March 03, 2007

Let's talk about AIDS, Ambassador

I met with the Saudi Ambassador to Sweden at the Kuwaiti National Day Celebration in Stockholm and after finding common grounds with his music taste (Abdel Halim Hafez in particular) I moved on to talk about the AIDS situation in the Muslim World with emphasis on the Middle East and Gulf Region. He seemed unaware that the fastest growing region for AIDS/HIV was the Middle East. He seemed to believe that although cases had been found in Saudi Arabia it was by far "not as problematic" as the situation in "the west".

The first case of AIDS in Saudi Arabia was detected as early as 1984! (UNAIDS) That is 23 years ago. No data on HIV testing is available according to UNAIDS. Of course not, it is stigmatized, there is little awareness and a strong belief that it does not exist in the Holy Kingdom.

He told me there is no current health plan in Saudi Arabia to battle the AIDS epidemic that will no doubt hit it very hard in a decade or more (along with the rest of the Gulf Region and the Middle East). With the increased travelling, prostitution and sexual experimentation of a lot of the married and unmarried men (and to a lesser extent women) and youth of the region with new religious fatwas supporting their new found sexual freedom of zawaj friend (friendship marriage) allowing them to have a dame in every port, and the other zawaj orf (similar to zawaj friend). *

-What do we do about it Ambassador, I asked him.
-Well, I recommend you start with Dubai and Bahrain. They are very open and would perhaps welcome the discussion because they have a lot of tourists and expatriates, he replied.

Ok, but I was actually talking about Saudi Arabia?

*The fact that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) twice forbade mut'a (temporary marriage) until Judgement Day, seems to be of less significance to them.
**Picture courtesy of UNAIDS


Destitute Rebel said...

Ah a casual chat about AIDS with the saudi ambassador, must have been a delightful conversation for the poor guy. I'm sure he's never had that discussion before. Thats the problem with most of the muslim world, even discussing such topis is considered taboo, how in the hell are we supposed to solve a problem when we are not even willing to recognize that there is a problem.

BuJ said...

I'm sure it made him choke on the Kuwaiti's mustache!

That's the beauty of Sweden I guess, I don't think you'd be able to pull this off asking an ambassador like that in the Gulf!

Dunno about KSA, but in the UAE they take AIDS very seriously and everyone wanting to live there has to undergo an AIDS test (amongst many other blood tests) before a residency visa is issued.

They are good in shutting the virus out of the country, but I am not sure what is there being done to combat it from within. On the other hand, I'm not sure if it's a big problem in a place like the UAE.

clayfuture said...

With more than 400,000 illegals staying in the UAE, do you think they underwent an AIDS test when they came here? I believe it's very much a serious issue, but you can't block it out by having everyone receiving a residence visa take an AIDS test.

Prostitution is only helping worsen the situation. But then again, this business cannot be stopped. The "tourism" industry will have a heart attack!!

Destitute Rebel said...

I totally agree with clay future,Buj UAE is in denial like every other state in the middle east, not just the illegals, but the tourist, sex industry workers all of them are not tested because they come on visit visas. Sex tourists from the rest of the GCC are never tested so whats the point of testing legal people who come here. Very thought provoking post gives you a lot to think about.

nzm said...

Wow - his reply was very much a bury-your-head-in-the-sand-it's-everyone-elses-problem retort!

Check out this article in Gulf News to read more about how AIDS is dealt with in Saudi.

The 3rd paragraph is disheartening and the quote in the 4th paragraph is beyond belief.

More on the Saudi scene here.

BuJ: AIDS is an issue in the UAE and last year, the Dubai Police Chief said that he'd crack down on prostitution to prevent AIDS. That amused me because he had to find some other reason to fight prostitution, other than it being illegal!

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

D reb, You are right. The taboo will in the end be the end. Islam never stopped people from talking about "uncomfortable" issues with expressions like "la haya fi el deen" - there is no "shame" in religion.

Buj lol, I would have asked the same thing had we been in Saudi, everything is about how one presents ones questions.

Clay, I agree with you. It doesn't matter if they test certain people. It has gone beyond that group being the risk factor.

NZM; thank you for all the extra info! I am always looking for news about AIDS and particularly in this part of the world.

And lord have mercy at the police chief! Should one laugh or cry?

Anonymous said...

Hey guys
I'm a senior in university and I'm currently doing a paper on AIDS in the middle east and I'm not really coming up with much info. Is there anywhere I should look?..
Also, I see you guys mentioning the issue of AIDS testing and I was wondering how prevalent AIDS prevention conversation is? How are AIDS test administered (i.e. are they free, are there many test centers). Also what do you think the biggest issues concerning the disease in this region.
Any help would really be appreciated.. THanks alot!!


Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Welcome anonymous.

I cannot speak much about the gulf however, in Damascus there is an AIDS testing centre where anyone can go and get tested. Usually people who wish to get a residency visa have to go through the AIDS test.

In general however, there is little if any talk about AIDS in this part of the world. There seems to be an idea that it does not exist here, or not to a great extent thus deeming it unimportant to talk about.

The other problem is, if youare to talk about AIDS, you will be forced to talk about the main reasons it is spreading. Many people (men) get uncomfortable because it hits home. Infidelity, prostitution, sexual experimentation, all without a condom.

You should be reading UNAIDS report on AIDS from 2006 Make sure you read the Middle East part but also Pakistan and India as well as now Indonesia are on the market for AIDS.

Imaan On Ice said...


brave girl. Good work.


Destitute Rebel said...

Hey Anonymous, In the UAE HIV testing is compulsory for all people getting a residence visa which is similar to the American H1 or F1 visa. The medical is charged at AED 360 approximately a 100 Dollars which includes inoculations and several other tests. If you need any specific information I'd be happy to help. just email anytime.

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Optimistic Guard said...

I'v noticed muslims in general and middle eastern muslims in particular try and stay clear of this subject. You must have had the ambassador's palm sweating when you broached the subject.

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

lol well OG that is one way of looking at it. He sure wasn't happy about it, that's for sure.

Samawel said...

Like Buj said, HIV/AIDS is taken quite seriously in the UAE. There's been a campaign recently around the country. Although, I'd have to say, a relative got me a Dubai Police HIV/AIDS poster because I speak a lot about safe sex and what not, to be honest, the poster I saw wasn't a poster to be considered by the (very diverse) youth in the UAE--it was not something you'd look twice at. But I can tell you, it's as good as it gets in the Arab world.