Saudi Games of Throne, and Slaves

Saudi Arabia officially outlawed slavery in 1962. A recent Washington Post report suggests it was practiced at the highest levels.


In “Appointment of deputy heir to throne stirs controversy in Saudi Arabia” (online May 26) correspondent Liz Sly quotes a critic of newly named Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin, 69, as saying, “he’s not a real prince, his mother was a slave and there are other brothers who are more competent. … Nobody believes Muqrin can become king.”


The former Saudi official “spoke on condition of anonymity because criticizing the royal family is not wise.”


The Post explains, “behind closed doors, royal tongues have been wagging about the manner in which Muqrin was chosen, the validity of his newly created title and his pedigree as the son of a Yemeni concubine who was never formally married to his father.” King Abdullah, 90, created the deputy crown prince position and elevated Muqrin to it. Crown Prince Salman is 80 and, like the king, reportedly not in good health. 


Another less-than-flattering look at the House of Saud, written by Stacy M. Brown, appeared in The New York Post (April 20) under the headline “The Gilded Cage; Four Saudi Arabian princesses, imprisoned in their father’s palace for speaking out for women’s rights, reveal their life of hell.”


Dynastic dysfunction


The women are daughters of King Abdullah and his former wife Alanoud Al Fayez. She was 15, Abdullah 48 when their marriage was arranged. “Within four years of the wedding, Al Fayez had given birth to four girls. This was unacceptable: She was, in the king’s eyes, incapable of producing a son, and so she was worthless.


“Abdullah, who has had 30 wives and fathered more than 40 children, finally divorced Al Fayez sometime in the 1980s—but she didn’t find out until two years later, through an intermediary. In Saudi Arabia, a husband can divorce his wife without her knowledge.”


The New York Post quotes Al Fayez, “long ago fled to London,” as saying the four princesses  “once had a normal life for Saudi Arabia, but they are free thinkers, and their father hates that.” King Abdullah keeps them confined, on short rations in rooms without air conditioning, The Post asserts. 


Sounds like the princesses are being treated somewhat like foreign domestic workers and low-skilled laborers. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2013 “Trafficking in Persons Report,” “Saudi Arabia is a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labor and to a lesser extent, forced prostitution.”


The report says many of the tens of thousands of Central and South Asians who voluntarily go to Saudi Arabia as domestic workers or low-skilled laborers “subsequently face condition indicative of involuntary servitude, including nonpayment of wages, long working hours without rest, deprivation of food, threats, physical and sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement ….”


It seems much can be tolerated, if not ignored, provided one helps keep world oil production up and prices stable. 


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