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Tales from Tabuk

August 25, 2010

Bahrain’s English-language daily, the Gulf Daily News, ran a story last week about a judge in Tabuk, a town in the north-west of Saudi Arabia, who is looking for a hospital prepared to sever the spine of a man convicted of paralyzing his brother. The injured brother, apparently, is insisting on and eye-for-eye punishment being inflicted on his sibling, as opposed to blood money, which the Sharia also permits. The same story was covered on the BBC website.

Horrifying as the  Tabuk story appears, it’s worth noting that the Kingdom’s premier hospital, the King Faisal Specialist Hospital, has refused to contemplate such a procedure. Even if the judge in this case were to find a hospital prepared to do it – and I find it hard to believe that he would succeed – there would be many hurdles to cross before such a punishment was actually carried out. Saudi Arabia is not unaware of its image abroad, as I pointed in the previous post. It will not happen.

The other point to note is that, in common with the Lebanon, Saudi Arabia is not a monolithic state in which opinion is universally suppressed, and everybody thinks the same way.  As I mentioned in an article about last year’s Jeddah floods, in the past few years the Saudi media has opened up considerably, and there’s plenty of opinion, particularly on the internet, about the story.

Saudi Arabia is home to many different cultures, from the Shi’ite community in the East, to the relatively cosmopoloitan people of the Hejaz in the West and back to the cultural island in Dhahran that is Aramco. While Riyadh, at the heart of the country, is staunchly conservative, many of the towns and villages in country’s heartland are even more so.

But Saudi Arabia is changing, even if the pace of the change is not to everybody’s liking and not uniform throughout the country.

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