For privacy and a little sense of freedom, Saudi youths often go out to the desert. So when I wanted to talk to some young men, a friend suggested we drive outside of Riyadh. At the edge of the city, I sat with the friend and a female Egyptian journalist I was traveling with to talk to six Saudi men, ages 19 to 26. They all worked for the Saudi military.
The sun was setting as a shadow began to blanket the rolling sand dunes. Dry wood crackled on a bright orange fire, a blackened coffee pot sat by the glowing coals and sweet dates, sticky to the touch, were passed around. It was a beautiful, peaceful scene, soon to be interrupted.
“You’re reckless,'’ one of the young men said to me.
He said that it was dangerous to drive into the desert with a group of Saudi men we did not know well. He said we were lucky to have been invited by someone who was honest and trustworthy. Otherwise he said, we might have been attacked.
“The way a Saudi would think is ‘What is this girl doing here alone?’ If you are with a man, you better be his sister or his wife.”
That was Fahd’s explanation. He was 26 years old. He was seated on one side of the fire, the glow of the flames dancing across his face.
“Quiet, you are scaring them,'’ said the friend who took us to the desert.
Perhaps this was a bit of male bonding, of young guys showing off to the foreigners. But the tone was casual, the looks casual, the whole conversation amazingly casual. The Egyptian woman asked how he would treat us if we had not been introduced by our friend.
“What would you do if we were with someone else?'’ she asked.
“I would get rid of him and try something with you,'’ he replied. “Not rape, I would try to do something, to get you to do something.”
“And if I said no?” she asked.
“Then I would rape you.”
That was it. None of the other young men seemed surprised, or sounded an objection.