Wonderful Praise for Saudi King clashes with princesses’ tale

January 26, 2015 8:48 am

The late Abdullah has been lionised by politicians around
the world. En route to the World Economic Forum in Davos, US Secretary
of State John Kerry hailed him as “a man of wisdom and vision” and a
“revered leader.” Other Western leaders made similar statements.
International
Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde even hailed him as “a strong
advocate for women”. But when it comes to gender rights, ’s
absolute monarchy is one of the most heavily criticised regimes in the
world. Its draconian religious laws limit everything from the clothes
women can wear to the means by which they travel outside their homes.

The plight of the late King’s daughters has gone largely unnoticed. Photo / AP file

Controversially, women are still banned from driving in the country.
Lagarde
did qualify her comment, saying Abdullah was a reformer “in a very
discreet way”, credited with initiating several measures aimed at giving
women a bigger stake in the country’s economic and political life.

But the change is very gradual, stymied by traditionalists who
still hold sway in the country’s courts. Abdullah’s reforms, writes one
commentator, have “all the substance of a Potemkin village, a flimsy
structure to impress foreign opinion”.
Abdullah, like other Saudi
royals, had numerous wives – at least seven, and perhaps as many as 30.
He had at least 15 daughters. Four of them, according to reports,
live under house arrest.
The plight of the Princesses Jawaher,
Sahar, Hala and Maha attracted attention last year when details emerged
of their supposedly dire condition living in captivity in Saudi royal
compounds in Jeddah. Their mother, Alanoud Al-Fayez, has lived in
Britain for the past 15 years. She was divorced by her husband multiple
times, the final instance in 1985.
Fayez claims her daughters’
supposed incarceration, which has gone on for some 13 years, was both a
mark of Abdullah’s vindictive streak and intolerance of his daughters’
modern, independent upbringing. She says the four have been locked away
for more than a decade, subject to abuse and deprivation.
Last
year, various news stations managed to reach Sahar, 42, and Jawaher, 38,
who live in a separate compound from Maha, 41, and Hala, 39. In an
interview with RT last May, the pair described how they were running out
of food and water.
In an interview with an Arabic channel, the
Princesses said they were being punished for backing women’s rights and
resisting the kingdom’s strict rules mandating male guardianship over
women.
Their mother told the New York Post last April that her
daughters’ continued detention was “about psychological warfare” and
that her children “are wasting away”.
There are some doubts about
the extent to which the women are living in genuine captivity. Saudi
authorities insisted the situation “is a private matter”. The women have
not been formally charged with any crime.
Modest burial
Abdullah’s
body was wrapped in a simple shroud and placed in an unmarked grave in
accordance with conservative Islamic traditions. The ceremonies and
burial were attended only by family members and an inner circle of aides
and friends.
Pallbearers carried a litter to the public al-Oud
cemetery, a sandy field with small, undecorated marker stones in sight
of shabby apartment blocks. Foreign leaders from Africa, Europe and Asia
are in Riyadh. US President Barack Obama will arrive on Wednesday.

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