Jeddah skyline Saudi Arabia
Residential and commercial properties sit on the city skyline beside a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. [Illustrative image] Image Credit: Bloomberg

Coronavirus has left many globally reeling from the economic impact with some individuals and families in dire straits. Without jobs or means of sustenance, a few have taken to begging to sustain themselves. But along with them have descended an army of professional beggars intent of taking advantage of the situation.

Recently, a forlorn-looking male looking for a handout approached my wife and me. Without much of a glance, I muttered ‘may God be with you’ as I walked over to the car with my wife making her way to the passenger side.

Just as I climbed into the car, I heard a loud whack coming from her direction. Getting out quickly and walking around to the other side, I noticed her admonishing him for his rude behaviour. With a glare that would melt an iceberg, she told him to respect her space, and that he had no right to get so close and try to touch her with his pleas for a handout.

Looking at this man more closely now, I could not help but pity him. But yet he had violated the sanctity of a lady.

As my wife started getting into the car, I chimed in the reprimand and let him know in no uncertain terms that what he did was wrong, wrong, and wrong. Regardless of reason, he had no right to touch my wife. By doing that, he deserved all the reprimand. The sanctity of a woman is held in very high esteem in our culture, and all perpetrators shall be made to suffer. Whatever his intentions, he had committed the cardinal sin of touching an unrelated female.

Once inside the car, we discussed this incident, with my wife insistent that he was not as frail as he appeared to be, and that panhandlers today were becoming very adept in the art of disguise to elicit pity and generous alms from the unsuspecting. In that he had done something he had no right to, that was unquestionably wrong and he deserved what he got and maybe more. And we left it at that.

A couple of days later, my son and I were leaving a private funeral wake for a relative when I was approached by a gentleman outside the doors who called me out by my first name and offered his condolences. While I did not recognise him, and I have a tendency to sometimes forget faces, I accepted his commiserations. No sooner had I done that, he pulled out some documents from his pocket and began a sob story on medical bills and unpaid debts. Holding on to my arm, he begged for some help.

Coming off a funeral wake, and taken aback by this brazen switch in tactics, I muttered the customary reply as my son and I walked over to where my car was parked. He followed us, pestering me for some generosity. Turning around and facing him, I let him know that I had no money on me, and had not even brought my wallet with me. My son, perhaps too young and naive to understand blurted out, “But Baba, you have it with you. I saw you take it when you left home.” “Let’s go son,” was my frozen reply as I took a tight grip of his hand and kept going.

But I was not left alone. This man taking advantage of the solemnity of the occasion kept pestering even as we were getting into the car. Getting bolder, he tried to hold the door in which my son got in open so as to plead his case. A few more such alms seekers who would have jumped in the back seats of the car — if allowed — compounded this aggravating situation.

With a wrestle of hands, I finally slammed the car door on my son’s side and we drove off. In the rear-view mirror, I could see this horde of panhandlers casing out their next unsuspecting victim.

This disturbing and rising trend of physical tactics employed by actor-beggars has been brought to the attention of the authorities who are trying to curb this social nuisance.

There are enough legitimate and charitable institutions for our charity. Indulging alms seekers just makes them more vociferous and determined when turned down.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena