Campaigning Saudi Style

Feb. 8, 2005 4:23 p.m.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Sometimes when you go to a conference you get a pen, a pad, a nylon gym bag. At this counterterrorism conference in Riyadh you got a leather Pierre Cardin briefcase. You got them if your name was on a list. A man knocked on my door and handed it to me. It was heavy. I thought maybe it was filled with dough, but it was filled with books. It presented an ethical dilemma, since another team member's name was on it, who had already left. My name was not on the list. Besides, you are not allowed to take any gifts. So I had to give it away, but if it was a messenger bag it would have been a tough call.

Elections will be held here Thursday, the first ones in fifty years. There's a real sense of excitement, especially after the Iraqi elections. They are just for city council, and women can't vote. The government says women will probably be allowed to vote in the next elections in a few years. It is an unusual place with regards to women, far from simple. Women are not allowed to drive here, but many have achieved positions of real prominence: the top neurosurgeon, the top eye surgeon, academics. So they can operate on your brain, but can't drive to the hospital.

Election campaigning is very pleasant. The candidates set up tents around the city. It all happens at night, starting at around 8 pm and lasts until after midnight. When you arrive at the tent the candidate has a feast set up, starting with tiny cups of coffee and tiny glass mugs of tea and cakes. Then, the full meal, performers, poets or singers, and speeches about the candidate. It is like a night out for the prospective voters, who sit in big ornate chairs and chat with their friends. We were welcomed. The voters and the candidate were extremely friendly, bringing me various kinds of tea, one with black lemon and sugar that was fine. I was hoping to sample camel meat but we had to leave early for a live shot, driven home by one of the candidate's friends in a new BMW 7 Series that delighted my producer. May get camel meat tomorrow.

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Hi Steve,

Hope you are able to taste the camel meat so you may tell us all if it tastes like chicken or tuna. Be safe.

— J A (Cottonwood, AZ)

I hope the kingdom can eventually make a peaceful transition into democracy, but I doubt it. There are huge radical fundamentalists factions just itching for an opportunity for an all out jihad against the royal family and its cohorts.

K in NC

Thanks for the "camel-eating" blog. One question: Were you one of those guys that swallowed goldfish in college? I love your blogs. Keep it up, and I hope you carry a little pepto-bismol with you in all of that gear you tote around.

— Jamie

Steve Harrigan currently serves as a Miami-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 2001 as a Moscow-based correspondent.