Scotland Study Centre


The Director of Scotland Study Centre has written the following article:

I spent five months teaching in a women’s college in Madinah, Saudi Arabia. However, as a non-Saudi, as a non-Muslim, and especially as a non-Saudi, non-Muslim female, in those five months I only managed to gain limited insight into the Saudi culture and practices. It was therefore in the hope of gaining a deeper understanding of what I experienced in Madinah that I agreed to write a review for Addul al Lily’s ‘The Bro Code.’
Perhaps ‘The Bro Code’ is best understood as a series of statements about Saudi Arabian values and customs that, while not proven to be true, nevertheless provide a basis upon which to evaluate our own research and experiences of the country. Another main asset of the book is that it does not take a religious or any other partisan viewpoint. Although titled ‘The Bro Code,” the book remains gender-neutral in describing Saudi Arabian practices in all their often bewildering and contradictory forms.

‘The Bro Code’ is termed a ‘book,’ but it the type of book that appeals well to both avid and less avid readers. A main plus is that you can dip in and out of the different statements, making it very easy to digest.. The statements are grouped into categories that relate to body parts; however, the book does not have the sort of overall hierarchical structure that readers expect of a traditional academic publication. Nor does it have the normal references and support for statements expected of an academic research study. Al Lily has based his research in multiple interviews and in his own extensive personal experience and insights as a Saudi insider. He also intersperses the lists of statements with statistical analyses of the interviews that shed light on Saudi and non-Saudi views of each other and of each other’s cultures and values

While the list of statements in ‘The Bro Code’ is long, I will focus on the first three, as they helped make clearer the basis of my experiences in Madina. I will also focus on those statements that relate to my arrival at my hotel in Madinah and on what were the most extreme and memorable of my many experiences during my five month stay there.

Statement Nos 1-3

  1. Saudi society is divided into two domains, a domestic ‘inside the house’ domain and a public ‘outside the house’ domain.
  2. Women are responsible for and belong to the domestic domain.
  3. Men are in command of and are affiliated with the public domain.

As very much an outsider to Saudi Arabian culture, my entry to the inner women’s domain took place immediately on my arrival at El Meridien Hotel, the only hotel in Madinah allowed to accept non-Muslim guests. I arrived at about 3 a.m., and without even being offered a seat or a cup of tea, the male staff immediately fetched a black abbaya and hijab and told me to put them on, right there at the reception desk, on top of my own clothing. As I struggled into the abbaya and attempted to put the hijab on properly, I had a really uncomfortable sense of humiliation; I felt my own culture and values were being belittled, while complying with having to wear the abbaya and hijab symbolised my own acceptance of this belittlement. As stated in The Bro Code Statement No.1131, however “compliance is compulsory.”

Putting on the ababya and hijab, I also immediately regretted having bought a wardrobe of long, dark, baggy clothes for coming to Madinah. I later wore them under the abbaya, and they served me as work clothes in the college. However, my fashion sense was in stark and very dowdy contrast to the colourful, and sexy, clothes worn by some of the staff and by the majority of the students in the college. The stark contrast in women’s dress-styles and behaviour for the public and private domains was my first insight into the contradictory nature of Saudi culture and values. The teachers and girls arrived swathed in black, with only their very made-up eyes showing. Immediately inside the college walls, however, they were creatures transformed. De-abbayaed and de-hijabed, and de-niqabed, the students were no different to young women elsewhere, with their immediate interest in fashion, make-up, music, relationships, and fun. They, like other young women throughout the world, were also interested in more serous topics, and they were especially keen to find out and experience for themselves what life is really like in the ‘outer’ world. Their curiosity, as well as their inherent confidence in their own abilities, was particularly evident when they questioned me about what it was like to drive. “It’s easy, isn’t it, Miss?” they asked, and they all laughed when I answered, “Of course it’s easy. Men can do it, can’t they?”

Whiteness is said to have a positive value in Saudi Arabian culture. In contrast, Statement No.318, highlights the use of the expression, “May God make your face black” as a curse. No. 486 also states that black-skinned Saudis are “jokingly” referred to as “slaves.” This ability to refer to humans as slaves is indicative of a mentality more in tune with medieval times than with the 21st Century, and some of the functions I witnessed at the El Meridien hotel did indeed resemble medieval banquets.
The hotel was at times commandeered by Saudi Arabian Princes and other high-ranking officials for official functions and parties. One such party meant that all guests of the hotel had to wait until the party was over, “perhaps very, very late, or tomorrow morning” – before being allowed access to our hotel. I and the other college teachers, as non-Saudis, were privileged to have been allowed earlier access at 9.00 p.m. I was escorted to my room by guards carrying machine guns, past an enormous tank stationed in the hotel courtyard, past the main party taking place in the reception area.

There were only males present in the reception area, as in Saudi Arabian culture the sexes are also segregated for parties. As I was rushed through the party by the armed guards, what stood out most were the “slaves,” dark-skinned men wearing very bright, colourful clothes and turbans, holding golden trays with goblets, and serving the other, lighter-skinned men in their white cloaks and headdresses. I looked on, as if viewing scenes from a parallel, past world.

There were guards with rifles stationed at each corner of each floor of the hotel. I was escorted to the door of my room and was told that I would only be allowed to leave it after 9.00 a.m. the next morning. Looking closely at the armed guards, their faces were in stark, and pleasant, contrast to the intimidating nature of their military clothing and rifles. They smiled at me, politely and pleasantly. They looked like innocent young kids playing at being soldiers.

At 9.00 the next morning, I peeked out my room door, and, seeing no guards, I went down to breakfast. I was served by the usual, very cheerful and friendly Asian waiter. He had worked in Saudi Arabia for nine years, during which time he had viewed its culture with critical interest. We chatted about the events of the previous evening, and he commented: “They come. The men go one place, the women go another place. They sit, they eat, they talk. They look bored. They go home. In my country, there is music,and dancing, and fun. Here, no music, no dancing, no fun’”

There was fun in Medinah. I experienced it everyday with my fun-loving and inquisitive students, behind the walls and closed gates of the college. I also experienced it intermittently, when at times I was taken by some of the other teachers, mainly Palestinians and Syrians, on outings with their families. Fun was also stolen, most memorably as I and a Syrian friend and her daughters hitched up our abbayas and raced each other, hidden in the darkness, in the evenings behind the El Meridienl.

I recommend ‘The Bro Code’. It provides what seem to be unbiased glimpses, and a degree of understanding, of Saudi Arabian culture, a culture that, even when you live there, can otherwise be difficult to access and comprehend. Some day there will be ‘The Sis Code’, and that is sure to provide even more insight, and even more interesting reading.

For the source, click HERE.


Goodreads Reviews

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I would like to thank Prof. Abdul Al Lily for the book. Being in Saudi for almost 3 years, I am still experiencing and learning its fascinating culture. The book represents facts about Saudi and Saudis, some of them are very familiar for me, but many – absolutely unexpected and new. There are so many things to explore, to find out and to be impressed by. I highly encourage to read the book everyone who currently lives in Saudi or plans to visit the country, at the same time I am sure the book is very interesting to read for general audience and for general education. (less)

The book presents quite unique material on some aspects of social life in Saudi Arabia. This can be of great use to expats living in the kingdom. It is revealing and at times even funny for locals. The content is non-judgmental and shown in minute detail. Knowing something about the thorough research done by the author enhances a reader’s opinion about objectivity and the informative aspect of the book.

I was honoured to meet Abdul Al Lily in person and to recieve a signed “Bro Code Of Saudi Cuture”. When I started reading I could not stop. Many things I recognized as well new information interested me very much. I am happy to have this book, so that I understand Arabic people and my Arabic friends better, as well during doing business with them and sharing frienship with them. José van Helden Van Helden International Business The Netherlands

I recommend this book to anyone curious about Saudi Arabia. It’s easy to read, unbiased, and answers many of the questions people have about this mysterious and controversial culture. As a current employee living and working in Saudi Arabia, I found it very interesting, informative, and accurate about what I’ve observed.

The Bro Code of Saudi Culture is a very accessible book because it is written in tweet size messages and because of the style of writing. It is sometimes humorous and informative at the same time. I am European and would especially recommend the book to other Europeans and other non Arabs/ Saudis/ Muslims. There are so many things we would never know about the culture and way of living. There are things we would never even think about because it is totally different in Europe. That makes it even more interesting to get knowledge about this. It is good to learn about other cultures, ways of living etc. I would say it even develops me as a person and it was my pleasure reading it too. I would highly recommend the book of Mr. Al Lily. Thank you very much.

The author did a great job in explaining those “unwritten” Saudi customs to the outsiders. As a student living in Saudi for four years, I found the book very helpful for me to get to know this country and its people better.

Lol – I was laughing throughout the book. What makes the book interesting is that it is a reflection of an interestingly insane reality. I found the book very informative. Some things make you laugh while others are sad. I recommend this book for anyone interested in Saudi Arabia and Saudi culture. The book is amazing and so funny. Saudi culture is insane and here is the proof.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Over the past 5 years, I have lived and worked in Saudi. I have found this book to be quite insightful and funny. I have observed these “rules” being played out in day to day life. The dynamics between Saudis and expats are shifting due to Saudization. Prior to this process, interactions with Saudis were of mythical proportions (you had heard of them but never really saw them, kinda like BigFoot). Now, interactions are prominent as more and more Saudis are working in all kinds of career fields then a decade ago. This book provides the bridge between expats and Saudi citizens offering better understanding of each other. Al Lily is correct as there is very little material available about Saudi life outside of the politically motivated agendas. He handles the subject matter effortlessly. He provides the first, of hopefully, many more resources to come.

Since I’m in Saudi Arabia and I’ve found it different to understand this culture, I felt obligated to read this book. Although I am a bit dyslexic, I’ve found this book easy to read because it’s written in tweet-sized points. Why aren’t all books written in tweet-sized points? I’ve learnt a lot a lot about Saudi culture through this book – to be honest, I don’t know if I can even know more about this culture, as the book is unbelievably comprehensive and deliver SO many norms and habits. Literally, every sentence (or two sentences) covers one norm. THis book is surely well crafted.

I read all 666 rules in one night! It’s a fascinating read. I have online friends from Saudi and they expected it to be inaccurate but did, in fact, confirm everything I quoted to them. I now feel it has given me a deeper understanding of our interactions and also the interactions I’ve witnessed between them.

UK Amazon Reviews

UK Amazon Reviews

UK Amazon Reviews

Having lived in the Gulf for 10+ years I was looking for a book to give to newbies we recruited at work to give them an idea of what was to come but also to give me some ideas of how to better organise a cultural induction for them. I bought a couple of different books to give me some ideas what to do but by far this is the most interesting of the guides. It is so much better than I was expecting. If you want facts and figures about KSA then go on Wikipedia; this books is written in an easy format where you can pick it up and read form nay section about a range of topics. As a Saudi who has lived both in Saudi and in KSA it’s obvious he’s been able to see his country through different eyes. I can also tell he’s listened to a lot of women before writing this! My favourite bit is the when he asks a huge group of uni students about their opinions and then summarises reports what they said. I’d love to ask the same questions to uni students in my own country and look and the diverse range of opinions. So conclude, it not only served it’s purpose but I also decided to buy a copy for each person that we recruit so they can read it before arriving.

This book is totally unique and I think it is required reading for any foreigner travelling to Saudi Arabia. It sets out in an extremely matter of fact way, based on empirical research and interviews with Saudi nationals, the complex network of social customs and rules that govern people’s lives within the country. This is something you will not find even in well written political analyses of the country. It gives a truly fascinating insight into the minutiae of ordinary Saudi lives and provides much needed context to all the hype and headlines regarding the country. I imagine that some Saudis may view the book as generalising about their culture, but I’m also sure that much of what the book contains is indeed accurate. I am looking forward to reading it again before my next trip to Riyadh as I’m sure it will help me navigate Saudi society.

This book is very infromative and funny. I have lived in Saudi Arabia for a Long time and I still learnt something new. All the things are so true, some make you lough others are just sad. For example, I liked the fact that Saudi’s become related with one another if they were breastfeed by the same person. I would recommend the book to anyone interested in Saudi culture.

As an educator who has been working in Saudi Arabia for a few years, this book really helped me understand the cultural nuances and sub-cultures that exist within the country.As a result I was able to communicate much better with my students.I would definitely recommend this book to anyone travelling to the Saudi Arabia in the not too distant future.

If you really want to know the KSA’s culture, if you want to know the code of conduct used in SAUDI, if you want to have also the unwritten rules, then this book is what you are looking for. The author was able to explain these in a simple, effective and clear way.

The author shows a very interesting and educating view of the values, rules and especialy the code of the Saudi culture and society. I recommend everyone to read it.

I am new to Saudi Arabia and this book offers excellent ‘under the surface’ insight to a fascinating and much misunderstood country.