05 Dec, Sunday
22° C

Tackling Saudi bureaucracy is a test of endurance

BY the third hour of waiting with at least 299 Saudi men to get my new identity card this week in Jeddah, my stomach was hurting so much that I wondered if I would be able to endure the long wait.

The stabs of pain were a combination of a dodgy meal I had the night before at Shami restaurant with my old friend Francis and his charming family, and the nervous anticipation of having to jostle and wait for my name to be called by a policeman several times during the various stages of getting a new ID card.

First, after filling out the form and attaching a photo of myself to it and stapling my old ID card to it, I had to queue to get a number at 7:30 a.m. at the Civil Affairs Department. It took only a few minutes to get my number: 277, which meant that there were 276 people ahead of me. Most likely, they had followed the advice of the policeman who had told me to be here at 6:30 in the morning. I found that too early, and felt 7:30 would be early enough. That’s how I got stuck with the number 277.

I had to wait two hours before my number came up. When it finally flashed on the screen I went to window number 13 and handed over the application with my old card. The policeman punched a hole through my old card and told me to wait until they called my name. That took another hour, with many of the men crowding around the policeman who kept calling out the names of people. Once my name was called I lined up with others to have my picture taken by a digital camera. There were two lines. Ten minutes into my line, and our photographer said he was going to the bathroom and never returned. The men ahead of me became restless and started complaining to the policeman monitoring the other line that kept moving as their photographer had not disappeared.

“Let us be photographed too! It’s not fair that we just stand here waiting for our man to come back,” said one annoyed Saudi.

The policeman initially said no, but eventually relented. After waiting 20 more minutes, it was finally my turn to be photographed. By then I was sweating underneath my ghutra and through my thobe, because unlike every other guy there, I wasn’t wearing an undershirt to absorb that pesky moisture.

Photo taken, I then joined hundreds of others in waiting for our new cards to be issued and handed to us. The new Saudi ID cards are high-tech and contain a microchip. We can use them instead of passports to travel to neighboring GCC countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE.

As our wait stretched into hours, impatient men started crowding around the windows where the new cards were being handed out. As we approached midday, an official came out and berated the people crowding around the windows and shooed them away. When my name was finally called after midday, I wearily took my card and left the Civil Affairs Department after giving the employee my secret four-digit PIN code number that every new ID card owner must have.

Later, a Saudi acquaintance told me I was lucky to get my ID card in only five hours. Indeed, I had read online that some people were waiting two weeks to get their new cards in Riyadh. Still, exhausted from all of that, and feeling awful with my dodgy stomach, I retired to bed and certainly didn’t feel that lucky!