The daughters of Abdullah

Ok I’d seen a couple of mentions of imprisoned Saudi princesses and hadn’t followed up, but thanks to yazikus posting some extracts in comments I now have. I didn’t realize they were Abdullah’s daughters. His own god damn daughters, imprisoned in some dark rooms on his say-so. It’s a tale of horror.

Sahar, Maha, Hala and Jawaher Al Saud are daughters of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi Arabian monarch who is worth an estimated $15 billion.

They grew up rich, and had a nice life. They wanted to study abroad and travel, then marry and have children.

Now they are prisoners.

Not only has the 89-year-old king forbidden any man to seek his daughters’ hands in marriage, he’s confined them, against their will, in separate dark and suffocating quarters at his palace.

The king’s eldest daughter, 42-year-old Sahar, spoke with The Post in a rare and surreptitious phone call.

“We are cut off and isolated and alone,” she says. “We are hostages. No one can come see us, and we can’t go see anyone. Our father is responsible and his sons, our half-brothers, are both culprits in this tragedy.”

Why are the princesses being held captive?

Because they believe women in Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive Islamic nations in the world, should be free. Their mother, Alanoud Al Fayez, long ago fled to London.

When the sisters openly spoke in opposition to women being illegally detained and placed in mental wards, the king had enough and no longer considered them his daughters.

“That was it for him. It was the end for us,” Sahar says.

That’s your “reformer” right there. That’s your man of wisdom and vision, Barack Obama. That’s your ally in the war on terror, everyone who said that.

“They once had a normal life for Saudi Arabia, but they are free thinkers, and their father hates that,” mom Al Fayez says. “They are compassionate about the plight of women in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Arab world. The injustices that we see are terrible, and someone must say something.”

She was handed over to him in an arranged marriage. In the first four years she had four daughters – so she was worthless and Abdullah The Reformer divorced her, though he didn’t bother telling her so until two years later. It’s nothing to do with her, after all.

In Saudi Arabia, a husband can divorce his wife without her knowledge.

“Really, he had divorced me a number of times and he’d abuse me, beat me and had me beaten by guards,” Al Fayez says. “And the more I took the abuse, the more I was abused.”

Abdullah the reformer. Abdullah the wise.

In 2001 she fled to London. Her daughters couldn’t go with her because Abdullah had taken their passports. She thought he would eventually let them go, if only to avoid embarrassment.


In 2002, less than one year after her escape, Abdullah began tormenting his daughters. They are in intermittent phone contact with their mother and have told her that he’s drugged their food and water to keep them docile.

“They had felt some oppression before I left, but when he found that I had gone, he vowed that he would kill the girls, slowly,” Al Fayez says. “At one point, he tried to get me to come back, saying that he would take away the divorce and release them, but that wasn’t true and I know that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t trust that.”

It was then, about 2005, that she first began to fear for her daughters’ safety, she said. “That’s when I thought, now he’d do anything, even punish them till they die, which is exactly what he’s trying to do now.”

The king locked Sahar and the youngest, Jawaher, now 38, in one area of the palace, while confining Mahar, 41, and Hala, 39, to yet another closet-size and unkempt room.

Doctors aren’t even allowed in for checkups.

“The rooms they are locked in are so hot, they wilt from the desert heat,” Al Fayez says. They suffer from dehydration, nausea and heat stroke.

Her daughter Sahar says the king is starving them all to death. They haven’t had a full meal in more than a month, she says, and are forced to eat canned goods that they pry open with nail files.

I have to pause and take some deep breaths right now.

Power, running water and electricity are shut off at random, sometimes for days or even weeks at a time. Their rooms are overrun with bugs and rodents.

“Our energy is quite low, and we’re trying our best to survive,” Sahar says. Their “gilded cage” is only gilded on the outside. “We live amid ruins. You hear ‘palace,’ but we don’t feel like we’re in a palace at all.”

Some liar at the Saudi embassy in London told the Post they’re fine, fine. They can go anywhere they want to, it’s just that armed security guards have to go with them. Their mother says that’s a lie.

All four women are routinely tortured, sometimes by their own relatives.

“They come in, the men, our own half-brothers, and they beat us with sticks,” Sahar says. “They yell at us and tell us we will die here.”

Will things get better for them now?

What do you think.

“Sahar is very bright and has always made us laugh. She’s the eldest, and she’s an artist and a free thinker,” Al Fayez says.

“Maha is sensitive but has a penchant for business and politics. Hala is compassionate and brilliant; she majored in psychology and graduated at the top of her class. She loves to play the piano and compose music. Jawaher, my youngest, is very similar in character to Maha. She also loves music and hopes to earn a degree in sound engineering.”

Her daughters, she says, have much to offer. She says she taught each of them to be strong, to stand up to their powerful father, and now that has backfired.

She tried lawyers, but – surprise! – Abdullah refused to be questioned.

Sahar tells The Post that she’s constantly threatened by her father and has been told that death is the only way out.

“My father said that after his death, our brothers would continue to detain us and abuse us,” she says.

Al Fayez is frantic. Time, she says, is running out.

“My daughters want the right to see their mother, and I want to see my daughters,” Al Fayez says. “They are just trying to hold on to their sanity.

“They are suffering . . . with no hope for salvation.”

It’s a god damn outrage. We’re sucking up to these shits while this is going on.

Raif, Sahar, Maha, Hala, Jawaher.


  1. yazikus says

    Thanks for posting this, Ophelia. I’m fuming at the moment. And sorry that I didn’t leave you a link sooner, I’m glad you found the original article. How can people, governments, governments like the US, who routinely invade other countries under the pretense of promoting democracy, turn a blind eye to this?

  2. John Morales says

    yazikus, why It is Not to be Spoken About? Even when it’s featured in the NY Times?

    I know it’s a rhetorical question, but still: the Comparative statements post suggests that, as Obama puts it, “The closeness and strength of the partnership between our two countries” is more important than principles.

  3. John Morales says


    On the partnership: Wikileaks: King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia ‘wanted Guantánamo Bay detainees microchipped’.

    “‘I’ve just thought of something,” the King added, and proposed implanting detainees with an electronic chip containing information about them and allowing their movements to be tracked with Bluetooth,” the cables said.”

    “This was done with horses and falcons, the King said.

    “Brennan replied ‘horses don’t have good lawyers’ and that such a proposal would face legal hurdles in the U.S, but agreed that keeping track of detainees was an extremely important issue that he would review with appropriate officials when he returned to the United States.”

  4. says

    How can people, governments, governments like the US, who routinely invade other countries under the pretense of promoting democracy, turn a blind eye to this?

    Professional courtesy among plutcrats. 🙁

  5. says

    This is why the US is hated in the middle east. Because it has consistently supported horrible thugs and dictators, siding with the most anti-democratic, disgusting, and decadent bastards whenever possible.

    Political Islam in its various forms, ties back to Sayyid Qtub and his disgust for what he saw as America’s hypocrisy, shallowness, and decadence. His attitude was hardened considerably when he was tortured under Nasser and yeah, being put to death didn’t convince him he was wrong. Nor did it convince his immediate followers – the Muslim Brotherhood, Ayman Zawahiri and Zawahiri’s follower Osama Bin Laden. These guys were a wrong-headed reaction to seeing a populist and poweful leader destroyed. Imagine how this kind of scenario could have played itself out in the US during apartheid, and you’ve got the picture. The various followers of Qtub tried to export revolution – using a religious contextualization to what was a political movement – to Algeria and other parts of the muslim world and were horrified to discover that most people were not interested in revolution. Basically, they were trying to trigger the “Arab Spring” a few decades too early. The US has consistently sided with repression (indeed, news has recently gone black about what the US has been doing in Yemen but it had a substantial number of soldiers of fortune, excuse me, special forces in the region, and in Bahrain, to shore up the horrible dictatorships there. And of course it interfered heavily in the Egyptian revolution, Iranian revolution, Iraq, Libya, Kuwait — always to prop up horrible dictatorships and horrible but biddable dictators.

    We should not be at all surprised that the US does not appear to give a shit about how horrible the Saudi monarchy is. The US likes horrible monarchies because it can use them to control “their” people and can control them in return via threat of “regime change.”

  6. jesse says

    @Marcus – true that.

    I might add that the societies in which women were treated better were all on the official enemies list: Iraq, Syria, Libya.

    And that many of the major right wing religious terrorist organizations are funded from our BFFs in the gulf states.

    And that means that a huge chunk of the terrorism problem is of our own making.

    That isn’t victim-blaming. If you destroy a society — take apart all the institutions that make it work, as we did in Iraq, or via sanctions do your level best to make it fall apart as in Syria, or Libya, or just kill a few hundred thousand people, what do you expect to happen? Especially if the people who fund the opposition are folks like the House of Saud.

    WE were the ones who supported people like Musharraf (who BTW spent his time destroying the secular opposition). WE are the ones who give the House of Saud a gigantic helping of military aid so they can control their population. and WE supported the counter-revolution in Egypt, because the dictator said he was secular. WE supported Saleh in Yemen, who did his very best to really piss off every one of the tribal groups in the country (arbitrary detention and sending SWAT teams to kill the opposition has a tendency to do that). Did the state department support the unions and the workers who actually started the Arab Spring in Egypt? No.

    In just about every case the US has not only supported brutal regimes (even Iraq at one point) but there has been a long standing effort to destroy any secular opposition to such regimes. Well, when the secularists are gone, who’s left?

    On top of that, the secular dictators can be painted as puppets of the US (the relationship is a bit more complex than that, but the political stain remains). I find it a gigantic blow-back of irony that the guy calling for elections in Saudi Arabia was Osama Bin Laden.

    What I find weird is that so many people seem to find the motivations of terror groups so mysterious. It isn’t. I propose this thought experiment. What if a coup happened in the US, and the country were taken over by a religious Christian Dominionist group, or even a secular dictator and British and French troops — sorry, “advisors” –showed up to help kill off or imprison all the secular opposition and everyone to the left of Bobby Jindal.

    Let’s further posit that the only safe place to organize was the churches. And that occasionally a drone strike hits St. Louis or Milwaukee and kills a few people. Like, every month or so. How long would it be before people said “enough is enough”? What do you think would happen?

    The House of Saud exists only because our tax dollars support fantastically good deals for arms and intelligence equipment. And one day this is also going to end badly. The new king is 79. He might last five years? 10? There are a lot of brothers and sons who might want the throne, and the country has had coups before (in the 50s and 60s) over just such succession issues.

    The support for the House of Saud does not come in a vacuum. It’s part of a long sanding policy from the US and Britain, but also the other western powers that were former colonials. That policy was to keep the price of oil at manageable levels and make it clear that disobedience at any level is not to be tolerated.

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