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Reporters on the Job

My Saudi Minder: Middle East editor Michael Farrell had only been in his hotel room in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a few minutes when the phone rang. It was Abdullah Hassan, a Saudi Ministry of Information official welcoming Mike to his country, offering to show him around and set up interviews. Mike was grateful, but a little surprised: He had never told Mr. Hassan where he was staying.

Ultimately, none of the Saudi officials Mike requested to see were available, but Hassan did give Mike a first-class tour of the capital. After visiting the Imam Turki bin Abdullah Mosque, the city's most important mosque, they walked across the adjacent square toward a cafe. "Hassan told me, 'This is Execute Square,' then drew his finger across his neck when I didn't grasp his meaning immediately.

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'Ah,' I said, 'Execution Square.' "

Later, Mike ordered tea while pondering the Saudi system of punishment. He was expecting to be served something like the traditional mint tea he'd had the previous week in the West Bank. Instead, a white styrofoam cup arrived with a Lipton tea tag hanging out. "Lipton, it turns out, has cornered the market in Saudi Arabia," notes Mike. It also seems an apt symbol of today's story about the confluence of Western influences and Saudi traditions.

David Clark Scott
World editor


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