Saudi Arabia: America’s Tyrannical Friend

I’ve got to wonder what the Bush Administration will say about this:

A 37-year-old American businesswoman and married mother of three is seeking justice after she was thrown in jail by Saudi Arabia’s religious police for sitting with a male colleague at a Starbucks coffee shop in Riyadh.

Yara, who does not want her last name published for fear of retribution, was bruised and crying when she was freed from a day in prison after she was strip-searched, threatened and forced to sign false confessions by the Kingdom’s “Mutaween” police.

Her crime ? Sitting in a Starbucks:

Her ordeal began with a routine visit to the new Riyadh offices of her finance company, where she is a managing partner.

The electricity temporarily cut out, so Yara and her colleagues — who are all men — went to a nearby Starbucks to use its wireless internet.

She sat in a curtained booth with her business partner in the café’s “family” area, the only seats where men and women are allowed to mix.


“Some men came up to us with very long beards and white dresses. They asked ‘Why are you here together?’. I explained about the power being out in our office. They got very angry and told me what I was doing was a great sin,” recalled Yara, who wears an abaya and headscarf, like most Saudi women.

The men were from Saudi Arabia’s Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a police force of several thousand men charged with enforcing dress codes, sex segregation and the observance of prayers.


They took me into a filthy bathroom, full of water and dirt. They made me take off my clothes and squat and they threw my clothes in this slush and made me put them back on,” she said. Eventually she was taken before a judge.

“He said ‘You are sinful and you are going to burn in hell’. I told him I was sorry. I was very submissive. I had given up. I felt hopeless,” she said.

Because she’s an American citizen, Yara is likely to escape the fate of other Saudi women who get caught in this trap, but her story brings home just how bad things are when you’re ruled by our “friends” the Saudis.

  • Bob Weber

    This is a good litmus test for hard-core libertarians vs. others. The short answer for the hard-core is: This ain’t any business of the Feds.

    The long answer would be something like: It ain’t any business of the Feds. If companies doing business in Saudi Arabia wish to object, they should complain to the Saudi government and tell them to rein in their yahoos, or else business is moving elsewhere, like Dubai. Oh yes, bring U.S. troops home from everywhere around the world.

    The implied answer for others would be: We must make war on these people to bring them out of their darkness!

  • UCrawford


    The Saudi government is clearly wrong here, but I’m also going to take this opportunity to point out that this incident isn’t entirely reflective of the Saudi government or society as a whole. The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is run by the Saudi Interior Ministry, run by Prince Nayif. He’s King Abdullah’s half-brother and the two have been at each others’ throats for years, which got worse once King Fahd became incapacitated in 1996 with no clear plan of succession in place (which led to a decade-long power struggle until Fahd eventually died and left Abdullah in charge). Nayif is a fundamentalist, Abdullah is more Western leaning…often Nayif does this kind of stuff because it undercuts Abdullah’s intentions to reform and Westernize (which Abdullah has, to his credit, been doing). And Nayif has less of a voice with the Saudi population than Abdullah does which may be why he takes pains to stretch the limit of his policing authority to appeal to the more radical elements of Saudi society by committing outrageous acts like this.

    I agree that an entangling alliance with Saudi Arabia is certainly not in our interests, and that we’ve crossed into that repeatedly in the past, but the Saudi government isn’t necessarily evil at this point they’re just in a major state of transition (as is Saudi society at large) and it’s probably a bit simplistic to denounce them as the epitome of all that’s wrong with the Middle East and say it’s wrong to work with them. Engagement is the best way to bring the Saudis around to accepting individual rights and bridge the gap between East and West, not demonization.

  • Doug Mataconis


    The Government of the United States has an obligation to protect it’s citizens living abroad from treatment like this.

  • UCrawford

    And I agree with Bob’s point…it should be left to the companies’ discretion as to whether they want to engage in business with the Saudis or not. Saudi Arabia is heavily dependent on foreign labor to keep their oil sector and economy functional…they’re likely to have a lot more pull with the government than our government is so that’s where reform is most likely to start from, not from the opinions of George W. Bush.

  • UCrawford


    Agreed, to a point, but I still think the foreign companies’ discretion as to whether to stay there is a lot more important to trigger reform. If the Saudis were still holding her prisoner, though, I’d say the U.S. government should certainly step in and try to free her.

  • James Sampson

    If you are ignorant enough to be a woman working in an Arab country…you better accept that you are NOT equal.

  • UCrawford


    It’s not ignorant for them to be working in an Arab country…it’s something of an assumed risk for a gi-normous-sized paycheck. What the Saudis did was still wrong, though, at least from an individual freedom perspective.

  • Brad Warbiany


    What is that, the “she was asking for it!” defense?

  • UCrawford


    I don’t think that’s what he was saying, but I think he was saying that if you choose to work in Saudi Arabia you should do so with the knowledge that they’re not a country that’s a great embracer of individual rights…particularly for women…which is a valid point, even if the Saudi government is backwards and fucked-up for being that way. Honestly, I can’t imagine anyone who’s spent any amount of time there hasn’t figured this out.