Born in the KSA: Young and successful, Pakistani creatives recall Saudi childhood

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Updated 05 December 2020

Born in the KSA: Young and successful, Pakistani creatives recall Saudi childhood

  • Filmmaker and producer Emad Khalid Mughal recalls the 'surreal' feeling of growing up surrounded by holy sites
  • Young creatives say that in Pakistan they often have to clear misconceptions about their childhood home in Saudi Arabia

RAWALPINDI: Model Atikah Gardezi, stylist Maryam Raja and producer Emad Khalid Mughal have a lot in common: they’re young, they’re Lahore based, they’re causing a stir in their respective fields, and they all grew up in Saudi Arabia.
Makkah-born Raja lived in Jeddah until age 25 and left for Pakistan three years ago to work for brands such as Zara Shahjahan, Beechtree and Khaadi.
"When I think about growing up in Saudi Arabia, ironically, I think a lot about water, visiting the beautiful Red Sea ... Most people would think desert," she told Arab News laughing.
But the stereotypes which for her need to be fixed are not only related to landscape.
"There’s this idea here that KSA is incredibly conservative and restrictive which, yes in some ways it is more so than here, but the way Pakistanis picture it is a bit off,” she said. “I know it’s not the same for everyone and I speak with some privilege, but over there I felt like I could move more freely, and it helped build up my independence.”

Stylist Maryam Raja at her home in Lahore, Pakistan on Aug. 5, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Maryam Raja)

Her current career, however, might have been impossible in Saudi Arabia.

"Being an expat, even though my parents migrated when they were three and four years old respectively, it continues to be hard getting a job because of the way the visas work," she said.

"It's harder to hire someone who is not a Saudi national. Now I have a career path, very strongly defined in Pakistan."

Correcting misconceptions about the childhood home is also what Mughal, who moved to Pakistan some 10 years ago, keeps on doing. 

"There’s a big misconception that Saudi is just nomads roaming around looking for water or something when in reality it’s been at the forefront of a lot of development and urbanization. There are some crazy mega infrastructure projects going on," he said.

"If people saw beyond the label of it being a traditional country and look at the cities it would probably change their perspectives."

Emad Khalid Mughal, left, and Maryam Raja in Lahore on June 6, 2019. (Photo courtesy: Maryam Raja)

Although born in Kuwait, he spent most of his life in Jeddah and moved to Pakistan to pursue his bachelor's degree. He recalled the "surreal" feeling of always being surrounded by holy sites in his Saudi childhood.
"All the holy sites are around the corner it’s a surreal way to grow up," he told Arab News. "It’s such a privilege because some people, right here in Pakistan, work their whole lives to get there and we had them, sometimes walking distance from us."
A decade into his life in Lahore and with a number successful projects in his resume, like editing films such as "Yaalghaar," "Ashen Streets," the 30-year-old says he is still missing his Saudi life.
“It’s the food I miss the most, but also the lifestyle," he said.
Unlike Mughal and Raja, Gardezi, who became a professional model in Pakistan, knew that Pakistan would someday become her home.

Model Atikah Gardezi in Lahore, Pakistan, April 1, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Atikah Gardezi)

“I always felt like an outsider in Saudi even being born and raised there," said the 28-year-old born in Makkah.
That strangeness and being an outsider is something she continues to feel in Pakistan, though on different levels.
"That is something I feel in Pakistan now," she said, adding that with her childhood memories being associated with Saudi Arabia she often feels little out of place, even though she has already found her footing and made a new home.

Atikah Gardezi and her mother on a road trip to Abha, Saudi Arabia in November 1995. (Photo courtesy: Atikah Gardezi)

But she says she remembers her Saudi childhood as diverse and inclusive: "My favorite thing about growing up in Saudi was the diaspora community we built in the building I grew up in."
This sense of community is what she is struggling to find in Pakistan.
"What was different when I first moved here is the lack of community. Moving here I realized things like your position in society mattered a great deal to the culture here, what you wore and who you were friends with. For me personally, that was not the case in Makkah."

Lawyer for Daniel Pearl's family faces uphill legal fight

Updated 4 min 6 sec ago

Lawyer for Daniel Pearl's family faces uphill legal fight

  • Faisal Siddiqi says overturning even the kidnapping for ransom charge will send Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh back to death row
  • Sheikh, who allegedly lured Pearl to his death, was acquitted in April due to insufficient evidence

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani lawyer for the family of slain American journalist Daniel Pearl faces an uphill battle to overturn the acquittal of a British-born man convicted in the 2002 murder.

That's because the prosecutor in the original case tried all four men — including Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the man believed to have lured Pearl to his death — as one, with the same charges against all even though each played a different role.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Faisal Siddiqi, the lawyer for Pearl’s family, said that although the initial prosecution had painted the four defendants with the same brush, “You don’t, because of doubt in one or two or three pieces (of evidence), acquit them all.”

The four men were acquitted in April on the grounds that the initial prosecution’s evidence was insufficient. Siddiqi said his argument now before the Supreme Court, Pakistan's highest, is that conspiracy, kidnapping for ransom and murder deserve separate consideration.

Siddiqi said the Supreme Court hearing to overturn the acquittals will resume Tuesday, and most likely reach its conclusion before the end of January. Both the Pearl family as well as Pakistan’s government separately have appealed the acquittals.

Siddiqi said overturning even the kidnapping for ransom charge would send Sheikh back to death row, where he'd been since his conviction in 2002. He was transferred to a jail in the port city of Karachi in Sindh province, after the Sindh High Court overturned his conviction. The three others charged in Pearl's murder — Fahad Naseem, Adil Sheikh and Salman Saqib — were acquitted on all charges.

Sheikh was sentenced to death, and the other three to life in prison for their roles in Pearl's murder.

Siddiqi said he’s argued that the judges have a duty to both the accused and the victim, and while “no innocent person should be convicted ... no guilty person should be set free.”

The Pearl family’s lawyer said the overwhelming sentiment is “whenever there is a doubt, let us free the accused, never thinking what happened to the victim,” adding that he's asking the judges to “restore the balance between the accused and the victim.”

The acquittal outraged the United States, and last month the US warned it won’t allow Sheikh to escape justice. Acting US Attorney General Jeffery Rosen praised Pakistan for appealing the Sindh court’s order but said if “those efforts do not succeed, the United States stands ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial” in America.

Sheikh remains in jail even as the Sindh High Court last month ordered him freed while the appeal is being heard. Sheikh's lawyer, Mehmood A. Sheikh, no relation, has taken the demand for his client's freedom to the Supreme Court. Until now it has not ruled on the release.

Siddiqi said the prosecutor in Sheikh's original trial was held under considerable duress caused by militant Islamists, who issued threats to the attorney general, and which even forced the court hearing to be held within the confines of the jail.

Sheikh was convicted of helping lure Pearl to a meeting in Karachi, where he was kidnapped. Pearl had been investigating the link between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, dubbed the “Shoe Bomber” after trying to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his shoes.

A gruesome video of Pearl’s beheading was sent to the US Consulate. The 38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter from Encino, California was abducted Jan. 23, 2002.