On a typically sunny Friday morning in Jeddah, I found myself driving past the city’s biggest mosque, the vast car park of which doubled as the city’s ‘chop-chop square’ where executions were a frequent occurrence.
Friday prayers had just ended, and the crowd gathering outside was surrounded by police cars with their lights flashing. It could mean only one thing. I joined the throng just in time to see two Bangladeshi men – blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their backs – being forced to kneel on the ground.
Amid cries of Allahu akbar – ‘God is greatest’ – they were decapitated by a burly executioner wielding a huge sword, who then held aloft their heads. Welcome, I said to myself with a shudder of horror, to Saudi Arabia.
Just a couple of hours later, I was sitting in a Starbucks cafe inside a glitzy mall surrounded by families strolling with their children, mostly dressed in Western clothes and eating ice cream. It struck me that it could have been Knightsbridge in London.