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Saudi Seminars

Riyadh (1984 and 1988)

It’s probably better not to give the name of the Saudi university I visited first in April 1984 and then again in February 1988.  But both times I went there, the same thing happened.

On both occasions, the U.S. Information Service had arranged for me to give a seminar to the social science faculty.  On both occasions, only professors attended.  On both occasions, I mentioned that I had recently visited Saudi Arabia’s southeastern neighbor, Oman.  And on both occasions, the Saudi professors all expressed utter contempt for Oman.

“The Omani Sultan is completely incompetent,” said one.

“The entire ruling family there is a pack of fools,” said another.

“If they weren’t members of a ruling family, none of them could even get jobs as garbage collectors,” said a third.

They continued in this vein:

“There is no academic freedom at their university.”

“Of course, it’s named after the Sultan, like everything else in that miserable country.”

“Foreigners run everything there.  The Sultan doesn’t want to give important jobs to too many Omanis for fear they’ll band together and overthrow him.”

“Oman really can’t be said to be an independent country at all.  It’s really a Western colony.”

“The Sultan poses as a pious Islamic leader.  But it is just a pose.”

They went on and on.  None of the Saudi professors had anything good to say about Oman.

After the second such seminar, one of the younger Saudi professors walked me out to where my car and driver were waiting.  As we approached the car, I asked him, “Why are you all so negative about Oman?  This is the second time I’ve heard you all criticize it so much.”

“Oman?  We weren’t talking about Oman,” he responded.

“Then what were you talking about?”

He immediately turned around and walked back toward his office.

previously unpublished

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