Now it’s not just us expats on the ‘termination list’. Since the ‘Under Ministers’ took up residence with the Professor’s departure last week, there is a new, ruthless regime at the Health Board. We had all assumed that the harassment would be confined to just us expats, but in an unprecedented move, locals are being targeted too.
The girls on my corridor, who Joe calls ‘the princesses’, have been the first to fall victim. Faria has been sent to HR, which is where everyone gets sent when they can’t actually be fired. Consequently, the Board has one of the largest HR departments imaginable. Faria was the Minister’s PA and very good at her demanding job. But the thugs decided she was too assertive and, more importantly, from the ‘wrong’ family. Not that anyone said this out-loud, but all the locals knew why, and Laila explained it to me.
Next, two of the princesses in my office were demoted. Again, I had found their support, professionalism and attitude first-class. However, there had been a lot of mutterings about them in the aftermath of the international health summit that had been held recently, and in particular the ‘chocolate incident’. Just two days before the summit one of the thugs, Sheikh Fariq, our newly appointed Director of Public Relations, had insisted that the princesses source hand-made chocolates, decorated with an icing tab of the Board’s logo. Despite the lateness of the hour, the princesses had done a brilliant job and several thousand logo’ed chocolates winged their way from Europe to the Middle East. At the minute the chocolates touched down in the airport, our very own Public Health department impounded them. There was a typo in the expiry date on the packages. That was the end of the logo’ed chocolates, and my princesses.
Both women were humiliated in front of the whole team and many senior staff, made to apologise for their failings. Then, vicious rumours about them rocketed around the building, fuelled in no small part by jealousy over their beauty, recent promotions and family background, as both are second tier royalty. My princesses were now stripped of their promotions and roles, told to clear their desks immediately and relocate to HR. In true princess style they refused to go anywhere, least of all HR. Three days of tears and hysteria in our office followed.
Finally, they were moved to one of the thug’s offices, slightly less demeaning than HR. Immediately, Sheikh Fariq dismantled everything in their offices and threw it all out, all those precious butterflies and the massive goblet of golden fish. He forbade us to speak to any of them again. I promptly went to visit them in their new offices and offer my support. They were spitting, after all it was Sheikh Fariq who had insisted on those wretched chocolates, but he would not stand up for the princesses; and they had to be blamed, sacrificed for his reputation.
Since then Sheikh Fariq has been calling the remaining princesses through the night, making all sorts of demands of them, and propositions… He becomes more threatening by the day. I get these calls too, several an hour, insisting I accompany him on a trip to Saudi. If only I had an exit visa! Shame his henchmen have confiscated it it. I have switched my phone off, as I can’t bear it. He is drawing up plans to expand the department, and already an army of sinister local men ahve been parachuted into these posts. No recruitment process, and it seems they don’t have PR experience. Plenty of skills in surveillance instead. They just sit there and read the newspaper each day, glowering, going off to the roof to smoke. They watch us with their bloodshot eyes. We shudder.
Worse of all, Sheikh Fariq now seems to have his eyes set on Laila and is manoeuvring to have her work directly for him.
These truly are dark days.