Saudis still stereotyped in the West

Updated 07 February 2014
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Saudis still stereotyped in the West

Saudis are still stereotyped in the West as either being super rich, terrorists or riding camels out in the desert, say foreigners who have lived and worked here.
Western journalists, media houses and people on social networking sites, often reinforce these views, they say.
“The image of Saudi Arabia in the West is not positive at all,” says Bernard Haykel, professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, who has visited the Kingdom several times for research.
“It is summed up by the trilogy of excessive wealth, abuse of women and intolerance for other religions. Of course, when Westerners visit the Kingdom and see it for what it is, a place like any other with positive and negative sides, but also a very kind and welcoming people, their ideas change. However, there is an industry of people in the West and elsewhere who make it their business to vilify KSA and to depict the most negative image of the place.”
“The Hajis who come to visit Makkah and Madinah have a different experience and I think they should be considered ambassadors for KSA because they can provide positive stories about their experiences,” he says.
Karen Martin, a professor at Niagra College in Canada, who taught at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center for one year, says: “From the time I first arrived in Riyadh, I loved it. I loved the bright blue cloudless skies, the scent of perfume and incense in the air. Saudis have been so welcoming to me. My students, while initially a little reserved, made me feel both welcome and loved.”
“I think that it is only a lack of knowledge or familiarity with Saudi Arabia that leaves many Westerners with extreme stereotypes. Because it is a closed country, the only contact or knowledge that most Westerners have of Saudi is of Osama bin Laden and 9/11. Most Westerners know only of the 9/11 attacks or a romanticized version of Saudi Arabia from movies such as Lawrence of Arabia. Most Westerners have never met a Saudi national in person, and that makes stereotypes much more likely, I think. Most Westerners have no access to Saudi media. Therefore, even if the Saudi media were promoting a positive side of Saudi culture, few Westerners would see it. Where I do see positive portrayals of Saudi Arabia is generally through non-news sources, such as Facebook pages for businesses in Saudi that tend to promote a more positive view.”
Commenting on cultural differences, Martin says: “Although I knew this logically, what my time in Saudi Arabia has taught me is that underneath people are so much more the same than they are different. Getting to know my students, being invited to their homes, and hearing them talk about their lives, has given me a unique insight into the lives of young Saudis. Many of these remarkable young men and women have become close friends of mine.”
On Saudi women, Martin says: “I think that one of the things I was most surprised to see was the strength and determination of Saudi women. Because of the West’s perceptions about the status of women in Saudi Arabia, I was surprised by how strong and outspoken so many young Saudi women are.”
The blurred image that Westerners hold of Saudis is mutual. Saudis here believe what they watch on television about the crime rates in the West. They believe criminals will rob, kidnap or kill them just like in Western movies.
Muhammad Ahmad, a Saudi living in Canada, says this was his experience: “My first trip outside Saudi Arabia was to Johannesburg, South Africa, which is known for its high crime rate. From the stories I heard from friends and colleagues during my course I became paranoid. When I came to Canada in 2009, I combined this with what I saw in movies.”
“I remember the first days in Toronto were awful. I never left the house after dark. I imagined myself shot in a back alley. I laugh so hard when I remember those days. Only months after that, I was able to walk in downtown Toronto at 4 a.m. with no problem at all. Whenever my Canadian friends hear the story, they laugh. I tell them that I'll laugh at their stories when they visit Saudi Arabia one day. And I did.”
Ali Mohammad, a Saudi student in Kentucky, US, says: “I noticed that most Americans rely on their media to get their knowledge, especially about Saudi Arabia. They believe whatever the media promote, and most of them much to my surprise, do not read about politics. This makes it easy for the media to influence them either positively or negatively.”


Dr. Iman bint Habas Al-Mutairi, new CEO of Saudi National Competitiveness Center

Updated 19 September 2019

Dr. Iman bint Habas Al-Mutairi, new CEO of Saudi National Competitiveness Center

Dr. Iman bint Habas Al-Mutairi is the newly appointed CEO of the National Competitiveness Center (NCC).

Al-Mutairi received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from King Faisal University in 1992. In 1997, she obtained a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Bristol, UK.

She began her career as a lecturer in the chemistry department of King Faisal University, from 1993 to 1994, before lecturing at the University of Bristol for three years.

In 1998, she became an assistant professor of human genetics at Harvard University, and two years later she joined Perkin Elmer as a scientific research consultant in biological sciences in the US until 2002.

A year later, she joined Hospital Aramco as a preventive medicine consultant. She then headed the department of public medical relations, and served as an acting director of the department of medical technical support services, and the head of quality and patient safety from 2007 to 2010.

With Saudi Aramco, she headed the manpower planning and analysis department for a year, before she became the project manager of the Aramco Accelerated Strategic Transformation Program from 2011 to 2012.

Al-Mutairi ran her company, Heemah for Business Services between 2014 and 2017.

She also helped with the establishment of the National Competitiveness Center, and coordinated the partnership between Johns Hopkins Hospital and Aramco Healthcare.

In 2017, Al-Mutairi served as an adviser to the minister of commerce and investment.