A Journey to the Heart of Fabulous in Saudi Arabia

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 6/22/2009 08:39:00 AM
Not so long ago, Samuel Huntington warned about an impending Clash of Civilizations as cultural clashes became more frequent due to globalization making intercultural interactions more unavoidable. At about the same time, Priscilla Queen of the Desert was a hit movie about drag queens embarking on a search for identity in the Australian Outback. They've even made a musical out of it. Why am I telling you this? Well, both have come to real life in Saudi Arabia in a recent incident involving the Saudi authorities and Filipino workers. It is widely known that foreign workers constitute a large part of the KSA population--supposedly 5 out of 27 million from what I can gather on the Internets [no sic]. With recent windfalls from rising oil revenues, projects aimed at increasing energy production capacity as well as establishing centers for banking and commerce have popped up all over the place--once again necessitating an influx of foreign workers. To paraphrase Kevin Costner, if you plan to build it, will foreign workers come?

This rather ridiculous story involves some Filipino migrant workers celebrating Philippine independence day dressed as drag queens (!), while some some of their wives watched (!!), eventually culminating in a raid by the Saudi authorities (!!!) While not all those in drag were gay as proscribed by the rather uptight authorities, the Saudis nevertheless expressed great displeasure over this show. Here is the press clipping from the Philippine Star:
The Philippine embassy in Riyadh yesterday reported that the 67 Filipino workers who were arrested during a raid for holding a “gay show” last week may face 50-60 lashes and at least three months imprisonment after they were charged with “imitating women” and “display of homosexuality.”

In an interview on the weekly radio program “Para Sa Iyo Bayan” of Vice President Noli de Castro, also presidential adviser on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), Rousell Reyes, third secretary and vice consul of the Philippine embassy in Riyadh, said the offense carries the punishment of lashing and imprisonment. The OFWs were celebrating Philippine Independence Day.

Reyes said the embassy has no information on the identities and work of the 67 Filipinos who were charged and released because no one reported the incident to the diplomatic post. An embassy case officer was sent to the police station on Wednesday after receiving reports that Filipinos were arrested during a raid last June 13 on a compound in an eastern Riyadh neighborhood.

Police confirmed to the embassy that 67 Filipino workers, not 69 as earlier reported, were arrested and detained. “Some of those arrested were reportedly wearing gowns and wigs and drinking liquor. It seems that there was a party,” Reyes said. Not all of those arrested were homosexuals, but they were at the party with their Filipino partners who were also arrested and detained. Reyes said the embassy has to give a diplomatic note to the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be able to get the names of those arrested.

He said the filing of charges against the 67 OFWs have been reported to Saudi immigration authorities to prevent them from leaving the country. Reyes said two similar cases happened last year in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia, where Filipinos held a beauty pageant that was raided.

In a report to De Castro, Philippine Ambassador to Riyadh Antonio Villamor said the Filipinos were released after their respective sponsors guaranteed and paid for the corresponding fees. Only sponsors can bail out foreign workers who are jailed, with their assurance that the accused would attend court trial. Saudi Arabia’s laws strictly prohibit open display of homosexual behavior, with penalties including fines, imprisonment or whipping.
Wait a minute...aren't some "gays" into sadomasochism? It seems to me that the punishment of fifty or sixty lashings isn't going to set them on the straight and narrow. Globalization can get truly weird sometimes. I can only think what sort of embarrassment Philippine authorities face in freeing their compatriots from, ah, the chains that bind. The truth is stranger than fiction, indeed.