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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Saudis try to increase tourism - with polygamy

The New York Times wrote a glowing article about how much fun it is for adventurous people to visit Saudi Arabia:
As part of a group of reforms, the kingdom is trying to develop the country as a tourist destination, first for domestic travelers and later for international ones. Westerners are starting to visit the country on small group tours, a process that has become easier with loosened visa rules.

The country’s starkly different customs are part of the appeal for visitors — some even claim to see advantages in wearing the abaya, the formless black robe that women must wear in public. So are its intact culture, historical sites and unexpected diversity of climate and topography.

...It is a closed country, but a wealthy one, with a mix of modern buildings and ancient architecture. Although non-Muslims cannot see Mecca and Medina (and those with Israeli stamps on their passports cannot enter the country at all), most can visit the old souks of cities like Jidda, which is well-preserved.

...But the biggest draw of Saudi Arabia may be the closed nature of the country itself. The tour operators interviewed for this article said that the majority of clients who went on their Saudi tours were exceptionally well traveled, many having visited 100 countries. Saudi Arabia at this point is a place Western tourists go when they’re looking for something totally different, a culture little touched by the Western world.

The country’s leaders are interested in encouraging the Saudis themselves to move around in their country, believing that the growth of a domestic tourism industry would actually solidify their culture. Families would have more options for traveling together and could see the diversity of their country, which Prince Sultan bin Salman thinks would make them recognize their national unity as “nothing less than a miracle.”
The Saudi desire for increasing internal tourism was discussed in a public meeting ten days before this article was published, so it seems unlikely that the NYT reporter was unaware of one specific proposal raised on how this could be accomplished: by encouraging men to marry multiple wives and keep them far away from each other.

From Youssef Ibrahim:
Here’s an official plan submitted to invigorate tourism in Saudi Arabia: Marry four women, domicile them in corners of the kingdom, travel to visit each during the year, and — boom — you’ve stimulated airline business, hotel occupancy, and car rentals. This was submitted by none less than Hassan Alomair, director of self-development in Saudi Arabia, at a Jeddah conference for the development of internal tourism.

The project combines piety with efficacy by uniting Sharia’s entitlements to multiple wives with economic stimulus, Mr. Alomair argued. Sharing the dais was the female dean of the school of literature at King Faisal University, Dr. Feryal al-Hajeri, who remained silent as he prescribed his harem-induced economic scheming.

Not so with the readers and bloggers on the Saudi daily Al Watan’s website, which lit up on February 12 with commentary. “Why not make it four cows? He can fly around to milk them,” one said. “If that is the mentality of our director of self-development,” another asked, ”how are the others in that department?” There was plenty of accord with Mr. Alomair too. Some saw his idea as a “pillar” for building a true Islamic society, a “refuge” for unmarried Saudi women, and a “cure” for a widening spinster phenomena.
(The entire article is worth reading.)

But the NYT tries to spin the ancient misogynist culture as just part of the fun:
FOR the time being, the experience of visiting Saudi Arabia includes conforming to its norms. No alcohol, pornography or proselytizing materials can be taken into the country. A woman under 30 cannot enter the country without a husband or brother. Women cannot walk about unaccompanied, and they must keep their bodies covered with abayas.

And the Saudis aren’t kidding about it. On a tour she led in 2006, Ms. Zawaideh said, she noticed some Europeans walking around with their husbands, probably business travelers, without abayas or head scarves, and she warned them that the husbands could be arrested for this offense. The women brushed her off, she said, and within an hour, she noticed security people talking with the couples, then taking the men away.

Ms. Zawaideh says that she has no such problem with her clients. Two women wore the abaya all the way to New York, and some found it had the advantages of helping them fit in and protecting against blowing sand.

Joyce Jolley, 76, a retired dental hygienist from Seattle, bought the most severe kind to take home, including a head covering with only an eye-slit opening and a sheer black veil to cover that — more than what Saudi women are required to wear. “It was kind of an adventure,” she said.