Racism and "Real Men" in Saudi Arabia

Segregation of men and women in KSA in restaurants, schools, universities, work areas (even if not required by the government) is explained on religious grounds- that men and women who are not “mahram” for each other should not be alone with each other (different countries and societies deal with the issue of “khulwa” differently- the topic of a different post!).

A mahram is someone in front of whom a woman does not need to cover and can touch/hug e.g. father, father-in-law, bro, son, uncles, nephews, other women etc. For men the equivalent are: mother, mother-in-law, sister, daughter, aunt, niece, other men etc. Other than the husband/wife relationship, the people within the circle of mahram are people that one cannot marry.

So the question comes to mind that if the concept of mahram is so important that all public spaces are segregated, why is it ok for women to be driven by male drivers?

The answer I have received from several locals is mind boggling and has nothing to do with religion. Apparently the drivers in KSA are not considered “real men” as they are almost all from India, Pakistan, India and the Philippines. “Real men” can only be Arab. The hierarchy is as follows:

  • Tribal Arabs (Saudi or from other GCC countries)- real men
  • Syrians and Iraqis- real men
  • Other Arabs (like Egyptians)- NOT real men
  • Asian- not real men

The racism does not end here. People assume that Saudi women cannot possibly be attracted to non-Arab men. They also assume that all these foreign workers would not DARE approach a Saudi woman. Thus it is “safe” to be alone with them. Non-Arab foreign workers  are thus the preferred nationality for personal chauffeurs, limo drivers and taxicab drivers.