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Today's quote:

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Kingdom


I remember sitting by the poolside in some five-star hotel in Bahrain in early 1982 and reading this book while I was waiting for my Saudi Arabian entry visa. Several drinks and several laps in the pool and a few hundred pages into the book later I came to the part where it said that it was banned in the Kingdom.

Left behind in the hotel's wastepaper basket in Bahrain in 1982, many years later in Australia I bought another copy of this classic about a country full of mystery and contradictions. Robert Lacey wrote his book in 1981, just months before I arrived there, which makes it a perfect aide-memoire of my own life in the world's largest sand-box.



The Kingdom not only banned this and many other books but several hundreds, perhaps thousands, of consumer goods such as Ford cars, Xerox machines, Alka Seltzer, and - much to an Aussie friend's dismay who had a lifelong addiction to it and spent many years in Saudi - Coca-Cola, because those companies had investments in Israel (before leaving Jeddah on a business trip, I once suggested to book my return trip via Tel Aviv which would've automatically cancelled my Saudi visa).


Arab maps of the Middle East do not show Israel


During my years in Jeddah plans were discussed to tow kilometre-long icebergs, covered with insulating blankets, from the South Pole to the Red Sea as a source of fresh water, and yet video-taped imports of the Muppet Show were confiscated on the grounds that its heroine is a pig.

And while corporal punishment is banned in schools, public beheadings are carried out regularly which neatly brings me to the movie "Death of a Princess" which I described here. There's a rumour that Princess Misha'il had a stand-in - or should that be a 'kneel-in'? - and that she's slowly growing old in a windowless room of the royal palace in Riyadh like some latter-day female version of the "Man in the Iron Mask".

Will we ever find out? "Insha Allah." If God wills so.