Saudi crack down on businesses run by foreigners

Saudi small grocery store

The government of Saudi Arabia is cracking down on illegal “cover-up” businesses which are nominally registered to Saudi Arabian owners but in practice, owned and operated by foreigners.

Under Saudi regulations, foreign-owned businesses face a complex licensing process and are tightly controlled. Over the decades, this system has not satisfied the demand for new businesses in a rapidly growing economy.

Such firms tend to be small and require little capital, but they are part of the sinews of the economy in many areas, ranging from mechanics’ shops to plumbing businesses, restaurants and market stalls.

Many of the roughly 9 million expatriates in the Saudi Arabia, who account for nearly a third of the population, have gone into business themselves. They enter the country on workers’ visas, then set up companies and illegally pay fees to Saudi citizens who act as front men for them.

Abdulwahab Abu Dahesh, a prominent Saudi economist, said there was no official data on the size of the illegal business sector but he believed cover-up businesses and other unregulated activities might be worth 700 billion riyals a year — or about a quarter of recorded gross domestic product.
In the last several months, however, authorities have begun to act against illegal firms as part of a wide crackdown on illicit economic activity by foreigners, which has seen tens of thousands of illegal foreign workers deported so far in 2013.
Many Saudis argue the cover-up firms make the economy inefficient, take commercial opportunities from local citizens and effectively deprive them of jobs, since the firms tend to hire lower-cost foreign workers. Unemployment among Saudi citizens last year was 12 percent, according to official data.

“Most of the grocery stores and mini-markets we see in Riyadh are formed under cover-up practices. This harms the economy as it employs more than the needed staff — instead of employing two or three you employ six or seven,” said Dahesh.
“It also leads to crimes and the emergence of customs and traditions that do not match those of our society.”

Some of the profits of cover-up businesses are sent back to the foreign owners’ home countries — a drain which Saudi Arabia can easily afford at a time of high oil prices, but which will become a burden if oil prices fall sharply. Workers’ remittances abroad, which include some of these flows, rose 3.7 percent to 107.3 billion riyals last year, central bank data shows.
Under a law issued in 2004 but until now not strictly enforced, Saudis and foreigners involved in cover-up businesses face up to two years in jail, a fine of up to 1 million riyals or both. The business is liquidated and the foreign owner is deported after jail term.

However, so far there is no clear sign that the crackdown is hurting the overall economy, and Labor Minister Adel Fakieh told Reuters last month that he was “not worried at all” by that possibility.
If all the cover-up companies reformed themselves to become legal and employed at least one full-time Saudi citizen, that would generate about 350,000 new job opportunities for local people, he estimated.
The alternative is for many of the companies to close down and if they do, that will provide opportunities for Saudi entrepreneurs to set up new businesses, he added.

Abdullah bin Mahfouz, board member at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a Saudi businessmen’s association, agreed that cover-up companies hurt the economy but suggested that to minimize any dislocation, they be given time to legalize themselves.
One option would be to allow the companies to register as legal foreign-owned enterprises within a certain time, he said. Alternatively, the nominal Saudi

The real cause for the illegitimate businesses is widespread corruption. This is bad for the country and the economy. Some Saudis are creaming these businesses, doing no work themselves, and at the same time it is more difficult for Saudis to start a new business because they can’t work as cheap as the illegal businesses.
It would be good for the country to fix this problem. Hopefully this will end up in foreign businesses being legitimized, and make an end to the illegal sponsor system.


Read more: voa news


Saudi Arabia: Alcoholism in the Kingdom



Alcohol is legally forbidden in the Kingdom and against Islam.  Possession of alcohol or public drunkenness carries strict penalties.  Yet that being said, there are individuals in Saudi Arabia, both Saudis and expatriates, who have alcohol addiction problems.  Expatriates may have had their addiction prior to arrival in the Kingdom and some Saudis may acquired their addiction while outside of the Kingdom.  However, there are also individuals actively battling against an alcohol addiction within the Kingdom.

There are Saudis with WASTA who are able to acquire alcohol.  Foreign Embassies and diplomats have an exemption and are allowed set quantities of alcohol. There are also a number of bootleggers who illegally bring alcohol into the Kingdom’s borders.  These bootleggers believe the high risks, which can include the death penalty, is worth the ultimate gain in profits.  In addition, there is a wide “home brew” market in the Kingdom where others make their own spirits within the privacy of their homes.  Last but not least, many Western compounds which prohibit Saudis from being on the property, will have a bar which will also sell “home brew.”

Alcoholism is a disease and while alcohol is illegal in the Kingdom, treatment for the disease is available.  This is not a topic that is widely discussed and some individuals battling with an alcohol addiction in the Kingdom may not know where to turn for help.

This link  takes one to the web site for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in Saudi Arabia.  Meetings take place in the cities of Dhahran and also Al-Khobar (Eastern Province).  In addition there are meetings in Riyadh and Jeddah.

Although the website Alcohol Rehab does not contain factual information in regards to the availability of AA in Saudi Arabia, it does contain good background  information on illegal alcohol in Saudi Arabia and the dangers of “home brew.”

Saudi Arabia: Expatriates Should Not Take Advantage of Sympathy or Generosity

public laundry


There was a recent incident which took place in Jeddah.  A Pakistani couple claim they were accosted by a Saudi couple in a public place of business.  However, all anyone has to go on is the expatriate’s account of the incident.  We all know there are always two sides to every story.

The incident, from what the expatriate couple are stating, seemed to stem from an initial altercation between the Pakistani woman and a Saudi woman.  The altercation intensified and the husband’s became involved.

There have been no accounts from any witnesses of the incident.  Yet the incident as it was relayed evoked shock, outrage and sympathy for the Pakistani couple.  Senior officials from the place of business were made aware of the incident and contacted the Pakistani couple.  A well known English language daily in the Kingdom even carried an article about the incident with an apology to the Pakistani couple.

Yet since the incident has taken place, instead of responding with grace and a positive outlook, the Pakistani woman seems more intent on raising ire with Saudi nationals, expatriates in the Kingdom and her own homeland.

As a result, support and sympathy for the couple is dwindling.  The Pakistani woman even created a specific Facebook Page for further discussions about the incident and demand for change to occur within the Kingdom on Saudis attitudes of expatriates.

American Bedu was part of the Facebook Group but found herself unceremoniously removed from the group when declaring that what the Pakistani woman was now doing and saying was not appropriate.

I can live with being declared persona non grata of a Facebook Group.  But I will restate what I believe was sound advice to the Pakistani woman.  If one is dissatisfied with action or lack thereof from an incident in Saudi Arabia, do not continue to talk badly about your host country.  Even –if- (which is now questionable) she has a valid complaint, she remains a guest in the country.  Both she and her husband are under the sponsorship of a Saudi employer.  Secondly, it is not appropriate to post private correspondence between her and her country’s Consulate in a public Facebook Group.  In addition, although she is not satisfied with the response from the Consulate, she should not mock her country’s role in Saudi Arabia and its relationship with the Kingdom.

Okay, enough of what should not have been done.  Instead she should have filed a report with the manager at the place of business where the incident occurred.  The police should have been called immediately.  Statements should have been collected from witnesses.  She did notify her Consulate.  She did speak with senior officials at the place of business.  However, rather than complain and make a mockery of the positive that took place, she should instead have delivered a comprehensive –and realistic- action plan of what she wanted to see in the way of restitution and resolution.  Details of which should remain between her and the officials involved, rather than share in a “dissing” manner on a public Facebook Page.

It is American Bedu’s assessment based on her own years of experience that the Pakistani woman, more so than her husband, is enjoying her “15 minutes of global fame” and trying to prolong the attention to herself.  Instead of reaching a positive resolution her husband may very well receive unwanted pressure due to his wife’s inappropriate actions.

Wrongs can be righted but it must be done within the parameters of an established procedure.

Saudi Arabia: Which One is She? Maid, Helper or Friend?

domestic help


With Ramadan 2013 starting on or about the 8th of July, many Muslims throughout the Kingdom will be looking for additional assistance during the Holy month and perhaps through the Hajj season.  This is a period of time when meals take on an additional importance and particularly after the second week of Ramadan has passed, many large families gather to spend the rest of Ramadan together.  Ramadan is a high season throughout the Kingdom with housemaids in demand.

But my question is, who is the housemaid?  Is she just a maid or instead perhaps a helper or friend?  I think it is fair to say that the Saudi families who have had the same domestic worker for multiple years the formal employee-employer relationship begins to blur a little.  Instead of a mere maid she may be better viewed as a helper (less derogatory sounding) or maybe even a friend.  Regardless of what term applied there still needs to be a modicum of distance to preserve the employee-employer relationship.

If you have the opportunities to talk to Saudis who have had the same domestic worker in their home for a period of years, they generally refer to her with affection.  They know about her family, her desires and goals for both herself and her family and in many cases, these Saudis will do what they can to further improve her life.  They’ll not only keep her clothed or have her receive medical attention when ill but sometimes go beyond to help with her family giving her children better educational opportunities.

When a housemaid is serving a family for whom both know is only a limited period of time, the same degree of closeness or trust may never develop.  This can be especially true among expatriates who have engaged a housemaid while in the Kingdom.  Unlike the Saudi family, the expatriate family will eventually either go on to another assignment in a different country or return to their home country.

Expatriates, with an emphasis on Western Expatriates, may have a reputation for treating their domestic help nicer and more like a family member or friend.  Expatriates will generally pay the domestic help a higher salary too.  As a result, many domestics would prefer to work for an expatriate family.

But that does not mean the domestic may view acts of kindness by the expatriate in the same manner as the expatriate.  Domestic help may try to take advantage of the expatriate who has not grown up in a culture where domestic help is the norm.  As a result, the relationship gets blurred and the domestic help may try to manipulate the expatriate.  The manipulation can take place in requesting salary advances, loans, request for medicines or simply sharing how bad they have it such as poor living accommodations, etc.

The domestic may start out working well for the expatriate but ultimately her work ethics may start to slack off.  She may not be as punctual or reliable.  Eventually the expatriate may learn she was also stealing small items or monies from the household.  This tends to happen not only because the domestic does not have a pure heart but because the expatiate family has been too kind as well.

I’m not trying to say that Saudis are the best managers of domestic help or that all is rosy if a domestic helper works for a Saudi.  But I wish to sensitive readers that engaging and retaining reliable and trustworthy domestic help is also its own work in progress.

I believe there could be a market for seminars on both engaging, treating and retaining domestic help in addition to seminars for the domestic help on training and having a successful long term relationship with their employer.

Saudi Arabia: Living in Saudi Arabia Requires a Tougher Skin

tough skin required


Whether one is an expatriate in Saudi Arabia or a foreigner married to a Saudi, to Saudis you are viewed as a guest in their country.  The majority of Saudis will go out of their way to be hospitable, kind and helpful to the guests.

I had multiple experiences of both Saudi men and women approaching me in grocery stores or department stores wanting to be helpful or simply practice their English.  I had approaches by both men and women and none in an inappropriate manner.  Saudi women were especially kind if I were in an abaya store or in a women’s formal store searching for a gown to wear to a wedding.   They wanted to assist in helping me find the perfect abaya or gown!

However, I also had a few of my own experiences which were not as welcoming.  One experience featured two women who were determined to jump ahead of me in the queue at a shoe store.  These women though were not aware I was not in the shoe store alone.  I was with Mama Moudy, my Saudi mother-in-law.  She let them know in no uncertain terms there actions were rude and uncalled for.  Both the women were quickly apologizing to me!

The bottom line though is both the good and bad experiences between expatriates and Saudis can go both ways.  Rather than risk a public altercation, it’s better to have thick skin and pay no mind when someone does something less than socially acceptable.  Expatriates are each individual Ambassadors of their respective countries and Saudis are also representatives of their country too.  We each choose what kind of impression we want to leave with one another.

Of course, if either an expatriate or a Saudi has taken an action that goes beyond just mere rudeness or sarcasm, the wronged party should seek restitution through the proper channels.  While doing so, an expatriate should also remember that Saudis have WASTA, meaning the ability to use influence or contacts.  That does not mean an expatriate who has been wronged can’t seek restitution, but the manner in which it is done must be in conformity with the culture.

If an expatriate chooses to go public about an incident and sites places, names, and individuals where a Saudi was in the wrong, that Saudi and/or its institution will lose face.  A point will have been made but maybe at the jeopardy of the expatriate, especially if the Saudi has WASTA.

If an expatriate goes public and states facts without identifying specific individuals or organizations but at the same time letting it be known that more specifics are available, this does give an opportunity of face saving and also setting things right in a more amicable and satisfactory fashion.

All expatriates in the Kingdom are sponsored by either an individual Saudi or a Saudi organization.  As a result, there is much more pressure on the expatriates to abide by the customs and traditions of the Kingdom.  And don’t forget, the expatriate is also the guest…but guests can be asked to leave.

Saudi Arabia/Yemen/USA: Yemen from the view of an American

Intro: My name is Katherine Abu Hadal and I am an American who has been married to a Yemeni man for nearly 4 years. We lived in Yemen for three years and now we live in the US, and this is a snippet of what life is like in Yemen from my perspective. I really do love Yemen, and I enjoyed life there very much. However, I also want to give you a well-rounded picture of what the advantages and disadvantages are of living there. You can find more about me at, where I show people how to make Yemeni food in English and Arabic.

yemen 1


Yemen’s beauty derives from its antiquity and the charm and grace of the people. Old Sana’a, Wadi Hadramout, and Jibla are just a few of the ancient cities which seem to be preserved perfectly in time. The odd-sized steps and the tiny doorways in many of these old homes are details which instantly transport one to another place and time. Yemenis recognize the value of the ancient heritage and these old homes are among the most prized and desirable. Sana’a is also known as Shem (Sam) city; Shem is the son of Noah and he supposedly founded the old city. As often happens, architecture mirrors its people, and the Yemeni people reflect a set of traditional and decorated values. Honor and generosity to guests are some of the highest esteemed values.  This generosity extends not only to fellow Yemenis or Arabs, but is often magnified for those deemed as “foreigners,” usually synonymous with “non-arabs.”

I first traveled to Yemen in 2009 as a student studying Arabic. I can’t say exactly why I wanted to travel to Yemen, other than I wanted to travel off the beaten path of the usual westerner travel agenda. Plus I wanted to learn Arabic and Yemen is (or at least it was at the time) supposedly one of the better countries to go to learn Arabic. Not long after I arrived, I met the man who would later become my husband. We would hang out with friends and slowly we got to know each other. It’s not the usual way for relationships to develop in Yemen, but Esam didn’t (and still doesn’t) care much for rules or societal pressures.

After some time, I just knew Esam was the man for me. He had known from the beginning and he was ecstatic that I had finally realized that too. It took a bit of work convincing each of our families, but I am proud and happy to say that my Mom absolutely adores Esam and his family also loves and respects me a lot.

Yemen is most often in the news for the drone strikes and occasional high-profile terrorist incidents. It’s often portrayed as tribal and lawless, not only by the west but also its gulf neighbors. The word tribe carries a different connotation when translated into Arabic, however, and I will attempt to explain to you a little bit about its meaning as I understand it. Tribes (qabail) are organized political structures in Yemen. They exist alongside and at the same time integrated with the official government which is a Republic. People in Yemen often associate tribal lineage with pride and a high social status. Tribes are very powerful because they have the ability to mobilize many people quickly and they also control financial or other resources. They have certain powers and rules outside the scope of the government. Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh exercised much of his power through tribal lines.   yemeni tribes

As far as how tribal power is exercised, it is neither through dictatorship nor coercion. Instead, it is a mutually beneficial relationship which is subject to change by either party. Tribe members have the responsibility to mobilize for a cause when required by the higher-ups. Tribal leaders, or shaykhs, have the responsibility to mediate between disagreements between tribe members as well as to be generous in hosting social events and feeding the less fortunate. Despite a shaykh’s higher social status, they cannot force tribal members into action if what they are requesting seems unreasonable, and Yemenis, like anyone else, maintain their independence. A north Yemeni who spent many years in Al-Jawf described tribal figures’ limitations in this way, “No shaykh can even tell a child what to do.” (North Yemeni as cited in Koehler-Derrick, 2011)

Not every Yemeni has a favorable opinion of tribes. There are those that associate them with the uneducated and oppressive social structures which keep the powerful in power and others down. They are opposed to these structures which favor social ties, bloodlines, and loyalty over formal education and merit-based rule. A Yemeni in Aden, a former British colony, was quoted in 2009 saying,

“Most of what we have is what the British built when they were here. We haven’t gained anything from unification,” says a former colonel in the PDRY army, voicing a common sentiment as he waves his hand towards a row of bleak buildings. “I would rather have had the British here for 400 years than be ruled by Saleh and the Sanhan [President Saleh’s tribe]…Now everyone who has any power is a northerner,” he says. “The young people here have no chance to find decent jobs because they don’t have the tribal connections required to get them.”  (Horton 2009).

Unemployment and economic strife are major problems in Yemen. My husband was from I guess what you might call a middle-class Yemeni family. They were not the richest or the poorest in the neighborhood and they lived comfortably. But middle-class in Yemen also translates to what would be below the poverty level in the US. If we lived in Yemen, there would be no way to really save and get ahead and also be able to travel on that kind of salary. As a foreigner with a degree and who spoke English and Arabic, there are more opportunities for me to find work, but there are still not a lot of jobs which would pay a salary comparable to what I would make in the US.

We know many Yemenis that travel to the gulf countries for work, especially Saudi Arabia. That arrangement has been threatened over the years, however, (the first was after the first gulf war) and now “Saudi Arabia, home to about nine million foreign workers, began the crackdown this year to boost the proportion of Saudi citizens in private sector jobs from the current 10 per cent.” (Gulf news, Yemen does not possess the large oil reserves that its neighbors have. The bleak economic outlook combined with an explosive population growth and other factors such as lack of water has many analysts predicting an impending economic disaster for this country of nearly 25 million.

For all the troubles of Yemen, there are still things about it which makes it an easier county to reside in compared to the other gulf countries. I have traveled to Oman and Dubai and I have observed the hierarchy among the people, with westerners, Indians, Asians, foreign Arabs, and local gulf Arabs each in their own class with different rules which apply to them. Interaction between locals and guest workers is limited and can often be prejudiced. I have also read stories of foreigners married to Saudis who face discrimination and are not able to fit into Saudi society. In Yemen, I never once experienced this feeling as a foreigner. I was always welcomed into people’s homes as one of them. I also know many other foreigners (both arabs and non-arabs) who were also treated as such. To my disbelief, some people even mistook me for Yemeni. (Although I think it was a actually a way of being polite and giving a compliment)

yemen woman driving     Secondly, although Yemen is a conservative Muslim country like Saudi Arabia, it does not have the kind of religious policing which is present in Saudi Arabia. Women are allowed to drive in Yemen and many do. There is a social pressure to dress modestly, but I know many western women that don’t cover their hair or wear an abaya when they go out. Yemen is technically a republic which means that it has elections and is a democracy. Although it doesn’t seem to be a fully functioning democracy quite yet, it is one step ahead of the gulf monarchies in achieving a full democracy. People are not afraid to criticize the government or political leaders and there are several active political movements and parties.

Yemen has a sense of fierce independence and a long history which gives the country a kind of security, despite the signs of impending doom which are knocking at its gate. After all, Sana’a is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities of the world. If it has made it through the floods of Noah, I suppose it will make it through today’s challenges.

Below is a recipe for Yemeni shakshuka, which is a popular egg and tomato dish in the Middle East and North Africa. In North Africa, it is usually eaten with poached eggs but in Yemen, it usually has scrambled eggs and is made with green chilis so it is spicy. They also eat a similar shaksuka in Saudi and the gulf countries, but I am not sure exactly how it is different. Served with milk tea and malawah bread or Yemeni roti, it makes the prefect breakfast or quick dinner.


5 eggs

3 plum tomatoes, chopped (or uncooked canned tomato sauce)

1 chopped onion

1 green chili (more or less to taste)

½ tsp. hawaij

2 tablespoons oil

Salt to taste (about ¾ tsp.)

Ground black pepper



1.      Heat oil, onions, chilis, and salt in a pan and cook the onions until they are slightly brown.

2.      Add the chopped tomatoes, hawaij and black pepper and cook until the tomatoes are soft, about 5 minutes.

3.      Lightly beat the eggs and add to the tomatoes. Let the mixture cook until half-way set, about 3 minutes, then stir the mixture slightly to ensure even cooking.

4.      Serve with bread and tea!



Horton, Michael. (2009). The Christian Science Monitor.  Why Southern Yemen is pushing for secession.  Retrieved November 9 2011 from


Koehler-Derrick, Gabriel. (2011). A False Foundation? Tribes and Ungoverned Spaces in Yemen. West Point: Combating Terrorism Center



yemeni tribes symbol:

 yemen woman driving:


Saudi Arabia: The Artist, Dorothy Boyer, and Her Masterpieces


It is an honor for American Bedu to have this rare opportunity to interview artist Dorothy Boyer.


Dorothy, your works of art are not only beautiful and eye-catching, but very diverse as well.  You have created works of art from watercolors, to exquisite murals and even on furniture! Thank you so much for this opportunity to interview you and ask you questions about yourself, your life and your art!


To begin with, please share a little bit about yourselves with American Bedu readers.  What nationality are you?  When did you first become interested in art as a career?  When and where did you study?

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss aspects of my art with your American Bedu readers.

I am Scottish.

I do not remember a moment when I was not interested in art, but not always as a career.

Art was well taught at my girls’ school but I did not go on to art school, studying to be a teacher instead.

However I have always painted, and had the opportunity to study the works of master artists in galleries in Scotland. This is where I learned.

I did however take courses in all aspects of restorative work with furniture, and specialist painting later on in London and also took workshops with master watercolourist Charles Reid and Botanical painter Jenny Jowat.  wall-panel2

When one thinks of Saudi Arabia, one does not typically think of an expat artist in its midst.  When did you first arrive in Saudi Arabia?  What was the first piece of art for which you were commissioned in the Kingdom?

I arrived in February 1992 to paint the walls, and columns in a grand villa, and to carry out mural work for a well known Sheik in Jeddah.


Since then, how long have you been in the Kingdom and what type of work are you doing there? 

I have been in Jeddah for 21 years, carrying out all kinds of decorative painting, faux finishes, trompe l’oeil murals, teaching and painting my own watercolours, oils and pastels.


In your experience, how interested are Saudis in collecting art?  What type of art works seem to appeal to Saudis?  Watercolors?  Oils?  Murals?

For many years Saudis seemed to be interested in having murals, which historically are designed to show the status of the owner.

Collecting oils has always appealed, as homebuilders have sought to furnish and embellish the interiors of their new and improved homes.

There has always been a market here as far as I can tell, for copies of master works, predominantly from the Far East.

But the more educated and enlightened Saudi has always sought works that are original, frequently by artists from neighbouring lands. Many of these artists have studied outside the Kingdom of course, as art was not given a very important place in the school and college curriculum. 

There is now a noticeably strong body of work unfolding, inspired by the ‘Arab Spring’

I notice recently that good watercolours are very well received and indeed my own solo show was a sell out. I certainly have a fan base here!

 Please share what has been your favorite commission in Saudi Arabia and why?

the-dome     What has been your most challenging commission in Saudi and why?

I shall answer the last two questions together

Being asked to paint the fine art work for the Leylaty Conference Hall or Wedding Hall as it used to be known was a huge commission.

I had to paint 24 large panels 2.2x 2mts wide, 6 oval panels, 2x 3.75 x 2.5 panels and a dome about 28 mts high with 8 panels each 5mts x 3mts.

This was to be in the French Baroque style as the interior of the building was to look like a Viennese Opera House.

The challenge was enormous just to get hold of reference materials given that there was no access to the internet at that time and that reference books with any material considered risqué was heavily censored. I devised many ways of getting what I wanted !

I was the only woman working on site of course and that posed some difficulties as well. Climbing down a 90 ft scaffold, donning an abaya, and hailing a taxi home every time I had to go to the bathroom was an interruption I could have done without.

The dome acted as a chimney or funnel for the extreme heat and of course the electrics were not connected till the end of the project—so no a/c.

I had a young friend of my son to help me with the dome. He had graduated from art school and this was his first job. He was motivated, and disciplined in the way that ‘public’ (private) schools in Scotland are famous for. With his help I was able at least to finish the dome in the time required. Once the scaffolding was removed the chandelier fitters from the USA were ready to pounce.

The pressure was huge and the project took 13 months.

Because of this long commitment it was only natural that it became my favourite at the time. It was hard to see it being handed over to chefs, and waiters and managers, people ready to set the whole operation in motion, when all that the building had been about up until then, was carpet fitting, canvas fitting, varnishing, marbling etc.

It was strange to hand over.

But of course I also have had favourite commissions in the UK

old-jeddah   How easy (or not) has it been for you as an artist to become settled and well-recognized in the Kingdom?

As far as becoming settled, I am very adaptable. I would say that is one of my strongest traits.

When one door closes, and many have, I immediately look for another one to open.

I am very focused, disciplined, and passionate about my work.

It was never my intention to become well recognized as an artist in the Kingdom.

Nor am I even now preoccupied with that.

On the other hand my work has been received so well and I have had such good publicity that recognition has been inevitable.

It will never be for me like it is for Saudi artists though.

This is a young country in some ways and the thriving art scene favours its own.

So I am content that my work has been exhibited in London and Shanghai for example and I have received awards from America.

As a renowned artist, what is your favorite medium with which to create art?  Why?

I love the transparency and the light that watercolour affords me when I paint. My work is all about the light.

Of course I also paint in oils and pastels but keep coming back to watercolour, the most difficult of all to master. It is that challenging aspect that keeps drawing me back to keep trying!

It is becoming a much more acceptable medium now amongst collectors. Galleries used to hate it because of freighting works under glass with all the associated problems of damage, insurance etc.

It used to be thought that watercolours were ‘fugitive’ but not now. Most pigments are permanent.

The perception amongst collectors was that watercolour was the second rate citizen and so galleries preferred to handle oils, finding them easier to sell.

It is changing though as shown by the number of recent exhibitions exclusively dedicated to watercolour.

Noteably the Watercolour Biennial in Shanghai. I took part in the second one in 2012 and was one of around 220 paintings selected out of 11,000.

Magazines (The Art of Watercolour) dedicated to this medium are now every bit as exciting as ones embracing oil painting and pastels. Watercolour used to be perceived as the preparatory work for an oil painting. Not any longer.


How do you get your inspiration to do so many vastly different pieces of art?

I will paint anything and everything provided the light has played a part.

The light changes ordinary objects into things of great beauty. Sometimes it can be just the light or shadow shapes themselves that are beautiful. Obscure, dull little corners can hold great promise when the sun streams in and that is what turns me on.


You also do interior design work and have even given some classes on refurbishing or changing the appearance of existing furniture.  Can you give some examples of what have been some of your favorite “make overs” and why?

I did interior design work and my training made it easier for me to interpret the brief when finding out what clients wished from me as a painter.

I antiqued walls and marbled columns, distressing furniture to match. But I have not practiced interior design in Saudi Arabia and would not want to.


There is an impression that most Saudis like to buy new furniture rather than have pieces refurbished or updated.  Do you agree or disagree?  Why?

Yes I agree. Most do not want refurbished pieces.

But I do know of a few who have some rather gorgeous antiques!

Did you ever expect when you arrived in Saudi Arabia that you would come to make it a long-time home?


You’re originally from Scotland, have also lived in Argentina and spent time in London.  How does Saudi Arabia compare?  What has made the Kingdom most special to you?  young-shepherd

It was in Argentina that I had to learn to be so self sufficient –we are talking of the sixties and seventies.

There were electric generators in the estancia houses, no telephone, long distances travelled to buy provisions etc. I learned and I coped.

When I came to Saudi Arabia in the early nineties it was very different from today, in that I was unable to obtain much of the material required to carry out my work, and so I learned to improvise, invent and compromise as I had done in Argentina.

Now of course I can order certain things online and have them delivered here with a carrier.

This facility was not a possibility in the early nineties. Indeed satellite television was forbidden.

Now the world is open via the internet, an opportunity that the young Saudis have embraced this with relish. So they are learning and absorbing, learning also to be discerning, a new concept if you have not had the opportunity before to be so exposed to everything on offer.

They are learning about art from all over the world and importantly finding a voice through their art. That is wonderful.

Although my art is not about political dialogue, (I am well able for that through the spoken word!) I can see that as a vehicle for bringing about awareness, progress and change, albeit slowly, it is an ideal medium.

So I admire the new art of the Middle East.

My work is about making people feel glad when they see it. That is not to say it is a mere representation of what lies in front of me. There is much more to it than that.

Usually a story, a set of circumstances that have led me to choose a particular theme. But then it is about trying to paint as beautifully as I can. Simple!

As far as comparison with Scotland is concerned the common denominator is family and certainly when I was young, faith.

That still holds true for me and my friends at home and I would say the majority of decent people.

My country was shaped by a strict protestant God fearing faith. The values, education and conduct of our people were so influenced. That was how I was brought up.

It was not so difficult to identify with people who had similar values although a different faith.

I can identify with them totally.

The Kingdom has been good to me.

Your paintings show so much intricate detail whether a scene from a souk, an expatriate or a Saudi vendor in action.  How do you capture these details?  Are your subjects aware of your interest in them?  Do you take a photo first and then paint from the photo?  fruitseller-jeddah

I always begin my work with a study from life. This can entail a 3 or 4 hour session in front of the actual subject—if it is a building in the souq.

I have a permit to sit and paint and my architectural studies start as quick watercolours. From this I create my larger paintings at home, in the studio, with the added help of a photo. I frequently return to the site to check on a detail if I need to. It is on these occasions that I have found that whole buildings have disappeared in the space of a week or two. Many of my paintings are of buildings in Jeddah that are no longer there.

Very sad indeed!

If it is a figure, I usually make quick sketches and then take a photo. When they become aware of what I am doing they frequently want to ‘pose’—and this is not what I want!

I have had some hilarious moments with some of the subjects but I do always have to be very careful not to attract unwanted attention—for that can create a problem here.

The painting of the shepherd was started from life but became difficult when the other herdsmen started to press in too close and I could feel a pair of hands firmly pressing my thighs, possibly testing my suitability for market! So a photo was the next step. I returned a few days later to distribute some of the photos to their rightful owners. Interestingly, some of the men were laying claim to the wrong picture of themselves. Either mirrors did not feature large in their chosen lifestyles or it was a form of illiteracy. It was of course a revelation for me.  

The cheeky little black girl in the souq stood still for ages while I drew her. She was fascinated. Poor little mite should really have been at school -not out selling for a living. But then it was a wonderful opportunity for me.

I always purchase something from these kind ‘models’ so that they do not feel short changed!

And no I did not buy a sheep from the shepherd!

In the main, the folk around me, when I take up a painting position, are extremely solicitous, plying me with water to drink and making sure I am alright.

I paint very early in the morning starting before the shops are open -until midday.

I always wear a plain black abaya—nothing eyecatching,  but do not cover my hair. If anyone protests at this –it is usually the women I have found.

 I have felt privileged to record the Old Souq in Jeddah. It has been a huge inspiration for me as an artist and of course I just love crumbling old buildings with a history in the very fabric of their walls.

I am sad that this is a vanishing landscape however, and that future generations will just have to refer to photos, paintings and perhaps a re-creation of what is authentic.

But at least I have played a part in that.

What is a typical week in Saudi Arabia like for you?

I am usually very focused but at the moment quite frantic!

I fly home every 6 weeks to see my mother who will be 100 years old in July inshallah!

I am teaching as well as preparing for an Open House on the 29th and 30th of May with the help of Susan.

I paint on the days I am not teaching, sometimes visiting the souq or arranging a still life in the studio.

I scan my work and upload to my website.

When I am in Spain in the summer however I garden and watch my flowers grow. I paint in the afternoons and enjoy the evenings with my husband.

Where do you hope to see yourself five years from now?

Relaxing I hope! But never far away from my watercolour palette!

You have lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and mix naturally between the Saudi and expatriate community.  What advice do you give to new arrivals to Saudi Arabia on how they can make the best and most enriching time of their Saudi experience?


Learn something of the background history of the people—history has always fascinated, and in turn local customs. Allow the people to show you their customs and be genuinely interested in the human element of their stories which they will love to tell you.

You can then be ambassadors when you return and help dispel stereotipic myths.

Some things don’t change however, and you are a guest. Remember that.


How can interested readers contact you and learn more about your art?

Anyone who is interested in my work can contact me through my website where I post blogs and send newsletters.

I am on facebook at DorothyBoyerFineArt and twitter @DBoyerFineArt should anyone wish to follow me!

My representative is Susan Schuster without whose help I would not be able to function! Her email is [email protected]


Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just to say a big thank you again for giving me the chance to talk to you and thrilled indeed that I can communicate through my art.


Thanks again for this interview and sharing with American Bedu readers.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,277 other followers

%d bloggers like this: