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I had visited Saudi Arabia twice before, and knew it was the hardest place on earth for a woman to negotiate.
Under a glowing Arab moon on a hot winter night, Abdullah was showing off the jewels of his city—charming green, blue, and brown houses built on the Red Sea more than a hundred years ago.The news cut to the very character of the Saudi state.Back in 1744, the oasis-dwelling al-Saud clan had made a pact with Mohammad bin Abdul Wahhab, founder of the Wahhabi sect, which took an especially strict approach to religious observance. Just the vacation spot for a headstrong, adventure-loving, cocktail-imbibing, fashion-conscious chick.Long averse to non-Muslim curiosity seekers, the Kingdom is now flirting with tourism, though drinking is forbidden and women can’t drive—or do much of anything—without a man.It was a smile I would grow all too accustomed to from Saudi men in the coming days.
It translated into “No f---ing way, lady.”“Women are not allowed to go into cemeteries,” he told me.
He wanted to encourage more outside contact and to project an image other than one of religious austerity (with bursts of terrorism).
The Saudis had already cracked open the door slightly for some degree of cultural tourism.
Millions of Muslims flock to Mecca and Medina annually. Saudi Arabia has long kept not just its women but its very self behind a veil.
Robert Lacey, the Jidda-based author of explains that only when revenues from the hajj pilgrims fell drastically, during the Depression, did the Saudis allow infidel American engineers to enter the country and start exploring for oil.
,” I asked.“Women can be buried there,” he conceded, “but you are not allowed to go in and look into it.”So I can only see a dead woman if I’m a dead woman? It’s the most bewitching, bewildering, beheading vacation spot you’ll never vacation in.