Since 9/11 there has been a rise in security throughout the world .
This security is highlighted in Riyadh following the 2003 attacks on local compounds where many innocent expats died. Foolishly, I sat and watched The Kingdom, a movie inspired by these events only a couple of nights before attending a social evening at the US embassy here. No doubt security was tight: the invitations specifying no electronic equipment permitted and only pre registered guests allowed. To be invited you need a contact within the embassy and it is at their discretion whether you get on the list. Apart from your name, you offer your passport number, date of birth and mobile contact. No doubt they run a check on you before the night’s event.
We took a taxi that drove us through the Diplomatic Quarter passing an armed checkpoint at its outer perimeter. There we saw two tanks mounted with machine guns and manned by Saudi soldiers. About 500 metres from the embassy’s gate the taxi stopped at a concrete barricade where we got out and walked the rest of the way. More armed Saudi soldiers patrolled the road there and another manned tank stood sentinel nearby. We had to line up on the opposite side of the street and wait to be called over two by two. You could see another soldier behind a sand bag barricade just inside the gate and three times he opened the gate to let these monstrous black vans exit. You know, the kind of vans they use in American movies to guard the President or kidnap the hero or end up getting rolled in spectacular fashion on a crowded freeway. Where were these vans going to in Riyadh, what was their mission, I thought as Wallace slapped my arm and we crossed the road together. Two civilians standing behind a trestle table asked whether we were carrying electronic equipment or keys. If so, we had to deposit them in the envelopes provided and available after the party. We then entered a thick steel door where our remaining possessions were x-rayed while we passed through an electronic archway. Wallace went left and I went right and with arms outstretched we were body scanned. One more door, a flight of stairs and eventually we got the party started. Wallace headed for the food and I surveyed the skies for enemy helicopters and leaping paratroopers. The only thing is they’d have to land in the swimming pool which took up most of the space in that area.
Sighting US Marines among the crowd helped settle my paranoia but at the same time made me think I was a sitting duck and maybe I shouldn’t tempt fate any more than I already have….
but that’s another story.