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Celebrations Shake Saudi Capital

[Image from unknown archive] [Image from unknown archive]

Tonight, We Are All Egyptian.

For the first time in decades, Arabs the world over will unite in celebration, not in protest against this imperial war or the next. We will dwell in victory, not in the shadows of yesteryear’s defeats. We will pontificate the future and its many possibilities, not arguments against the mere idea of “what went wrong.” For some time to come, we will see Egyptians for the heroes that they are, and ignore that their laborers will continue to inhabit the lowest scales of human hierarchy in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Lebanon. Tonight, we will forget all our differences and prejudices, and rejoice publicly to show the world that, “Yes (even) Arabs Can.” We will march and chant and dance, unless, of course, we live in Saudi Arabia.

In the Saudi capital, sounds of sirens echo through empty streets that would otherwise be riddled with young men in their flashy cars on their regular Friday night cruising. Enthused by Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, I imagined the noise outside was of police cars attempting to control the crowds of young Saudis who have finally taken to the streets, albeit in their cars, in solidarity with their sisters in Egypt. I anticipated Egyptian and Saudi flags flying side by side, at least on Riyadh’s Tahlia Street. I grinned at the possibility of having a few other women sharing in this imaginary public display of victory and hope. But I left my house without taking my camera, knowing all too well that tonight, my friend and I would be the only two in the city looking for what everyone seems to agree would amount to…trouble.

Things were not this gloomy 24 hours ago. As friends and I huddled in front of the television last night, we made bets on how Mubarak would resign and which country would/should take him in (Israel was high up on our lists). Many of us agreed to drive down to Tahlia Street after Mubarak’s much anticipated resignation speech. We emailed and text messaged everyone we knew, and many people agreed to follow suit. That is, until news of the alleged heated up phone conversation between Saudi King Abdullah and Barack Obama started to circulate immediately after Mubarak’s defiant late night speech. Rumors of how the King supposedly challenged the American president and vowed to support the now-deposed Egyptian dictator in the event that the US withdrew its financial aid paralyzed many of us here. Some rumors even went as far as claiming that Abdullah had a heart attack after the phone call and passed away, temporarily increasing the price of oil by one dollar per barrel. The message, regardless of the credibility of sources, was loud and clear: The Saudi government was adamantly against the toppling of the Mubarak regime, and hence, so were its people.

So tonight, we drove for two hours because stopping would affirm our disappointment and sense of defeat despite this great and very real victory. No, not all Arabs are rejoicing on the streets. In Saudi Arabia, most celebrated in the comfort of their homes, where they would not get in “trouble.” So we did the same and went to a friend’s house party instead. Um Kulthum’s “Lil Sabr Hdud” (Patience has its limits) was blaring from huge speakers. Women and men were dancing, hugging, smiling. Many were still crying tears of relief, of disbelief. Some were even tapping their forefinger at the bend of their elbows, like heroin junkies, to show that Arabs still have a pulse, that yes, despite it all, we are still alive. That despite it all, we crave more of the victories that the Egyptians and Tunisians have reminded us we are capable of. And yet, despite it all, I returned home alone with an overwhelming sense of defeat, hoping that some live footage of Arabs celebrating outside of Saudi Arabia would cheer me up, remind me how momentous this night is. And sure enough, it did, and I started shedding tears of joy again. Until my partner in crime called me, relaying what an aide to the Saudi King had just asked him in surprise: “Really? You still have hope that anything will change here?”

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1 comment for "Celebrations Shake Saudi Capital "


When I get to visit Dammam, KSA, Inshallah, I would like to first go and meet the Imam of my mosque, who happens to be an Egyptian and congratulate him for the recent overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt.

Being an Indian, I am usually hesitant to talk to people of Arab nationalities(especially if they can't speak English).

But in this case , I remember striking up a conversation with this wonderful person(who happened to be fluent in English as well which is a rarity for a typical Saudi-mosque-Imam)

You must be familiar with the famous Saudi Scholar Shaykh Aassim Al-Hakim from Jeddah.

The imam of my mosque looks exactly like him. So in my excitement, I mistook the Imam in my mosque for Shaykh Aassim and went straight up to him and asked him outside the mosque, "Are you Shaykh Aassim Al-Hakeem?". He greeted me with a genuine smile, and politely asked for clarification. I told him that he looked exactly like that Shaykh and even showed a youtube video from my mobile which had the Sh. Assim's lecture video.

He was pleasantly surprised and responded, "Never mind. Now we can get to know each other and meet in this mosque." Sadly I never got to talk to him again for one month and then I left Saudi.

The recent events in Egypt brought to my mind this particular interaction with my Imam and I definitely would visit him once I get back to KSA.Inshallah.

Mazin wrote on February 16, 2011 at 12:44 PM

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