"In the West, there's a tendency to treat Saudi Arabia as a remote land, utterly removed from our lives. But it's not very far from us, nor are we as different as we might like to think. Saudi Arabia is a center of ideas and commerce, an important ally to the United States, the heartland of a major world religion. It is a highly industrialized, ultramodern home to expatriates from all over the world, including Americans who live in lush gated compounds with swimming pools, drink illegal glasses of bathtub gin and speak glowingly of the glorious desert and the famous hospitality of Saudis.
The rules are different here. The same U.S. government that heightened public outrage against the Taliban by decrying the mistreatment of Afghan women prizes the oil-slicked Saudi friendship and even offers wan praise for Saudi elections in which women are banned from voting. All U.S. fast-food franchises operating here, not just Starbucks, make women stand in separate lines. U.S.-owned hotels don't let women check in without a letter from a company vouching for her ability to pay; women checking into hotels alone have long been regarded as prostitutes."
So writes, Megan Stack, former LA Times Cairo Bureau chief, in reflecting on Saudi Arabia viewed from behind a veil she was required to wear when visiting the kingdom. She paints a picture of a country on one hand modern but on the other, certainly to Western eyes, backward in many respects. The position of women is clearly untenable - or so Westerners would claim. The take of the Saudis on the subject isn't nearly the same. Stack's piece provides a rarely provided insight into this not unimportant country in the Middle East as well as on the wider global scene.