THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
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.
WOMEN IN THE FOREIGN SERVICE
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.
BY ANDREA FARSAKH
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