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MARCH 2016




n December 1978, I found myself back in Dhahran, Saudi


Bored with the circumscribed life on a Saudi university

campus where my husband taught from 1972 to 1975,

I had discovered that the nearby consulate general was

offering the Foreign Service written exam in December

1974. I took the test and passed. With the enthusiastic

support and encouragement of my husband, I joined the

Foreign Service in July 1976.

After a tour in Washington, D.C., I found that there were only

a couple of off-cycle job openings: general services officer in

Damascus and consular officer in Dhahran. The latter offered job

possibilities for my husband and boarding school for our son, as

well as schooling at post for our daughter.

There was just one wrinkle: the consul general did not want a

female officer. Fortune smiled, however; he was curtailed (nothing

to do with me), and the new CG, Ralph Lindstrom, and Ambas-

sador John West enthusiastically welcomed my assignment. But

would the Saudis accept me?That was another question.



Would the Saudis Accept Me?

My Arabic-language ability did the trick, neutralizing the

negative of my gender with Saudi officialdom. The fact that I was

married to a Palestinian-American, had spent time in the region

and was familiar with the culture, was of considerable help, as

well, easing my relationships with Saudis. I was able to visit just

about every prison in the Eastern Province, which were filled with

American citizens who worked for ARAMCO and other U.S. com-

panies. Most had been involved in graft, drugs, pornography and,

by far the most common “crime” of all, alcohol offenses.

While everyone was hyperaware of Saudi laws against posses-

sion and sale of alcohol, the desire for it was unquenchable. One

poignant example of the alcohol ban involved the case of a young

man in his late teens caught with a bottle of cough medicine

bought legally in a Saudi pharmacy—but it contained alcohol!

He had the misfortune of being the first U.S. citizen sentenced to

be flogged in the Kingdom. One small comfort: the flogging was

done in the prison courtyard and not in public. The ambassador

was naturally deeply concerned; but nothing could be done, and

the sentence was carried out—an unfortunate precedent thereaf-

ter regularly imposed on American citizens there.

The prison commanders were always extremely polite and

cooperative with me. While I flattered myself that it was my lan-

guage ability that eased my path, my husband theorized that their

courtliness and seeming cooperativeness were only tactics to get

rid of me more quickly!

My gender and language skills gave me entrée into the strictly

segregated world of Saudi women, which provided an oppor-

tunity for me to do political reporting on female life behind the

walls. I was encouraged by the consul general to do this, drawing

In the Middle East, one female officer found embassy management

a greater obstacle than the conservative local culture.


AndreaMorel Farsakh joined the Foreign Service in 1976.

After an assignment in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs,

she was posted to Dhahran, Jeddah, Abu Dhabi, Alexan-

dria and Tunis. In addition, she served inWashington,

D.C., in the bureaus of International Organizations, Intelligence and

Research and Human Resources, and the Office of the Inspector General.

She did a second tour in NEA. She retired in 2001 and has since worked

as a rehired annuitant on the Future of Iraq Project, in the Office of Ara-

bian Peninsula Affairs and on the Iraq desk in NEA, and on the Afghan

desk in the Bureau of South Asian Affairs.

A Pioneer in

Saudi Arabia