Maureen Dowd, the red headed vixen of the NYTimes editorial page, gushes effusively on attending an art show in the Saudi kingdom:

It was an unlikely moment, SoHo comes to Saudi Arabia — the first mixed exhibition anyone can remember in Riyadh, the stultifying capital of a country that bans any exhibition of skin, fun or romance.

But the most astonishing part was that the Islamic purity enforcers failed to show up at Art Pure.

Well duh, Ms. Dowd, it might ruin their Mainstream media propaganda machine to have the sharp tongued vixen of the Times in the slammer.

It is true that the “religious police” have backed down on confrontations after that huge scandal in 2002 when

Saudi Arabia’s religious police stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, according to Saudi newspapers.

But you are missing the real story, because Ms. Dowd was talking to a rather limited audience: “the priveleged educated set”.

One wonders what the average Saudi thinks. Did you talk to any, Ms. Dowd?

But as one whose Filipino relatives actually lived and worked there, could I suggest she is missing another story?

There is an invisible “man” in the story.

Did Ms. Dowd notice who is running the art gallery, serving the refreshments, cleaning it’s floors, being a nanny to the kids of the women she is talking with, cooking their meals, designing their shops, constructing their houses, running the beauty salons, and driving them back and forth?

The dirty little secret is that twenty percent of the Saudi population are “overseas foreign workers”, who do most of the hard work. They come from Indonesia, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, India, Pakistan, Bengladesh, the Philippines, and many other poor countries on “temporary visas”, mostly because they are poor and need the money. They rarely complain about the problems they face, because they need their jobs.

Millions of large extended families in these countries depend on the money sent back by their workers for school fees, medical bills, to get decent housing, and in poorer areas, to provide money for basic necessities.

And almost a million of them are Filipinos.

Ms Dowd is a Catholic. One wonders: it is Lent. Did she attend Mass on Sunday? And if so, where did she attend? Because the dirty little secret is that the one million foreign workers in Saudi Arabia who are Filipino, Keralan, African, Lebanese Catholics are not allowed to have a church in that country.

So to attend Mass, one either has to find a quiet Mass held in a private house, or to fly to Dubai or one of the other Gulf states, where non Muslims are allowed to have churches.

Did you notice the man who is driving their car? Chances are he is not a Saudi, but an overseas worker, maybe even a Filipino.  Talk to him and you will find a real story that few in the west bother to cover.

Heck, if you are a really good sleuth, you might visit an illegal prayer meeting, and really have to worry about the religious police raiding them. And, unlike the elites, who would of course be able to get freed with the influence of their fathers/uncles or others, these workers risk deportation and loss of their jobs for attending the meetings.

Of course, you might not want to dirty your hands by admitting you are a Catholic and bringing a Christian issue out in the open, maybe you might simply want to go to an ordinary party of the non elite where (horror) unmarried people mingle with the opposite sex, and risk arrest and deportation for just talking.

Or maybe if you are still a feminist, you might want to publicize the raid on a safe house for abused women workers,  where 14 of the staff were arrested for helping these women “evade their contracts”.

Well, if you don’t want to attend a “Couples for Christ” prayer meeting or discuss the physical and sexual abuse of workers, I’m sure the Filipino gay community in Saudi would have some nice stories to tell to you.

Of course, being caught and arrested at a gay cross dressing party is even more dangerous than attending church:

Some of the men may also be charged with “displaying homosexuality”, though none is accused of homosexual acts, an offense which carries much heavier penalties in Saudi Arabia.

The men were released pending formal charges. They face sentences of up to six months imprisonment and 60 lashes.

Ah, darling, that dress is adorable. But is it worth 60 lashes?


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs about human rights at Makaipablog.

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