Jeffrey Black | Middle East Diaries


Fortified: Riyadh, 17th January 2008
January 17, 2008, 2:05 pm
Filed under: Saudi Arabia

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In order to avoid the over-boisterous football teams in the gym, earlier I ran laps round the tennis court in the cold afternoon sunshine. Then slogged through the traffic to make it to Souq al-Thuraim just in time for prayer, when it shut. That gave me a few minutes to look around, at the muddy massiveness of the Masmak fortress, with kids and their mums playing around in the shadow of the thick corner towers. Apparently, in 1902, Ibn Saud, or one of his daring accomplices, hurled a spear with such force at the door of Masmak fort that the head is still lodged in the wood. That’s great. But, throwing a spear at a door? What was he hoping to achieve?

The souq surrounding eventually revealed itself to be stocked with cheap and cheerful goods for the self-conscious but down at heel shopper. It wasn’t so different from the commercial areas in the older parts of Cairo, but the people were better dressed. Adjacent was Dira Square and the vast, caverned mosque. Thing is, there aren’t so many people around. Despite having one of the highest birthrates in the world, Riyadh still seems to be rather underpopulated, at least in the sense that there are not so many walking around shouting, fighting, hawking, and evading the police as in other parts of the Middle East.

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