Sodomy is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, but gay life flourishes there. Why it is “easier to be gay than straight” in a society where everyone, homosexual and otherwise, lives in the closet
By Nadya Labi
Yasser, a 26-year-old artist, was taking me on an impromptu tour of his hometown of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on a sweltering September afternoon. The air conditioner of his dusty Honda battled the heat, prayer beads dangled from the rearview mirror, and the smell of the cigarette he’d just smoked wafted toward me as he stopped to show me a barbershop that his friends frequent. Officially, men in Saudi Arabia aren’t allowed to wear their hair long or to display jewelry—such vanities are usually deemed to violate an Islamic instruction that the sexes must not be too similar in appearance. But Yasser wears a silver necklace, a silver bracelet, and a sparkly red stud in his left ear, and his hair is shaggy. Yasser is homosexual, or so we would describe him in the West, and the barbershop we visited caters to gay men. Business is brisk.
Posted By Russ Baker
A Long-Standing Relationship
The Ghazzawis’ relationship with the United States seems to date back to the 1950’s, when U.S. immigration records show that Abbas Ghazzawi visited New York. Abbas Ghazzawi was a prominent Saudi attorney. Esam, whose full name is Esam Abbas Ghazzawi, appears to be his son. (WhoWhatWhy was unable to reach Ghazzawi for comment on any of the matters in this article.)
Abbas Ghazzawi, arriving on a first class ticket on a connecting flight that originated in Saudi Arabia, was traveling in an elite entourage. One companion, Rasem al-Khalidi, was a high-ranking Saudi monetary official. Another, Faisal al-Hegelan, would years later serve in the all-important position of Saudi ambassador to Washington. He held that post during 1979-1983, a period that partly coincided with the Reagan-Bush Administration. His replacement was Prince Bandar, the Bush family friend jokingly called “Bandar Bush.”
The focus of Saudi royals in their dealings with the United States can be seen in the conduct of al-Hegelan. As ambassador, al-Hegelan was principally concerned with propping up the Saudi regime. He had seventeen military attachés assigned fulltime to lobby for the sale of the advanced command-and-control aircraft known as AWACS to the Saudi air force. (see P. 17 of the book Arab Reach, by Hoag Levins.) Overcoming heavy pressure on Washington from the Israelis, the Saudis succeeded in getting Congress to approve the AWACS sale. Al-Hegelan also led a lobbying campaign against Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s public support of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. President Reagan, with strong input from his vice president, George H.W. Bush, removed Haig and replaced him with George Schultz, who sided with the Saudis; Schultz had been president of Bechtel, one of the largest construction contractors in Saudi Arabia, whose projects included the original Trans-Arabian Pipeline.