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The girls of Riyadh July 19, 2007

Posted by Aella in Al Khobar, Beirut, Culture, Pictures, Quotes, Saudi Arabia, Saudi culture.



Rajaa Alsanea

Found this article in the Times Online. I still haven’t read the book but I sure would like to get my hands on it (where can I get it?). I know some Saudis might not agree but I believe she is a pride to her country. Saudi Arabia need more girls and women like her to stand up and be counted. Not sure all the facts are right in the article though.

By Lesley Thomas

“Saudi Arabia has a new minister for women. She’s 25, likes designer labels, lipstick and cars. Rajaa Alsanea is, of course, not in government, for in her country it’s not really the done thing for females to air their opinions. They are not allowed to drive, let alone have employment or voting rights.

Alsanea, however, has captured a vast constituency. She is a bestselling author, the only chick-lit one from the Arab world, and as such she has become a sort of spokeswoman for 21st-century Saudi women. Her book, Girls of Riyadh, about to be published in Britain by Fig Tree, tells the stories of four middle-class young women searching for love and just a little bit of fun in a suffocating culture.

It’s hardly Jilly Cooper – the references to sex are coy with lots of talk of yearning and disappointment – but with tales of the girls drinking (very small sips of Dom Pérignon) and – gasp – sitting in the driver’s seat of a car, it caused a scandal. This is a country, remember, where a woman might be stoned for kissing a man in public.

Alsanea has received death threats by e-mail and many tried to suppress her book. At one point, black market versions of this Arabic version of Sex and the City changed hands for £300.

“I didn’t think about breaking any taboos or being a rebel. I wanted to describe how people find ways to get around some of the traditions. Young women I know want to be modern, hip, stylish and fall in love, the same as women everywhere. I was never trying to cause a scandal,” she tells me over tea at the Dorchester hotel in London.

Alsanea is modestly and fashionably turned out in expensive, loosely cut jeans, a white fitted jacket and a coordinating white, silken hijab. There are a couple of lightly Wagish touches – a diamond watch with a pink strap, a Gucci bag and a French manicure – but she is a class act.

In an American accent she speaks softly, in perfect English with impeccable sentences: “I started writing when I was 18 and I knew I wanted to be a published author. I have been blessed with a very supportive family and we were encouraged to express ourselves.” Her father, who worked for the information ministry in Kuwait, died when she was eight and Alsanea and her five older siblings were raised by her mother in Riyadh: “As I got older, I wanted to write something I would enjoy reading. I just wrote about what I saw around me – what the girls I knew were like.”

After her book was eventually published in 2005, young women began to see Alsanea as their mouthpiece: “At one point I was getting 1,000 e-mails a day. Women who were divorced, women who were married in an arranged way and didn’t like their husbands; those who were struggling with their families were reaching out. Girls came up and hugged me and wanted to take pictures with me. All of a sudden I felt it was my duty to take care of these people.

“I knew that no one had really written about modern life in Saudi but – perhaps because I was young – I didn’t think it would be sensational.”

It’s hard to imagine this smart and beautiful girl ever being naive. Last year she was voted the Arab world’s premier intellectual by Elaph, the online magazine. All her siblings are either physicians or dentists and she is a graduate student in dentistry, arguing that there is no money in being a Saudi writer (I suspect she is an exception to this rule). She was savvy enough not to send her manuscript to the Saudi information ministry, where all books must be vetted before publication. Instead, she got her brother to take it to publishers in more liberal Lebanon.

When she didn’t hear from them immediately, she boldly sent her book to her favourite writer, the poet Ghazi al-Gosaibi, a former UK ambassador and now a Saudi government minister: “He is an idol of mine and when he called me to say he liked the book I was, like: call me back in five minutes. I need to freak out.” It was his endorsement that prompted the buzz across the Middle East and the book deal. And it was only then that she let her family read her work.

“My brother was worried for me.

He asked whether I really wanted to publish it under my own name. He thought it might affect my chances of marriage, that there would be men who wouldn’t want to marry me.” She raises an eyebrow – precisely threaded to Hurleyish perfection – and shrugs: “I just thought, hey, I wouldn’t want to marry them, either. It’s a good way of weeding some out.”

Alsanea is no man hater: “A lot of men don’t really stop and think about what life is like for Saudi girls. My brothers were all raised to respect their sisters and their opinions but my book was still a revelation for them. Fathers have been influenced by it and have started discussing marriages with their daughters more. I got an e-mail from one man who married his daughter to a guy that she didn’t like. Now she is divorced and has two kids. She gave him the book as a gift. He said he hadn’t realised what he had done to her and now she has full choice over her life.” When her book hits the shelves in Britain this week, western readers will get a peek at what’s going on behind the veils and under the burqas. Disappointingly, the scenes are not too dissimilar to a western hen party: bitching, belly dancing and gossiping about men. The atmosphere seems far from warm and sisterly. Girls obsess about bodies and eye each others’ “front bumpers” and “back bumpers” with envy.

You’d think that one advantage of being forced to cover up in public would be a freedom from a looks-fixated culture. Yet these women want nose jobs, they want liposuction, they want gym-honed booties and are highly competitive with it. In modern Riyadh it seems that hell isn’t other people, hell is other women.

“Women want to look good for themselves, not just for men,” says Alsanea. “All women show off to one another and like wearing designer clothes. I’m not showing a whole new world. In a lot of respects Saudi women are just like everyone else.”

A London cosmetic surgery consultant told me that Saudi women were increasingly interested in surgery and were travelling to London, Geneva and Paris for laser hair removal, Botox and permanent make-up. Her “intensely private” clients want tummy tucks and liposuction after pregnancies, while younger women seek rhinoplasty and breast enhancement.

To Alsanea this is no particular big deal: “We have access to television and the internet and we do want some of the things that western women have. I’m not saying it’s right.”

Her own recent experience of western life hasn’t, she says, been altogether appealing. She is halfway through a postgraduate dentistry course in Chicago: “When I started in the States, my sister said to me, ‘Rule number one: smile at everyone 24/7’. She said because I was wearing the hijab everyone would think I was a terrorist. I took her advice – grinning at everyone like crazy.”

Although not all the women in her family wear the hijab, Alsanea and her sister decided three years ago to cover their hair: “I decided to show my conviction to my faith.” Her experiences in America, she says, have strengthened the resolve.

“I cling to it more. This is my identity and people have to accept it. I feel I have to prove that a Muslim woman dressed like this can still be confident and you can have a decent conversation with her and she can speak for herself. She’s not shy. She can do anything that another girl can do.

“In the West the associations with Saudi Arabia are oil and [Osama] Bin Laden. It’s just not how we see our lives. We feel so ashamed when there is a terrorist attack and it’s a Saudi. When I arrived here last Saturday, the bomb at the airport [the incident at Glasgow] happened that day. I don’t want us to be linked to that.”

Despite the traditionalists’ furore over Alsanea, she is ultimately a good Saudi girl: “We have to separate religion from tradition in Saudi Arabia. God didn’t say women couldn’t drive cars or that divorced women should be treated badly by society. The government does not force change on the Saudi people. If families are willing to change, then the laws will too.”

She has taken a few driving lessons on the sly and rather fancies owning a Mini Cooper, but this does not mean that she wants to live anywhere other than Saudi Arabia.

“If I stay in America, then I am a coward and I don’t deserve the things that God has given me. I should go back and help to change things. It’s my duty.” Besides, she adds: “My mum wants me to become the first Saudi female minister.” From where I’m sitting, it looks as if she already is.



1. LiB Team - July 24, 2007

I am sorry but I think she does that cuz she is being a drama queen, acting, she will do anything for attention and just wants to make money fast and she has struck gold with that book.

Saudis will disagree but then again they disagree to anything that doesn’t have a good mention of them, even if it were the truth.

2. Sous - July 24, 2007

Hehe well whatever she is doing she is doing it good 😀 . I meant that it’s cool that someone is writing about the Saudi society the way it is. It’s easy for expats to write about it but we can’t really understand the culture the way a Saudi can. And sure who wouldn’t like to strike gold with a bestseller 🙂 .

3. Ms Sue - July 27, 2007

Hey…im impressed reading your blog…could u ctc me through my email Ribena_sparkling@yahoo.com…im going to saudi to embark my business and i would appreciate if you can email me since i cant get none of your correspondence…oppps, sorry..by the way, my name is Ms Sue from Malaysia…TQ…much appreciated it

4. Sous - July 27, 2007

Hi Ribena,

I’m happy you like the blog 😀 . You can email me at sasinsaudi@gmail.com if you have any questions that you think I might be able to answer.
Take care for now

5. khayaal - July 28, 2007


have not read the book yet.. heard many opinions , and oh boy all of them were coming from really pissed of ppl lool.

6. Mariam - July 31, 2007

read the book in both arabi and english (i’m saudi). I must tell you it’s quite entertaining, but by no means great literature LOL. Typical chick lit to use a term i sort of despise. There’s a lot of “dancing around” stuff., using euphemisms for acts that most of the world discusses quite freely.

It should also be pointed out that the milieu that is discussed in the book (velvet?? i.e. upper middle class) is not typical in ksa or anywhere else in the world.

7. Sous - July 31, 2007

Thank you for the information Mariam. I shall see if I can order it from Amazon perhaps ( even if it is chic lit 😀 something I don’t read too much of ).

8. samy - August 14, 2007


I m Samy from Paris.
I love KSA if u have any questions about this beautiful country and nice people ….ask me.


9. Sous - August 14, 2007

Thanks Samy, sure will drop you a line if I have any questions. Take care.

10. Mohan Morris - August 27, 2007

Hi Sous,

I’m an expat here (from Fareast) I like reading your blog….ohh so fabulous honey…yeah, as in fabulous! The “fab” word hope to help you identify me…ha..ha..lol

Try to find the book in Jarir.

KSA is a nice place…indeed, been here for almost 10 years now..
there are many reasons why I stay this long….hmmm, really lovely.


Mohan Morris


11. manutdfanatic - August 28, 2007

“Mohan Morris: Try to find the book in Jarir.”

As far as I know, the book’s banned in the Kingdom. I’ve checked Jarir and a couple of other eminent bookstores; but to no avail.

Ordering it via Amazon or better yet, Penguin (I believe Penguin is one of the publishers to have published Banat Al-Riyadh), would be a much better idea.

12. jamil pangapon - September 5, 2007

heloow there is kSA i know that place is nice but the people there is maniac iknow you know my think why arab male willing to sex same male that
that is so susficious is so very freak heheh!! sorry for what im say to your blog i hope you understand and accept my feeling to arab there tank you hav a cool day so lame!!!!!

13. Salman Waheed - October 19, 2007

Its a nice effort to start with. I think neither she or u n i are the fully muslims as it should be. Good people make good societies. No wonder the evil prevails everywhere in the world, think why all the prophets were from the same society to the same society. Both question & answer you will be finding from here.

Good n Evil go side by side. It’s better to amend yourself by presenting your deeds to others not by exposing, which is the easiest one now.

Thanks any way for accepting my comments.

Cell: 0551974570

14. Najla - October 29, 2007


as a saudi gurl iam actually very happy with her book, n honestly ive finished it more than 5times cause its sooo tru i feel, i mean that does happen in KSA not only in Riyadh !!allah yewafgek ya rajaa w keep doin’ what ur doin’ cuz ur the best at ittt !!!! n theres an arabic saying ( Eli May6ool El3nb 7am’6n 3anh Ygool) 😉 love yaa !!

15. khadija Naif Daair - December 2, 2007

Ur book is very interesting and i like more people to read it, i am yemenia girl but I support ur book completly..

I completly support u..

Thanks Khadija Daair

16. rainmountain - December 3, 2007
17. Manal - December 26, 2007

hey guys,
I’ve been in Riyadh for only ten days. I am an aerobics training for ladies. My problem is that I am not finding ladies’ gym in Riyadh. If someone knows a respectable gym, please please tell me.

18. Mrs. Dunea Ramez - January 3, 2008

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assistancein my desire to invest into Real-Estate or any lucrative business in yourcountry and else where. I am Mrs Dunea Ramez, a kurdish Iraqi. I got yourcontact through my personal research and because of circumstances decidedto reach you through thismedium. I have some huge funds for investment purpose. However, I will be happy to disclose to you the amount to be claimed and invested as soon as I received your reply, as I expect you to be trustworthyand kind enough to respond positively to my ENQUIRY. Please go through this page as that will accord you theopportunity to have a more detailed insight;

I have delayed this transaction because of circumstance hence I need youto reply as very urgent.
Yours truly,
Mrs. Dunea Ramez


19. HANA BERRY - February 4, 2008


20. D' - March 16, 2008

I’m a Saudi girl-a university student in SA-. What bugs me is that most people think we’re not even allowed to go to schools ?!. there is no law against that we do get an education and we do “work” ..we can get jobs..!

SA is not perfect, but so is western communities..

this girl is inspiring. hopefully we’ll see more girls like that. and the image people have about Saudi girls will change.

I don’t like being looked like as a poor girl who doesn’t have a choice cause I do.my father and too brothers do respect women as well.

thanks for sharing.

21. Dee - March 16, 2008

I’m a Saudi girl-a university student in SA-. What bugs me is that most people think we’re not even allowed to go to schools ?!. there is no law against that we do get an education and we do “work” ..we can get jobs..!

SA is not perfect, but so is western communities..or any community for that matter.

this girl is inspiring ! . hopefully we’ll see more girls like that. and the image people have about Saudi girls will change.

I don’t like being looked like as a poor girl who doesn’t have a choice cause I do.my father and too brothers do respect women I might add, do I never was made to feel I’m any less than a man.

22. Mohammed Salman - July 11, 2008

Salam it is fantastic i like the way by which its expressed

23. rumana - July 31, 2008

i have not read the book but have actually read all these comments and i feel that its a good one for dads and brothers and then husbands………..they’ll learn a lot and change their ways inshallah………by the way i have lived in saudi for about 18 yrs…………i have grown up here and got married …………..i like this place buh we need people like her to make it a better place for girls….

24. Nour - August 6, 2008

SA is a nice place to live in. For people who are used to living in the rest of the world, you just need an open mind to like this place. There are some weird rules that they shove down non-muslims’ throats such as women not being allowed to drive, not having any movie theaters in the Kingdom for fear of being a prospective venue for men to take advantage of women, having all women cover up to help protect women from men’s eyes or in reality, to prevent men from burning in hell and sooo much more. I think that all these “rules” were all made up by men and I pity the women who have fallen into these men’s convincing power. Men should be responsible enough to have self-control. They aren’t beasts. They need to be trained to be responsible human beings who know how to respect women as equal human beings.

25. tanin - August 10, 2008

am tanin , how r u everybody, you know that, no person can be happy without friends.so i need a girl friend.iam student of dhaka university of . bangladesh

tnx all

26. Aisha - September 11, 2008

I pray that allmighty Allah open the eyes of the men in saudi to see what they are doing to women. it is a punishment to be born a woman in SA. The prophet Mohammad (SAW) worked under a woman and respected women. Islam liberated the women from oppression and deprivation. Unfortunately 200 years after his death men changed all the freedom Allah has given then through fabricated Hadiths. May Allah help, guard and guide the women of S.A whose life are dictated by rules designed by men.

27. sara - October 8, 2008

i don’t think saudia arabia is a nice place it’s simply the most boring place in the whole plannet .i mean seriously we have nothing!
it’s more about traditions in here than religious .
the book is great i read it once and there are alot of talented girls in saudia arabia like rajaa but there getting squashed in a cold blood because of this stricked rules .
it’s too bad that u can’t choose your country before comming to life.

28. Abdullahi - October 23, 2008

I am seeking saudi girl. saudi girls are beautiful and they wear hijab. but not all saudi girls has got an enough islamic education. so i’m looking for a real mulitazima!

29. althaf - October 24, 2008

plz SARA i am not convinced with what you said.
i am sure that saudi arabia is best in maintianing the principals of Islam. what happens in western countries is not the freedom. The freedom you expect will take you out from sirath al mustaqeem. I am not sure it will happen but chances are more to happen. Bye

30. Oswald - January 13, 2009

Dear friends

I read the book .Girls of Riyadh.those four girls have the guts and the girl who wrote it is an amazing girl.Saudi girls , i am telling you ,Here the time has come for you to look for faithful other young men but who atre not arabs.they love you ,amaze you,adore you,dream of you .meet them,then you ll start love them too.first meet them talk to them,, they are kind hearted,I am one of them

sadeems secret lover

31. soraibi - March 12, 2009

one need to understand that isalm is fair for women and provide her with freedom to study, to work and to be amother. However, some coutries introduced very tough rules by the name of Isalm.

32. Sunny - April 21, 2009

Im SUnny from Riyadh City , KSA.
im not a Saudi.
Honestly, its a good country but little bit rough edges. in the Economic condition all arround the world now a days, KSA is the country which got no harm.

as concerned about Saudi People, well, the actual problem is that they have a alot of money, people who have money dont use their minds, they use resources. they hire workers to do any thing.
so, actually its good for the people who are poor and needs some work.

I dont know what the book u people are talkin about, dont even read the bolg written above cuz dont have much time.
well i really didnt wanted to disgrace the Saudi people that they are fool, they have a great brain, fantastic mind but the problem is they dont use it, cuz there is no question to use it, they hire people to think for them.

well, an example of priceless saudi minds is PRINCE TALLAL.
I love that guy, really smart guy.
as u all know him, he is the only one saudi who actually used his mind for real.

well, can talk to me is anyone wants to.

33. azeez - April 27, 2009

im azeez from myanmar leaving jeddah im. technition computer andyu can send. sms. chatting .ok my o5o2393902 callme

34. mohamd - June 2, 2009

Hello everybody I know that the discussion does not interesting in Riyadh were the most beautiful girls in the girls to get acquainted with the world and look for his friend mohm@hotmail.com

35. misslittlenurse - June 30, 2010

hi i really love everything you said in your blog. i used to work in ksa before and i made a lot of friends there girl/boy and i can actually feel the sorrow they are facing with their culture. well, i guess its time for the saudi govt tito atleast listen to the voice of their people….

http://www.missforbiddenfruit@yahoo. com

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