Lattes and Lashes: Saudi Religious Police Defend Their Arrest of American Woman Who Sat Next to a Man at a Starbucks

Saudi Arabia’s legal system has long been a nightmare for civil libertarians and anyone on this side of the dark ages. However, in the face of the arrest and coerced confession of an American businesswoman for sitting next to man at Starbucks (who was not a relative), the religious police is defending its action in the case. It appears that it was the woman’s fault entirely for committing the offense to Islam — a helpful clarification from those who bring us weekly examples of why the separation of church and state is so essential for liberty.

An American businesswoman named Yara (she is withholding her last name) was arrested, strip searched and forced to sign a false confession after she was captured in the act of sitting with a male at a Starbucks in Riyadh.

Ironically, Yara had just been at the Starbucks with Neil Bush, President George W. Bush’s younger brother and CEO of the education software company Ignite! and even boasted about Saudi justice. She is a managing partner at a Saudi financial company, but it did not help her when she was spotted by the Saudi “Mutaween” police.

The 37-year-old mother of three was wearing an abaya and a headscarf, but she violated the rule of women sitting with non-family males. Because Starbucks has WiFi, it is popular for such business meetings. She had just opened her laptop when the police swooped in.

She was immediately accused of committing a great “sin” by members of the Saudi Arabia’s Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Yara said she treated roughly, yelled at, strip searched and forced to sign a confession. She then went people a Saudi “judge” who duly informed her that she would “burn in hell.”

Rather than denounce this abuse, the Saudi police have issued a statement heralding their achievement in catching the Starbucks siren. (The man of course was released). What is curious is that they seem to be trying to convince people that this is all in accord with the letter and spirit of the law:

“It’s not allowed for any woman to travel alone and sit with a strange man and talk and laugh and drink coffee together like they are married . . . All of these are against the law and it’s clear it’s against the law. First, for a woman to work with men is against the law and against religion. Second, the family sections at coffee shops and restaurants are meant for families and close relatives,” it continued.

The Commission further denied the strip search and the coerced confession. According to them, an American businesswoman confessed on her own accord to this medieval offense. It further accused her of the sin of wearing makeup, not covering her hair and “moving around suspiciously” in the coffee shop.

Now the entire family is “afraid for our lives, for our family and from further harassment.” They are considering a return to the United States.

The government is also moving against journalists who have reported this latest absurd product of the Saudi legal system: “The Commission has the right to sue the writers because of the lies they are spreading. It gives the wrong idea of Saudi Arabia.” Two columnists are being targeted.

The question is when western companies will take a stand in support of their own employees and formally object to these actions. Of course, the Bush Administration has been virtually silent in the face of this and past abuses of women and criminal defendants in the Saudi system.

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8 thoughts on “Lattes and Lashes: Saudi Religious Police Defend Their Arrest of American Woman Who Sat Next to a Man at a Starbucks”

  1. “a helpful clarification from those who bring us weekly examples of why the separation of church and state is so essential for liberty.” RIGHT ON J.T.!

  2. Dubya can’t be bothered with trivialities such as this. He’s too busy, still trying to get the moves down for that “sword dance”.

  3. She is very lucky she is an American, or she would still be rotting in jail. When I was in Saudi we had a Phillipino nurse arrested for sitting with a man. She was given 40 lashs before being deported.

    Alot of people claim to know what Saudi is really like. If you want to know, then read the book “Paramedic to the Prince” it was written by an American Paramedic that worked for King Abdullah. A real inside look into the Magic Kingdom. This is truly the best book written about Saudi Arabia in years.

    Buy the book if you want a good read and a real inside look into Saudi. Written by American Paramedic Patrick Notestine. I could not put it down

  4. As J.T. said in the opening paragraph, these examples of inhuman treatment of women in Islamic parts of the world demonstrate why it is essential that religion, no matter what the faith, never be allowed to be influential in our own government. Why any American woman would want to travel to either Saudi Arabia or any part of the Middle East and put herself in harm’s way is beyond me, and I’d resign from a job where her employer would force her to do so.

  5. My article today about GWB closed with the words “This would be so much fun if it were fiction.” A good starting point for this topic.

    Neil Bush, the other white meat, makes about $200K a year as a salary from his company Ignite!, but alas that dwarfs his consulting fees. Not only that, but he also can make single day gains of nearly One million dollars on one security and never be visited by the SEC, even though he was a consultant (read that-insider) of the underlying company. Yikes! Why didn’t he get involved and make a few calls to Uncle. Yes – my pretties – he addresses Abdullah as Uncle. Simple, there is no standing, but there is a tension between the religious right and the Saud family that carries a continuous threat of revolution. Nice then … if you have friends to have a few billion bucks worth of their military hardware and a few billion more of their consultants – hanging out eh??

    The Mutaween look forward to this type of press. It emboldens their image and strengthens their cause. This woman is an American – but do we hear a word about this from the White House? Not on your life. Uncle says – stay out of it. Neil Bush, entrepreneur and family bag-man, doesn’t even need someone to tell him what to do. He picks up checks and orders the Hummus and heads back to the families quarters at the Royal Palace. He’s no fool – not in the colloquial sense anyway.

    We don’t even see a reasonable sampling of the abomination of civility that has funded a great deal of the terrorism that has killed American soldiers. We scream about China’s human rights violations while we shop for $100.00 sneakers that come from there … while we fill up our SUV’s with 30 gals of the stuff Saudi ‘dreams are made of.’

    America has an awful lot to do with the current condition of the world.

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