better than the natives. ugh.

  19. ” But these laws and traditions are based on Islam..”

    🙂 now that is funny. I haven’t read your book but does it have that same humorous quality throughout? 🙂 Might have to find it now.

  20. It’s a great relief to hear from somebody with not only over 30 years experience in Saudi Arabia, but who has also written several in-depth books about the country, it’s customs, and it culture, that women are perfectly well off and very happy and everything’s honky-dory.

  21. Based on Islam? Based on Patriarchal/Tribal customs, more like. The people that think it’s the most “Islamic” are the Islamists and the Islamaphobes who seem to have the same low opinion of Islam.

    In the west if you approach a woman and bring up her abusive marriage she will deny even with the evidence before her. She must choose to confide in you. And Saudi women don’t race to expose thei situation to everyone they meet. But if you live her- you see it. It happens to people you know and you read it in the paper.

  22. @Kathy Cuddihy,

    “If you look for the negatives in life, you’ll be sure to find them.”

    No one is looking at only the negatives in life, but you are taking the definition of positive attitude a little further to include ignoring misjustice.

    The problem of Saudi is not the Saudis, I agree that they are hospitable and have many good traits. The issue is they lack freedoms to develop as a society/culture and woman get the very short end of the stick in that formula.

  23. ‘I don’t agree with many of the Saudi traditions but I respect that people have made those choices for a reason’

    Choices? The women ‘chose’ to not have the freedom to drive? They ‘chose’ to not have a vote? They ‘chose’ to require a guardian even if that guardian is her 10 yr old son? Is wearing a black abaya always her ‘choice’?

  24. Saudi is a challenging enigma to explain to one who has not lived there and by living there, living among Saudis. It is a tribal/patriarchal society within a Muslim state. (in very simple terms)

    There are Saudi women who do not speak English who have their own ideas and mind but may also choose to have very different views from westernized women. There are also Saudi women who speak English and will tell you they are content with their lives and lifestyle.

    Then like Sandy said and I am doing some paraphrasing here, Saudi women, like many Saudi men, can be extremely private and may never choose to truly open up to another Saudi woman let alone a foreigner.

  25. AB…I agree that Saudi (and all Arab states) are hard to describe unless you have actually lived there. Even more interesting are the number of people on this blog who are “experts” on that very subject and yet have never even stepped foot in an Arab country. By their long winded wordy answers…a newbie to your blog would be under the impression they have actually lived in one and have first hand knowledge…other than the age old, I know an Arab and or happen to be sleeping with one and therefore can speak with a certain amount of authority. 🙂 they should always state at the beginning of their comment (just for those that dont know) that they are speaking from hearsay and or from watching Foxnews etc. Would clarify things and sort the wheat from the chaff at the get go.

  26. Of course if my comment doesnt pertain to you…dont take it personal. While reading up on and engaging in numerous debates and chats with Arabs, Muslims, the middle east etc does give you knowledge to a certain extent…it will never be the same as living there. I cant be.

  27. “There are Saudi women who do not speak English who have their own ideas and mind but may also choose to have very different views from westernized women. There are also Saudi women who speak English and will tell you they are content with their lives and lifestyle.”

    @ Carol,

    Freedom of choice does not mean the majority rules. It also does not mean a majority can even be established when a state of fear either from government or the wrath of society exists. A majority also, cannot be established when you deny others with different ideas the ability to voice their opinion and win in open forums where issues are discussed.
    For these reasons Saudi is abusive to women.

    By the way I am speaking from experience and I know many Saudi women who do not agree with the rules of the government, the default social limitations on them, and yes even the idea that the have to cover and not allowed to drive.

  28. MoQ,

    Even before Saudi Arabia became a monarchy it has been a place of patriarchal/tribal rule. I sense that even if immediate reforms were put into place by King Abdullah that does not mean tribal rule/law would cease to exist. There will always be division among women in Saudi Arabia. Who knows…the “law” may change to legally allow choices which do not exist at this time but that does not mean the patriarchal or tribal law would go away.

  29. “Even before Saudi Arabia became a monarchy it has been a place of patriarchal/tribal rule.”

    Agreed, so was Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, etc. The Saudi Monarchy was established earlier than in those countries (over 80 years already). It instituted archaic rules and participated in the continuity of the tribal mentality. Add to that their support of Wahabbi Islam with its heavy handed approach against change.

    Also, realize Saudi is not Najid only, Hijaz and Hasa were more urban than tribal. Tribal and Wahhabbi rules were forced on the people of these 2 regions.

    It is the Saudi Royal rule over the country that stopped the natural progress of the society and the culture. It is what distinguishes Saudi from its neighbors, who made more noticeable strides in many fronts including women’s issues.

  30. I don’t mean to be facetious but the thought that occurred to me when reading that not all Saudi is Naj’d are the distinctions between “Iraq” and “Kurdistan.”

  31. I saw a documentary, ”The road to Meccah” on Belgian television, and they went to a village, near Taif I think, and a middle aged men talked to them and told them how 35 years ago men from Riyad came and forced the women to cover their colorful traditional dresses with abayas and niqabs, and what a hardship this was for the women, who still had to work on the fields.

  32. “I don’t mean to be facetious but the thought that occurred to me when reading that not all Saudi is Naj’d are the distinctions between “Iraq” and “Kurdistan.”

    Can be but not necessarily as a separatist context, but rather that Tribalism is not the way of all Saudi. Note Hasa and Hijaz were far more populous at the time of the creation of Saudi Arabia. The people of those regions are more liberal minded than Najdi’s, however their culturas were dominated by the Power of the invading Royals from Najid.

  33. Nice interview and very interesting comments. Thanks for sharing!

  34. I think Hasa and Hijaz being closer to the sea were more liberalized in part due to the influx of merchants and commercial business from abroad as compared to inner Najd.

  35. Of course there are a wide variety of women in Saudi. But that does not change the fact that MOST do NOT speak English. And that ALL by the LAW are not accorded their basic human rights.

    Yes, changing the laws won’t automatically change everything for all women. In some areas tribal ways have always been what ruled. BUT just like changing laws in the US regarding race issues didn’t magically do away with racial prejudice- it gave a powerful tool to those fighting for their rights and trying to improve things for themselves and their families. And in many areas of the states it had to be imposed on the population because it didn’t suit their slave-owning/labor exploiting ways. But too bad! Human rights isn’t just about “majority rule” it also is about “minority rights”.

    Every single Saudi woman who is content with her lifestyle- is content because she doesn’t have an abusive mahrem. So shame on them if they don’t want change for their less fortunate fellow countrymen. Some slaves in the American south were happy in slavery- and their owners treated them well. Some owners voluntarily freed their slaves and paid them fair wages. But none of that makes the system ok.

  36. Several people seem to have completely misunderstood one of my responses. The interview question was: Do you think it was more imperative as an expatriate in Saudi to know Arabic then as compared to today? Why or why not?
    My response was: Saudis speak such good English that it’s never been ‘imperative’. It’s always a tremendous advantage, though, to learn the language of the host country. It opens many doors that would otherwise remain shut and it gives a far better understanding of the other culture. Also, the Saudis are wonderfully appreciative of people who make an effort to speak Arabic.
    In this response I did not imply that most Saudi women speak English. I was simply saying that in an average expat’s dealing with Saudis (in the suq, in an office, etc.) it’s not necessary to speak Arabic because most Saudis who interact with expats speak English. In my 24 years in Saudi I knew of only a few women who studied Arabic. Everyone else got on just fine.

  37. Kathy…I dont really think that is what everyone took exception too. Just saying.

  38. Moq, I think you are right, reality seems to be that the larger and more civilized parts of Saudi Arabia were overrun by a tribal minority which then imposed it’s restrictive rules and culture by force on the colonized territories. As they have all the power now, and full control of the schools they falsify history all they like and the younger generations are forgetting they originally come from a rich culture and much freer and tolerant society.

  39. About ”looking for negatives”… I have seen many bloggers, with the best intentions, try very hard to write positively about KSA and not succeeding. It seems that if you write fairly regularly about what goes on in KSA you inevitably have to write a lot of negative stuff. Especially when they write about women. I have also seen bloggers giving up on it.

    So interesting to see there is at least one person who does succeed in seeing only sweetness and happiness and well-treated women in Saudi Arabia.

  40. @Kathy,
    I’m not sure if you were refering to my posts or not, but the issue of Saudi women speaking English was only relevant in that it seemed to support your statement:

    “The biggest misconception might be that Saudi women are badly treated, that they lead a life of miserable subjugation. For the most part, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

    That statement is the point of contention. I can only go based on what you have written here- but it seems your statement is based only on your interact with some English speaking women. It seems not to take into account AT ALL the realities of life for Saudi women as a whole, including the poor legal status ALL women have. I’m guessing if you are only communicating with Saudi women at the Suq and in the office it would be hard to get a clear idea of the struggles women face.

  41. Hi Sandy. Actually, I wasn’t referring to women specifically. I was answering the question in the most general of terms as it would apply to the average expat. Most come in contact only with Saudi men and often on a limited basis. Expat men, of course, would interact more because of business.
    I dealt mostly with men because of my business and writing. But I also had Saudi women friends. Many spoke English but some spoke only Arabic (which I spoke…imperfectly).

  42. @Kathy,
    I understood that. The point was really about your claim that Saudi women are not badly treated. You seemed to make that assessment based only on the few English speaking women you spent time with. Now you say it’s also based on some Arabic speaking women. But these women exist in a context. A legal one, and a social one. And it does oppress women- though some to a much larger degree than others.

  43. Sandy, I completely agree with you here, however I wonder if Kathy was referring to the misperception based on people with NO knowledge of Saudi. I surmise that many in the west would view Saudi as a Taliban-like state in regards to women. When in Saudi, I did see women who had good and fulfilling lives, and yes, it was completely dependent on a benevolent mahram. :-).

  44. @Kristine,

    ” I surmise that many in the west would view Saudi as a Taliban-like state in regards to women.”

    But Saudi is a Talaban like state, just with money. Saudi was conquered by King Abdul Aziz by using Beduin fighters called AlAkhwan. Those were holy warriors, who wanted to expand the Wahabbi ideology to the Infidal West and East parts of Saudi. In the early days of the conquests Saudi was not distinguishable from Talaban Afghanistan. Music was forbidden, men were required to wear their hair short, women were covered forcibly, mosques in Riyadh took attendance and absent men were summoned to answer for their tardiness, etc. With Oil things opened a little due to the economical interests of the royal family (when everything is forbidden there is no consumer economy and money cannot be made). However, the legacy of that era has left Saudi with its archaic rules of Shariia, a dysfunctional judicial system and the infamous CPVPV. Note the Saudi rules for women do not differ materially than those implemented by Talaban.

    Saudi was the model for the Taliban and Saudi Wahabbi money created the Talaban to follow in its footsteps.

  45. @ Moq, you are preaching to the choir here 🙂
    I had a very difficult time living in Saudi. My husband was wonderful, but the whole atmoshpere just felt so oppresive.
    However, I did see Saudi women who were happy with their lives. I was there in the late 90’s and again in the mid 2000’s. My husband’s sister was telling me about how things used to be different, in the 60’s and 70’s. How they would go to the souk and the clerks would help them take off their bangles with oil, touching their arms! And my husband’s father was a sheik, and women would come to his home, face uncovered asking advice.

    My point is that life in Saudi is not always what Fox news makes it out to be, which is what probably a good deal of the western population might imagine it to be as well. I have to explain to many people that women don’t wear abayas and veils in the home, only in public. And that yes, they do actually leave their homes without their guardian to go places. Just trying to be “fair and balanced” 😉

  46. MoQ

    Is this fact or your opinion? I ask because if it is fact it gives me chills.

  47. @Oby,


  48. Oby, much of what MoQ shared sounds like Reza Aslan in “No God But God” when he wrote about Saudi Arabia. I was stunned because I never knew this group was so awful.

    Oh, and Aslan is Muslim. Granted he’s Iranian-American if that would make him biased against the Sauds.

  49. @ MoQ

    No its not fact, its your understanding of whatever source you get the modern saudi history from.

  50. Saud…rather than just say he is wrong…why not also give us the true history of Saudi’s extremist attitude.

  51. @Saud,

    As I suspected, this site attracts some simpletons that argue feverishly against facts.

    Regarding where I got my information. I sure did not get it from the fabricated history books taught in Saudi Arabia. I advise you to extend your readings beyond what you have learned in the country.

    So here we go some readings for you:

    – The fact that CPVPV started in Riyadh and that men who were not coming to prayer were called to answer for their absence: All you have to do is look at the CPVPV own web site and read their history page. You can get it from the horses mouth per say. I assume you read Arabic.

    You can even find more information about the gory details of how the CPVPV founder Abdul Aziz Al Alshaikh used to lash people for all kinds of sins. That behavior so impressed the King, that he released budgets for him so he can implement his suppressive methods on the rest of the country. And so a beautiful little organization called the CPVPV started its history of cruelty and suppression of the people of Saudi.

    For those who can not read Arabic, have google translate it for you, it won’t be perfect but it will give you a good idea.

    – Regarding the Akhwan, here is a link from the Saudi Country Study from the Library of congress

    Read the section about the Rise of Abdul Aziz. You will find the bit about Akhwan there.

    If you are interested in more indepth reading try “The History of Saudi Arabia” , by Madwi Al Rashid.

    There are many other books that can tell you the true story of Saudi Arabia from a historic perspective, not the version marketed to the Saudi public by the government. This includes the use of Zealous Armies of the Akhwan to the support of Abdul Aziz by the British.

    Happy reading…

  52. still these sources represent a prescriptive, sometimes biased weather its sectarian or political driven or for historical reasons . I’v been living outside the kingdom for a good time, studying and working, to get hold of different sources and compare them to my grandfather his brothers and other Al- Hassa natives. So what you have claimed is your understanding based on your sources. I am a descent of tribesmen who ruled Al-Hassa for centuries, I have better insights I believe and I again it’s your understanding but its for certain not fact.

  53. I’m typing from my Blackberry. So some corrections:
    “my grandfather his brothers and other Al- Hassa natives” = my grandfather his brothers and other Al- Hassa natives testimonies.

  54. Brilliant rebuttal Saud 🙂

  55. moq, are you saudi?
    I sure did not get it from the fabricated history books taught in Saudi Arabia.

    saud was raise in saudi just like my husband and most of the other woman here. i see he has a strong resemblance in character like my husband from what i read.
    if saudi arabia is teaching their students lies about the history, then at least they all know the same lies.

    have you seen what american students are learning in schools? don’t get me started. i’ll take the saudi history lies any day. blah.

  56. Gia, the Saudi books do not even cover simple facts like the British supplied King Abdul Aziz with weapons. They teach them that the King and his followers saved the peninsula from all kinds of religious inovation. They do not teach them much about the other political systems in the region like the Hijaz Sharif.

    Saudi history books only teach about glorious Muslim Empires. History of cultures like Egypt, Persia, Romans, etc. do not even get covered as if they never existed. The only time any other cultures are mentioned is in relationship to the Muslim empire and how they were conquered by the Islamic army.

    Regarding all Saud, any negatives are conveniently dropped of the books. Students end up with a distorted view of history.

    I will spare you all the details of how bad they do in other topics.

    Regarding American system, I am not a fan of the quality of education. However, if you think Saudi Arabia is better you are mistaken, Saudi has one of the worst education systems in the world.

  57. Gia…could you please inform us about Saudis stand on the Holocaust and how it is taught in the classrooms there?

    I already know the answer but would like to hear yours…or even Sauds.

  58. The British didn’t supply Abualziz with anything. In fact, they supplied Alshreef Hussien mecca who fought the ottamans. When Abulaziz defeated Alshreef and Jeddha’s wealthy men stooped supporting alshreef, Abulaziz enter it and got all the modern weapons. This is according to Abudallah the first, son of Alshreef Huissen and to Shite Iraqi historian who didn’t like abudlalziz much at the time of the release of hiw book in the 60s.
    MoQ, the internet and books don’t make you know about everything about mideast.
    I am a descent of tribesmen who ruled al-hassa for centuries and before king Abdulaziz, I got hold to live sources and to books in three languages. You didn’t even answer gia if you were saudi or not.

  59. @Saud,

    “The internet and books don’t make you know about everything about mideast.
    I am a descent of tribesmen who ruled al-hassa for centuries and before king Abdulaziz”

    Are you a historian Saud? Do you know how to research history? Have you looked at many sources? Did you do investigation reviews of the British government records? Were your sources engaged in all the meetings Abdul Aziz had with foreign powers in the region (the Brits, the Automans)? etc.

    I really do not care who you descend from. You can be a descendant of the great desert grand popa, that only works for someone who gives importance to tribal heritage. You have no authority on this topic.

    Regarding not learning from books, I hope you change that attitude and develop your mind better.

    Regarding answering Gia, I have a policy of not answering any personal question online. You can ask them, but I am not required to answer 🙂 It is not relevant to the discussion to begin with. It is a logical fallacy called “Appeal to Authority” to rely on such things like I am a descendant from a tribe so I am an authority on a topic.


  60. being a decent of tribesmen from Al-Hassa gives better insights on the topic, as my grandfathers didn’t fight on Abudalaziz side. So their testimonies are of great value but when a person states his/her opinion and claims that it’s fact, this is ignorance in its purest form. I have looked to different sources, from people who witnessed the events to books written by variety of historians, from local , Iraqi, Jordanians, British, French and even Abudalziz rivals. You should lose it a little bit and for a second don’t BS and be more open to different opinion, what you have said is your understanding of the specific type of resource you got your information from.

  61. And , MoQ, not knowing the connection between being a descent of tribesmen from Al-hassa and history of Saudi Arabia, shows that you lack real perspective on this era of Saudi history.

  62. Saud,

    So your contention that the British have not supplied military assistance or worked with Abdul Aziz. Do you really think your continued claim you have knowledge that others do not have will stick, when we are talking about organized colonization power like the British, who maintained detailed records of their forces’ activities. These include letters from Army officers and Colonial Administrators.

    These documents are published in Archives and have been used in research to support historic events. 2 major Archives have been published by Cambridge:

    – Kuwait Political Agency: Arabic Documents 1899–1949
    – Records Of Saudi Arabia 1902–1960

    Archives contain events and letters with local leaders. It also includes treaties.

    Some of the items to look for if you are really interested:

    – The relationship between Al Saud and Captain Shakespeare (the man was consequently killed in a battle between Al Rasheed and Al Saud. Al Rasheed used his body as evidence of Saudi support from the British). He was a military advisor to Ibn Saud
    – Correspondence between Abdul Aziz and Sir Percy Cox, the Colonial Administrator of Kuwait
    – Letters from the British administration urging Abdul Aziz to take over Ha’il. And its consequent fall.
    – etc.

    For your information the British supported a war of revolt/insurgency and attrition in the region against the Ottomans. Ibn Saud was key to their strategy as he kept the Ottomans affiliates in the region engaged (namely Al Rasheed). For that to be successful, they supplied him with weapons, a stipend and military advisory.

    Regarding the fall of Hijaz, the Brits did support Sharif Hussain Ali to maintain the Arabic revolt against the Ottomans (Documented by Lowrance). That Support was quickly pulled out when the Sharif went against the British plan for the partition of the Ottoman Empire and declaring himself King of the Arabs and Islamic Khalifa. The Brits actually had conflicting treaties, one with Abdul Aziz granting him the interior parts of Saudi and another with the Sharif granting him control over a large area of the Middle East including those promised to Abdul Aziz. The Sharif was more of a political threat at the same time was weaker militarily. The green light was given to Abdul Aziz to take over Hijaz to resolve the issue in 1924. There are also correspondence to support this between Hussain and the Sir McMahon the British High Commissioner of Egypt.

    So what we have so far is your claims of superior knowledge based on some conversations you had verses recorded history.

  63. “And , MoQ, not knowing the connection between being a descent of tribesmen from Al-hassa and history of Saudi Arabia, shows that you lack real perspective on this era of Saudi history.”

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but I am never impressed by the random consequences of a sperm hitting an egg. So you can repeat your heritage claim all you want, you will impress me only when you show some knowledge on the topic. You have not even give your alternative version yet.

  64. This is very interesting, I think this is the first time I read that one cannot learn from books….

    Very interesting comments Moq.

    As an side reference, I have the published diaries of Lady Blunt. They span the late nineteenth century to the late 1920s.
    Lord and Lady Blunt were the only Westerners to really travel deep into the Arabian lands, to the Nejd and Hail in the late 19th century to collect the best of the pure bred Arab horses. They later build a stud in Egypt where they kept horses as well as on their English estates.

    Lady Blunt wrote in the 1920’s that she and her husband wondered if the incredibly immense prices paid for horses were not disguises to fund the war between the Al Rashids and the Al Sauds.
    I think there were a lot of different ways the greater political powers supported and influenced different factions in Arabia.
    Meanwhile the Arabian people were just pawns to these political powers.

  65. Again he did meet with the British ,after Al-Hassa and its tribes became part of the kingdom, and before defeating Al shreef , but he did not RECEIVE any weapons form the British before uniting the country. My claims based were on people who witnessed the making of the blessing Kingdom and from books that was written by Abulaziz’z rivals, such King Abudallah the First of Jordan , son of Al-Shareef Hussian and Shite Iraqi historian. And a rival testimonial is more truthful, in my view, than the others. I didn’t go to a Saudi high school or university, nevertheless I have a keen interest on my country history and my region ” the eastern region” , I looked for the most unbiased sources, or sources that are biased against the founder ,allah yr7mh , to get their preceptive. King Abdualziz was not prefect , neither my late kings, but they united the country and stopped the rotation of power between different tribes on the deserts or cities and villages of Arabia.

  66. moq
    Students end up with a distorted view of history.

    when i was in high school we started learning about slavery, i went to sleep in class during the gross violent films that we were forced to watch on examples of slavery. it was traumatizing for me.

    Saudi has one of the worst education systems in the world.
    are you sure about that? are your kids in the schools. i can complain about any school system, but that does not make me the expert on it. i guess saudis should learn their ALGEBRA in the american schools.

    I really do not care who you descend from. You can be a descendant of the great desert grand popa, that only works for someone who gives importance to tribal heritage. You have no authority on this topic

    are you joking! what better person to talk to about saudi history. a descendent of the land you have a problem with.
    i hope you are not some fly by night history teacher that thinks he knows it all. i feel for your students.

    and where did all the antique weapons [knifes/guns] come from. i am sure the saudis know when their is war of some kind, a weapon is used. they have a beautiful imagination.. do you read poetry, love?

  67. MoQ,

    “Sorry to burst your bubble, but I am never impressed by the random consequences of a sperm hitting an egg. So you can repeat your heritage claim all you want, you will impress me only when you show some knowledge on the topic. You have not even give your alternative version yet.”

    LOL, it’s a discussion not a competition of who win. Why would I try to impress you? lol
    Again you show your lack of real insights about modern Saudi history and history of Arabia in general. Weather you get your information from the American studies or British records. It is useful but if you don’t get a deep understanding of the society at the time and read the Arabic point view , e.g. Abdulaziz’s Arabian rivals and friends within and outside Arabia, you won’t get the whole picture. Take it easy and try to expend your knowledge and get all the point of view. History can not be taken from one side.

  68. I am decended from Irish royalty so if there is anything you would like to know about Ireland and it’s history you can ask me. Oh, any when you do be sure to address me as Your Highness m’kay? 😉

  69. “Again he did meet with the British ,after Al-Hassa and its tribes became part of the kingdom, and before defeating Al shreef”

    I am assuming you’re talking about the meeting where the border with Kuwait was defined (the Uqar protocol of 1922). That was many years after contact with the Brits. For example Captain Shakespeare (a British advisor) was killed in 1915 while in the company of Al Saud forces. His first contact with Ibn Saud was in 1910. Many years after the correspondence regarding Ha’il.

    So just in that one, you have your facts wrong. I think you should consider whether your sources are providing you with the right information.

  70. oops, deScended. Those Irish royals couldn’t spell for shit! LOL

  71. MoQ,

    Its not about wrong or right lol!! Again I said he didn’t receive any weapons from the British to fight the Shareef ( the last rival ). As Kind Abdullah the first of jordan, son of Shreef Hussien stated in his autobiography that Kind Abdulaziz forces didn’t have as advanced weapons as Shreef Hissien, but because the tribes from Hijaz gave up on Shreef Hussien and he had only foreign fighters who fought for money, and when the money ended they gave up. This was the words of Abdullah the first son of Al-Shreef, and Abduallah fought Abdulaziz in one battle before he relocated to Jordan.
    If you know Arabic, you can find the book.

  72. Ok Gia,

    First, I do not claim to know it all. However I do read to gain knowledge and verify my sources.

    I will answer one of your concerns about education and provide you with a documented study of Math and Science scores.

    The table shows where Saudi and the US rank.

    In math Saudi Arabia ranked 3rd from last and US scored in the top 10 for grade 4-8.

    Science results also show similar rankings for both countries (US was 11th, Saudi was 5th from the bottom).

    These are studies published by the International Center for Education Statistics. It is not a baseless opinion Gia.

    So again, I am not impressed with the quality of the US education, but compared to Saudi the US is miles ahead.

    Happy readings

  73. @Lynn,
    Excuse me- but I am descended from Irish royalty- so either you’re a long-lost cousin OR your a PRETENDER to the throne. (or both)

  74. moq
    if you know anything about the final testing/grading system in saudi, it is way way way more difficult than the american system. americans can fly through school with passing grades and still not have complete comprehension/or if any of what they studied.
    saudis must comprehend or they don’t pass.

  75. “Its not about wrong or right lol!’

    That is an amazing statement from someone who started this conversation with this statemet to me:

    “No its not fact, its your understanding of whatever source you get the modern saudi history from.”

    Note, you just randomly said that with no specifics. Now that you have been shown wrong on very specific points, all the sudden facts are not important.

    Just saying 🙂

  76. @Gia,
    You seem to know NOTHING about the Saudi system. They don’t have to comprehend ANYTHING. They just have to memorise and regurgitate it. But yes, the testing is very difficult in Saudi because students have to memorise massive quantities of largely nonsense for way too many classes (though they have started to streamline in recent-very recent years).

    If the Saudi system is so great- why are so few of the graduates employable? Why aren’t they managing and running all the offices and companies? Why aren’t they authors, mathmaticians, scientists etc?

  77. Just to correct you, I meant discussions are not about right or wrong, I delivered my point that you are not encyclopedia of history, specifically Saudi history. Your understanding is based on your resources from American studies to British record an god know where are you from.
    My understanding is based on testimonies of people who witnessed the events plus historians and others who ever were rivals of the founder or Arab outsiders from different sect plus my studies and my family and tribe experience with Abdualaziz , even though they fought against his family at one point of the Saudi history. And whoever really interested and know to that extant in the topic can take what she/he thinks is more sensible.

  78. GIA ===>>> i guess saudis should learn their ALGEBRA in the american schools

    Gia, looka here at an Interesting factoid:

    Apart from political leaders, a reasonably diligent reader of a quality newspaper in the West will not be able to name a single Muslim distinguished in any field of human endeavor.

    Excluding the politically awarded Peace Prize, Muslims have won only three Nobel prizes since their inception more than a century ago, or one for every 450 million Muslims alive today. By contrast, there have been 169 Jewish Nobel Laureates (excluding the Peace Prize), or about one for every 89,000 Jews alive today. During the past century, a Jew was 5,000 times more likely to win the Nobel than a Muslim.

  79. @Sandy, But perhaps it is YOU that is the pretender to the throne? Do YOU have a coffee mug that says Queen of Everything?

  80. @I think I know which branch of the family you’re from. Delusions of grandeur. A COFFEE MUG? I have a Pink Tiara with bling!

  81. So written documents in archives do not mean a thing based on your witnesses, who you cannot even account for their presence in meetings or access to correspondence. You are basically declaring yourself a historian based on what grandpa told you.

    Debates are about who makes their point and influences others. I am satisfied that I have made my points based on specifics. Hopefully I opened other people’s minds about the History of Saudi and they can do more research if they like.

    You have not even told your version of the events.

    Enough said

  82. Gia, fine. Throw the reports away and go with your gut feel and anecdotal evidence.


  83. Sandy, are you freakin’ KIDDING me? I have 3 tiaras, one is pink with bling and the others are sparkly with bling (I removed the ’40’ from one as it was sadly no longer relevant) and I wear them while drinking out of my COFFEE MUG!! Boo YA!!

  84. Sandy, if you are on Facebook and you think you are worthy you should join us at ‘Girls Gone Fancy’

  85. I have to agree with Sandy, Gia…I have been tutoring in Saudi Arabia for many years, and the most difficult part is trying to teach Saudi kids to think on their own…to problem solve…an to use their imaginations. They are superior at memorization, but have no idea what they are memorizing..They cannot explain concepts or think out of the box. When asked to do so, they stare at you like you’re speaking Martian and ask why. None are taught to write papers in Arabic or in English. When they begin college, they are lost. Completely lost. I feel sorry for them. The education system is tragic.

  86. I just want to make sure that everybody knows I am the Witch Queen of the Universe.
    That trumps anybody else’s silly claims of tribal/royal lineage.

  87. Oh, we ALL know that Aafke! 😉

  88. Lynn, Sandy…girls girls girls. Calm down and touch base with reality. I am the one and only Queen of (the list is too long to type out…just use your imagination…if you can think of it then I am Queen of it)…and therefore…any tiaras and mugs you have on are just hand me downs that I grew tired of.

    its considered a Queens duty to give what she has to the have nots. Enjoy 🙂

  89. i will vouch for the fact that education in the middle east is based purely on memorization. I had 5 children go through that system and in all those years they NEVER ever brought home a paper with the words…in your own words what do you think …etc etc. In your opinon what do you think…etc etc

    They were not asked to do book reports, they brought no books home to read for pleasure because several of the schools had dismal libraries at best and never had a library visit for the classroom as we did when I was in elementary school. Reading for pleasure was NEVER encouraged in any way shape or form. Call me a generalizer on that one if you wish but I stand by that statement. To this day I struggle to get my children to discover the joys of reading. Hard job indeed.

    My kids can memorize whole books if needed. They impress me to no end with that particular feat…but ask them what they got out of it and they stumble and give that blank look someone mentioned.

    I was just in my youngest sons class the other day discussing with his teacher this very thing. Apparently they have been going over short stories and pointing out the thesis or main point of the story etc and my son just sits there and zones out. The teacher will ask him, Jibreel, what do you think about the main characters actions when he did so and so or such and such? My kid has no answer cause he doesnt know how to answer that sort of question. Once I explained this fault of his she arranged special tuturing times to bring him up to speed on such issues. He seems so much happier now that someone recognized he wasnt just screwing around and being rebellious and not doing his work.

    American education can suck at times…but it is hands down with two feet added better than anything bahrian, and apparently saudi, has to offer.

  90. ak
    what school do you teach at? ?you have got to be kidding me. a saudi does not become a pilot just on memorization skills. a flight dispatcher does not work on memorization alone. doctors, anesthesiolgy this is just some of the careers that saudis have. and in my opinion, i would love to have a great memory.

  91. Ahem, not only do I own 5 tiaras, I also have a coffer full of jewelry, and my noble Arabian steed has diamonds on his bridle!!!

    I think coffee mugs are derangé, I only drink from the thinnest of egg-shell-porcelain, merci beaucoup!

    Fi donc, Moq’s comments are le dernier crí,
    En verité, I will take his and Sandy’s appraisal of the schoolsystems any time.
    Je suis boulaversé chaque fois when i read how people keep banging their head against an array of facts and historical documents just because it doesn’t fit their ”preffered version” of history!
    Quelle blamage!

  92. Coolred’s post about her children is really worrying. It is as if they destroy a part of a child’s brain.
    I don’t know, and I hope not, if it is possible, but there are certain developments in a child’s brain which have certain windows, and then the mind is programmed.
    Like speech, cruelly neglected children, or feral children, who have not heard people speak, will never develop speech if they are not rescued before they are three years old. After that it is too late for speech. the children will never be able anymore to learn how to speak sentences and express themselves in words.

    It is sad to imagine millions of children given over to such a system! it doesn’t hold with everybody, a percentage is clearly able to snap out of it and start to really learn stuff. But I think the sustem is part of the conspiracy against the Saudi people; to keep them from independent thought and critical thinking, and imaginative thinking, and reaching logical conclusions.
    Such people are so easy to rule!
    No wonder Saudi women are all happy and compliant. They have lost the capabillity of the full use of their brains.

    And I see it in these discussion: Moq comes up with some very erudite comments, full of historical documentary proof, serious research and books, conclusions which are easily verifiable, and it is all rejected out of hand by the deficient brains because it does not compute with the programming they received.

  93. gia, I wonder what schools these Saudi pilots and anesthesiologists went to. Did they go to the Saudi public school or did they go to private schools?

  94. @Gia,

    “what school do you teach at? ?you have got to be kidding me. a saudi does not become a pilot just on memorization skills. a flight dispatcher does not work on memorization alone. doctors, anesthesiolgy”

    I know many Saudi medical students who come to the US to do their specialization and residency. On average each one of them spends 2 years in special intensive programs just to pass the qualifying exams in the US.

    We are not even talking about your average or below average students here. We are talking about the cream of the crop who went through years of Medical School in Saudi and studying in English. None of these students are stupid, it is their education system that failed them and wasted 2 precious years of their lives.

    Even college education in Saudi Arabia is lagging way behind the rest of the world even with all its resources.

    I know you are not a fan of studies, so this is a link for those interested in actually reading. The study ranks universities world wide. Only 2 Saudi Universities managed to crack the top 500 and none better than 300.

    Note many other studies showed similar low rank for Saudi.

  95. I am teaching ESL to elementery age children from the Gulf, and yes there is an amazing memorization ability, but when it comes to reading comprehension they draw a blank. Every day I work with them on reading and stop to ask questions about the story for both understanding and their opinion. I’m doing my darndest to plant the seeds of critical thinkeing, or at the very least pique their interest in learning. It’s tough.

  96. wow…so many comments and viewpoints where do I start to respond?

    First, I am the Pink Warrior Queen of this blog! (:

    Saudi education: I do agree that the -majority- of educational institutions in Saudi and for Saudi students use rote memorization. However there are a -minority- of institutions (and yes, mostly private) which follow UK or American standard education practices. I think it is also important to mention that when I worked at the King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences (KSAU-HS) a group of Saudi students established a book club where participants meet weekly to discuss chapters read and ask each other questions about concept, feelings, theme, etc. I was one of the few expats *invited *by the Saudi students to participate in their bookclub.

    Excellent points are raised by the difficulties many Saudi students experience either when applying to Universities abroad and the need to submit an essay or with writing term papers and thesis. I received many requests to help Saudis with their papers and refused most requests as help would translate into write the papers for them.

    Saudi history: Isn’t is the verbal stories which ultimately make their way in to the history books of today or yesteryear? I always enjoyed hearing my Grandfather talk about his Serbian lineage and history; I enjoyed my Dad talk about his experiences in World War II. They are my family. Would I doubt their stories?

    Although the discussion of history makes me recall a funny incident where my nephew was rewriting or rather “retelling” history. I had given him an old safe which had been left by the British in India during the days of the British Raj. My nephew, most familiar that my last place of residence had been Saudi Arabia was telling people that he got the safe from his Aunt and that it was from the time when the British ruled Saudi Arabia!

    Last of all, it is amazing the direction of discussions go from what started as an interview with a diverse group of questions.

  97. My father told us stories about ”Thundering Berend” a notorious pirate ancestor, and his exploits, and quite a few others.

    I never believed him.

  98. And Carol comes out and slams us with the trump card!! LOL

    I’d be very interested to see how your nephew’s children and grandchildren will retell the story of how his Great great great aunt helped throw the Brits out of Saudi Arabia 😉

  99. Indeed…some stories do tend to get embellished over the years! However some are pertinent pieces of history whether it be family history, local/regional history or a part of world history.

  100. For sure, it’s just that sometimes it’s difficult to know which were facts and which were embellishments, eh? That’s why it’s good to be able to look at official documents, old news clippings, letters, mementos etc. It’s great when you can find those things to support your ‘verbal’ histories. You know, like the actual keys to that castle that my mom passed down to me. 😉

  101. Now, while I loved to hear my grandparents tell me their stories, I wouldn’t dream of believing every one as gospel. I know for a fact that a couple are really wrong.
    I never take anything for granted until I have checked and re-checked. As my father taught me to do.

  102. but does that not to an extent seem like being taught to doubt parents and their words?

  103. My grandad loved to tell us the same stories over and over again. Depending on how much alcohol he had consumed before or during the telling would influence the never predictable ending.

    Sometimes he survived his adventures…and funnyily enoug…sometimes he didn’t…according to him. 🙂

  104. Gia: I have taught in several international schools, as well as tutored many students in my home. In reality, just how many Saudi doctors are there? Very few, compared to expatriate doctors. The Saudi doctors I know studied abroad and returned to the Kingdom. Great memorization skills are helpful in any course of study, Gia, but they play a small role compared to critical thinking, especially in higher education. Most Saudi students never take an exam requiring essay type answers until they reach college, and then they are lost. I have read many “essays” produced by college students, and they are almost always unreadable – lack organization, punctuation, and logic. I am not saying that Saudi kids are stupid – far from it – but they are NOT taught proper thinking and writing skills in the lower grades. Most haven’t read novels, plays, or poems. Until very recently, none were taught literary analysis. I’ve met many Saudi students who have never studied world history – never heard about World War I or II, for example. I have tutored kids who left the Saudi system and entered American or British schools here. They struggle for quite some time, and need a lot of extra help to catch up…some never do. The ones who persevere are my heros and heroines.

  105. ‘ I’ve met many Saudi students who have never studied world history – never heard about World War I or II’

    OMG, Seriously? Wow!

  106. @AK,

    Excellent comment. It is very sad.

    “I’ve met many Saudi students who have never studied world history – never heard about World War I or II”
    I have met many Saudis that did not have a clue about the 2 wars either. They did not even know their own country was formed as a result the fall of the Ottoman in WWI. Also, most Saudi student think the Renaissance is a hotel. The never heard of Aristotle, Galileo, Humarabi, etc.

    In addition to the issues you presented. The Saudi curriculum lacks in many subjects such as:

    – Music
    – Philosophy
    – Logic
    – Evolution: I actually know college graduates in the field of Biology who did not know the unifying theory of their field. They just heard it was a bad thing.
    – Ethics
    – Art although drawing is taught at a superficial level, but art history or any performing arts are not taught
    – Speech: most Saudi student cannot even communicate well to a group as this field is completely ignored.

    Gia, I know you are upset with the quality of your child’s school. However, if you are in Saudi, you would be extremely angry with how much the education system is neglected and controlled by extremely conservative clergy.

    Perhaps you should also consider moving to a different school district. Where I live we have an excellent school system, but of you drive 10 miles south of where I live school’s quality drops down noticeably.

  107. @Lynn, It is true and extremely sad…

    Watch this video..

    It has subtitles.

  108. eh, I don’t know that I would consider that video proof of anything though. You know how many videos I have seen of Stupid Americans? LOL

  109. Not proof, just funny.

    The proof is the Saudi unified system grade 1-12 history books do not cover world history at all. If it was not Islamic history, you just won’t find it within the pages.

  110. Curriculum is changing in Saudi- so I’m not sure the current state of history- but until about 3 years ago- history basically cycled through Saudi History, Arab HIstory, Islamic History. And that was pretty much it.

    Also, until about 3 years ago- Saudi students were not allowed to attend international schools without ministry approval. So even if you wanted to choose a better school, and your child was accepted into a better school you could not attend. Private Saudi schools- while some are an improvement over the public ones- still followed the exact curriculum as the public schools, but facilities were nicer and there might be more supplemental activities, for example sports for girls- afterschool programs, karate etc. But the core curriculum which was in large part Wahabi religious indoctrination was the same.

    Things did start changing about 3 years ago. King Abdullah allows Saudi’s to attend whatever school they can be accepted into- Saudi private schools have a lot more flexibility in what they offer. Some are CITA certified or in the process of certification- some offer IB programs etc. It is a definate improvement. Even in the Public schools there have been some significant changes- all the religious subjects have been streamlined a bit.

    However, they really need better teachers to pull this off. No matter how good a curriculum, a poor teacher can ruin it. Just like even with a poor curriculum, an excellent teacher can make it work. They are in dire need of excellent teachers.

  111. @Ladies,
    In my family I am known as “The Boss of the WHOLE Thing”. So I think that settles it.

    My mom told me her parents both claimed to be descended from royalty (Irish and Italian) she didn’t believe either. However, when my husband went on a business trip to Ireland- he mentioned my Irish heritage and the family name and THEY told him I was royal. He was more impressed with that than when I had mentioned it. So I”m thinking that the Italian thing must be true as well- and probably from all my other ethnicities as well. How else could you explain me??

  112. I just watched the video- and actually I feel sorry for the guy. Not his fault he had such a dismal education. The Gulf Wars- in some circles have been refered to as “World Wars” because of the “coalition forces” but of course they were never named that. It could be the source of the confusion.

  113. M0Q said “Regarding answering Gia, I have a policy of not answering any personal question online. ”

    Funny coming from someone who was interviewed by Bedu. Lol. We all came to know (and I was told that too) he is an apostate atheist from Saudi from discussions in this blog.

  114. I am quite fond of homeschooling myself. I find that one can live many places and still get a good education through homeschooling. I think the main thing is that children are taught how to read, write, and do basic math along with the value of learning and critical thinking. From these, I think a person can learn pretty much anything on his/her own, and if s/he needs help, then find someone who knows more on the subject. Learning is a pretty simple concept, actually.

    As I was taught, the main reason to go to college/university is to “check the block”, meaning a higher level degree typically results in a higher salary. (There are exceptions to every rule, though.)

    I can respect one’s wanting to remain anonymous online, so I can’t fault MoQ for that.

  115. Carol, my father told me to listen to all people, but never take anything for granted, but to check for myself and to make my own decisions.
    That goes from teachers, to old relatives, to religious scholars, to politicians. There are a lot of reasons why people give you wrong information, from being ignorant to muddled to having their own agenda.
    A religious person might want you to join their group, a writer might be paid to depict a certain biased view.
    A PR-person is definitely paid to make their pay masters look good.

    Moq, I didn’t like the video, I felt really sorry for the guy. On the other hand, it said at the end he walked away with a lot of money so he was probably quite happy in the end.

    Strnage One I think home schooling is very unhealthy for the development of children. I also do not believe that parents are educated enough to teach children. Teachers study or years just to be able to teach. And suddenly parents are capable of teaching a whole curriculum?
    Such over estimation of ones abillities is typical for people with very little knowledge who do not know what they are talking about.
    I cannot understand it is allowed at all.
    The only exception where homeschooling would be appropriate is a country where schooling is as dismal as in KSA. And even then it would only be the best of two bad choices.

  116. Aafke,
    I have experienced both public (government/free) school and homeschooling. I was given the option of homeschooling because I wasn’t learning anything in public school and was bored out of my mind. I wasn’t allowed to study anything other than what the teachers were teaching, so I basically had to sit there and stare at a wall for over half of each class. Wish I had been more familiar with the idea of meditation then because I might have gotten something out of attending class! My brother had already figured out how to skip class (and go to the library to learn on his own) by the age of 8.

    Through homeschooling, I had to learn how to do things like buy groceries on a budget, clean up after myself, and get along with others (even those I didn’t typically get along well with). I had other social outlets, so that wasn’t a big deal. I was also able to focus on learning what I was interested in (which at the time was dancing). Additionally, I would have ended up in about 4 different school districts before I went to college if I hadn’t been homeschooled. I did fine in university and graduated with honors for my bachelor’s. I have seen homeschooling work out well, work out poorly, and variations in between. It all depends on how it is carried out, as with any other learning environment.

    The problem I have with traditional schools are that children are no longer taught to learn on their own. They are not taught practical things. They are not taught to think for themselves, but rather to learn material (whether rote memorization or otherwise) a certain way. They are not allowed to spend more or less time on a subject as needed because they must work at the rate of the rest of the class. All “Academically Gifted” programs did while I was in public school was just give us more work on the same level. So basically, just more “busy” work.

    From what I have heard, the first few years of college in the US is basically a repeat of what people are taught in high school. So why go to high school at all if one can simply start off in college instead?

    It isn’t so much over-estimation of ones knowledge as it is believing that anyone can learn and/or do almost anything they set their mind to (generally speaking). Most people tend to over-complicate things and underestimate themselves.

    FYI: I grew up in a household where I was also taught at a very young age to “question everything, admit nothing, and make counter-accusations” (I forget who said the quote originally), and that I shouldn’t believe everything I hear.

  117. As for parents being educated enough to teach their children, the whole point of homeschooling is that children teach themselves. When they get stuck on something, they ask someone else. If their parents can’t help them, they contact someone else (a fellow homeschooling group member, family friend, etc.). In this, they are taught to use whatever learning method works best for them. They are also taught responsibility and to take initiative in their own education.

    Most people get tired of learning and being in school because they are forced into for so long so early on in their lives. Homeschooling can help a child become excited about learning again. I know I definitely needed the break from school before starting college.

    Homeschooled students typically do better in university when compared to their peers. How do you explain that?

    What makes you think that just because someone was able to graduate college, they are able to teach their subject well? Just because someone is knowledgeable in something doesn’t mean they can teach it well.

    Thankfully, the US government and many state governments give parents the right to homeschool their children. 🙂

  118. Strange one,
    I don’t know what American schools teach but in the Netherlands I was bored to death at school too, I spend the spare time practicing my drawing 😈 I drew whole herds of horses on tiny scraps of paper!

    Two years ago I designed and illustrated a project on Human Dynamics for a Dutch educational project.
    have you ever heard of it? I think you would find it interesting!
    What I liked about it is that it recognizes and adapts to the different way of thinking. I had to do a course in HD and I though it was very interesting and I believe they are spot on.
    It can be applied to many areas but I really think a student would do better and learn faster if their personal idiosyncrasies would be taken into account more.

  119. i am still against home schooling, it allows parents to non-educate their children too, especially if they are religious bigots.
    I am against faith schools too. School is for learning facts.
    And faith schools are to prone to switch facts for ancient misinformation written in archaic times.

  120. Aafke,
    I am not sure, but from what I could tell I think the UK does primary/elementary school better than the US. Although, I think that the US does taught university programs better than the UK (based on my experiences). I honestly have no idea how they compare to the Netherlands’ school system, either.

    I am about to sleep, but I will definitely look into the link in further detail later. Thanks! It looks very interesting! 🙂 I also agree with you about people being taught according to the way each person as an individual happens to learn best. I also think that Montessori schools are a good idea for children that need a more hands-on approach to learning.

  121. MoQ

    The clip you posted is for an Emirati guy, any Arab can tell this! And even this guy doesn’t represent Emairati education system but reading your commentd throughout the blog, one would suspect that you are the expert in Saudi issues, yet you can tell the difference between Emirati and Saudi in the way of dress. Typical FOX news-type of ignorance!!

  122. *can’t

  123. Just to be clarify, I’m not a big fan of the eduction system in Saudi . But just to point out the Fox-news kind of misleading comments!

  124. lol neither Iam fan of the way the North American edcuational system which produce 27 years old person who knew little about the world!
    Just to make my point clear, I can post this video

    and Say Americans don’t know much about anything!! but I am mature than that, as I met some intelligent cultured Americans.

    And I would like to Say what an intelligent positive Canadian woman Kathy is!

  125. Aafke,
    How can you say that homeschooling shouldn’t be allowed even if there is a minority it might be good for, and at the same time say that women should not have to wear abaya and cover their hair in KSA even if there is only a small percentage of women who are against covering? Both are forms of restricting freedoms, and both affect a significant portion of the population.

    I am not for religion in schools myself. Additionally, there tends to be more immoral things that occur at private religious schools and universities in the US than at secular ones, at least based on what I have heard from friends who have attended religious schools. However, if parents want to send their child(ren) to religious schools, that is their choice. I also realize that in some countries the majority of (if not all) schools teach religion. Overall, though, I think the most important thing is what the parents are teaching their children at home.

  126. ” On average each one of them spends 2 years in special intensive programs just to pass the qualifying exams in the US. ”

    I thnk this has more to do with their curriculum than anything else. But i agree they are top at memorization, but retain only small portions of the crammed stuff.
    They are no brighter or dumber than similar aged kids … but most students from asia( excluding china) and middle east all follow rote learning and excel at it. so it could be the learning culture. In our field we rarely ask them to produce original work so they skate thru fine 🙂

    They are however more nervous than the avg student especially in clinicals 🙂 a few yrs ago a student diagnosed a child with kidney disease because his mom complained of crying, lethargy and dry diapers 🙂 just because i was standing in the room , he impressed me with the amount of info he spouted chapters off his nephrology textbook– amazing , while the rest of his classmates were trying to get himto focus higher up – towards the childs ear and green snot running out of his nose , painful ear- no fluids- dehydrated- hence no urine 🙂

    he was a bright student and is a great doctor , was just a matter of teaching him to think on his own

  127. @Saud,

    Yes I can tell the man is from the UAE from the collar, but it is a joke not a position. Learn the difference and get a sense of humor.

    Your clip is funny by the way. I think the US does a terrible job in teaching Geography.

    Instead of Ad hominem arguments and associating Fox with free thinkers (something they will take offense to by the way), I think it is fairly easy to rebut my arguments against the Saudi education system. All you have to do is produce a link to a book about world history, philosophy, music, etc. from the Saudi curriculum (grade 1-12). Note my info is 5 years old, so I am really hoping they have changed some of the curriculum. It will be good news if they did.

    By the way I do not have a TV. So unless Fox News have figured out a new technology to beam their content directly to my head, I won’t be watching 🙂

  128. By the way Saud, I do not think Saudi’s are dumb. I think the Saudi government has done a great disservice to its citizens by focusing on extreme religious ideology and utter incompetence in developing a world class education system. Saudi could have accomplished that with its vast resources and generations of Saudis would have been better off for it. The sad truth is the Ministry of Education decision making process was not in the hands of competent educators, rather Wahabbi inspired caretakers.

  129. Aafke,
    I really enjoyed reading the link about the Human Dynamics. It reminds me some of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test. I agree with you that these types of things, along with learning modalities -tactile, kinesthetic, visual, audio (and sometimes others such as reading/writing)- should be incorporated into how the various schools design their curriculum. 🙂

    I also once had a math teacher who disliked science so much she’d use the science portion of the class period as additional math time so she wouldn’t have to teach science. I wish these types of things could be prevented.

  130. @ MoQ
    I really wasn’t t going for this discussion but I
    I am not a big fan of the education system backhome. But I don’t think the problem is with Islamic subjects and what you refer to as ” wahhabi” control and the conspiracy theory that government want to hold the people back! The problem with educational system is the Egyptian style we adopted in the 50s and still have it until now, curriculum was copied from the Jordanian and Egyptian with more Islamic studies.
    I went to Saudi “private” school most of the time and to governmental school from one term and then I was sent to a French Board school in an Arab country. King Abduallah invested so much in Education and other leaders in Saudi are giving it much attention. I like some schools in my city, Dammam, that blend International British curriculum with Arabic/Islamic/Saudi curriculum. I can see the reslutes when I go back home and talk to my nephews and nieces. I don’t want to see a 14 years old Saudi who knows English poetry and literature but don’t know anything about Arabic and Saudi literature, this what happens to kids who got sent to international schools! So, Yeah I agree we need a great deal of improvements with what god have given us, we can go places!

  131. @Saud,

    I agree to part of your analysis. Yes Saudi’s did copy from Egypt and Jordan. However, they brought in Egyptians who were anti Naser and Akhwan to modify the curriculum to be extremely conservative.

    Wahabbis had big influence on the subjects and reviewed all the books. This is why you had stupidity like the chickens/animals with the detached heads in first grade books. The Ministry of Education was under the control of the Al Shaikh family (the decedents of Abdul Wahab) for a long time. Women education was even worse as its head was a cleric not an educator until recently, when it was brought under the control of the Education ministry.

    I also agree that Arabic should be taught, but the emphasis has been on memorizing too much poetry not on comprehension and writing. Nothing wrong with poetry if it is studied right with emphasis on structure rather than memorization. Some modern poetry can also be added instead of only focusing on old forms.

    Religion is over emphasized. It is like they are trying to graduate Imams from high school. In my opinion religion should not be taught in school, but I understand that is unrealistic in Saudi. I would like to see Saudi reduce the number of religious topics and provide more time for other activities.

    So the biggest issue for Saudi education is really what is missing. Most important item is critical thinking emphasis. They should also add books that deal with world history/cultures, philosophy, Music, etc.

  132. Saudi literature?
    Is there Saudi literature? I mean apart from ”Girls of Riyad”.

  133. MoQ,

    Religion is the biggest part of the culture, yet I think the way they presented it in some grades is not the best. And should have more qualified Islamic teachers in schools.

    Regarding the ” world” history and cultures, I think is important to learn but not necessarily as requirement but as an optional subject but I think Islamic history modern Saudi history and Arab Armed and cultural struggle history against colonialism should be requirement subjects.
    I really would like to see more modernized schools that emphasize on Arabic as language and local cultures with the spirit of creativity.
    I think some private schools in Dammam metropolitan have a good teaching approach, they are a bit expansive but totally worth it.
    The idea of International schools, like the one I went to, has more negative impact on non-French ( or English if English International schools). I could strip the kid from his language and cultural which is sad. I think some Abu Dhabi’s locals have good ideas about how to benefit from the British educational system and at the same time maintain the local culture.

    @ Afake-Art

    Yes of course!!! But some are no translated into English but other languages. Some were not translated because the author didn’t have interest. In fact, Saudi poets are among the best in the gulf, I am talking about in gulf arabic dialect ( Kheleje) and they are some famous in formal Arabic.
    Ghazi Algosaibi was one of the famous Saudi poets in modern days, he died few months ago. He wrote in Formal Arabic ( Fusha ) and have some novels.
    It will take a book to write about modern Saudi literature, let alone ancient Saudi ( or Arabian as from Arabia) literature. Some of the Saudi is literature in nature, some more liberal ( since the beginning of history it’s been like this ). Arabic readers can explore this more

  134. Aafke-Art, on March 8, 2011 at 7:36 pm said:
    Saudi literature? Is there Saudi literature? I mean apart from ”Girls of Riyad”.

    Let’s not forget Koran and Hadees written some fourteen centuries ago. If there was a thing called Noble Prize then, both Allah and his Apostle Mohammed would have been the co-winners of the prize in classical literature :)-

  135. Correction:
    Some of the Saudi is literature in nature, some more liberal ( since the beginning of history it’s been like this )
    Some of the Saudi literature is conservative in nature, some more liberal ( since the beginning of history it’s been like this )

  136. @Saud and Moq,

    I read a book years ago titled: Nabati Poetry The Oral Poetry of Arabia by Saad Abdullah Sowayan. It is mostly in English, and actually taught me a lot about tribal culture.

  137. This is a really good Saudi writer, Abdelrahman Munif, he has written this really good book, City of Salt (and sequels) (and other books) which has gotten way to little attention in the West:
    Definitely a ”must-read”.

  138. @Kristine,

    Beduiness have amazing ability to manipulate verse in Arabic. Nabati poetry is a product of that skill. For me it is difficult to understand due to the unique style of verse and vocabulary, but I am sure Saud can add some thoughts on this.

    I like simple open verse poetry from contemporary poets like Nizar Qabbani and Mahmoud Darwish.

  139. Though not Saudi, but Egyptian, Naguib Mahfouz’s novels are Arabic literature- Nobel Prize winning-in fact. I’ve read several translated.

  140. Last year I followed through you tube videos Hissa hilal, a Saudi poetess who ended up third in a tv poetry contest. I had an Arabic friend translate the peoples a bit but it impossible to truly get the real impact in impromptu translation. But it was exciting because she protested against the clerics and their in human religious laws.
    Of course she got death threats for it but she did not back down!

  141. I am going to have to dig into my book archives for I have a wonderful book of *Saudi stories and poems*, some which were written in English and others translated from Arabic to English. This large thick book is one of the precious treasures I received from Abdullah.

    Playing devils advocate, I can see how it could be easy today to question how many world wars there have been or how it could be confusing.

    Abdullah and I always enjoyed watching the Arabic version of millionaire.

  142. Kathy Cuddihy
    I am Mo Hassan use to work with Sean. give my email to contact me

  143. […] move to Saudi Arabia in 1976.  “Bechtel transferred my husband Sean from San Francisco,” she told AmericanBedu blogger Carol Fleming. “He was part of the team building Riyadh’s international airport. I went on the condition […]

  144. Your articles are very interesting Kathy. I am travelling to work in Riyadh this August . I live in Ireland and would like tk buy one of your books. Are you here this summer?
    Best wishes

  145. Hi Anne. Yes. We live on Bantry Bay. Are you nearby? My email is I look forward to hearing from you and to answering any questions you might have.

  146. Hi again, Anne. I don’t know if you’re aware but my latest book is called Anywhere But Saudi Arabia. It’s a humorous memoir of my life in Saudi.

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