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The Al Saud runs the country as a family fiefdomAnna O'Leary Salem-News.com
Women are not registered, when they disappear, nobody misses them, and families are not held accountable.
(DUBLIN) - Ib Saud, founding father of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, told his informal adviser, Englishman Harry St. John Philby, that he had married one-hundred-and-thirty-five virgins and about one-hundred other women, but planned, in future, to limit himself to two new wives a year.
He complied with Islamic law by never being married to more than four wives at once. He married and divorced rapidly. Some marriages only lasted one night. He kept slaves and concubines in his palace, and when one of them gave birth to a son he set them free, or recognised them as legitimate. He recognised a total of about forty-five legitimate sons. They rule in succession today.
Saudi royals number in their thousands. There is a defined pecking order. Some are more privileged than others. In the 1980s, when I was a stewardess on the kingdom’s private jets, only King Fahd’s closest blood relatives, and a few others, were accorded the privacy and comfort of the two Baroom jets, or the three BAC 111 jets of Bin Laden Brothers, National Commercial Bank, and Al Amoudi. Sheikh Salem Bin Laden was considered the private aviation expert by the royals. He decided which jet was made available to whom. He organized royal passengers to travel on the Boeing 707 I was the stewardess on. He advised on purchase and maintenance of jets.
Sheikh Abdullah Baroom travelled on his Boeing 707 only occasionally, preferring his BAC 111 jet which was half the size and guzzled only half the fuel. It fell to the Al Saud princes and Al Ibrahim sheikhs to fuel the 707’s four gas guzzling engines. The Al Ibrahim sheikhs were the brother’s of King Fahad’s favorite wife, and uncles of his adored son, Abdul Aziz. They are not royalty, but as the most important royal brothers-in-law, they were treated as such.
Saudi women are mysterious, sequestered creatures in a society that has perverse attitudes towards women and sex. Women are somewhat powerless and their status, in this traditional society, is dreadful. Wrapped from head to toe in a swaddle of black silk they are formless. They suffocate through black face-veils that hide their identities in scorching desert temperatures. A husband has unqualified right to divorce a wife, a privilege not accorded her, and he gets child custody. Socially their lives barely intersect. Men and women attend separate social functions.
Women have a grim acceptance of their lot. An old Saudi proverb says, ‘a girl possesses nothing but a veil and a tomb.’ Saudi women’s belief in man’s superiority is ingrained. A woman is supposed to walk a few paces behind her husband. She lives with the constant threat that he might take another wife. Husband sharing is ugly, and someone’s dreams are shattered when a new wife enters the marriage. Polygamy constitutes a national embarrassment for a country that is supposed to be developed and progressive. Children of polygamous homes are conditioned to be cunning to survive such a charade, and women are starting to question the system.
Romance has little to do with marriage, which is a contract between families. Girls marry their first cousins or even a man of their father’s age. In marriage they face a nightmare of constant pregnancy. They are prohibited from driving a car and even struggle to walk unaccompanied on the street. They are unable to make any important decision without the consent of a male relative. Gradually women are being allowed to work outside the home, where great effort is made in the workplace to keep the genders separate. Khadijah, the first wife of Prophet Mohammed, was a successful trader but, in the twenty-first century Saudi women must take permission to work and must answer to their male guardians.
Adulterous women are stoned to death after being dragged kicking and shrieking into a public square. They meet a barbaric punishment at the hands of their male relatives for real or imagined sexual misconduct. Adulterous Saudi men go unpunished, because in the desert kingdom it is always the women who are to blame. There is widespread belief that if a man and woman are left alone in a room together they will have sex.
When women disappear families are not held accountable. Women are not registered to begin with, so nobody misses them. Wife battering, like honor killing, gets little recognition. No refuges exist for such women.
With no husband, and all male members of my family living in Ireland, I found myself in breach of the law on an almost daily basis. All women in the kingdom should be accompanied outside their homes by their fathers, brothers or husbands. To be accompanied by a man other than a family member is illegal. The ban on women driving applies to all of us. The exceptions are the Aramco1 oil towns of Dhahran and Abkaik. There women take jobs and drive cars within compounds so large they are like towns. In all other parts of the kingdom the Arabian culture is dominant. Even Shaika, Sheikh Salem Bin Laden’s ex wife, can’t drive a car in Saudi, but he taught her to fly an aircraft. There is no ban on women flying an aircraft in the kingdom.
People disappear in the middle of the night. Many end up being imprisoned for years without trial.
As the royal’s treat their country’s exchequer as their personal piggy bank, there is little anyone can do to curb their spendthrift ways.
Many would like to oppose their dictatorial squandering ways, but a revolution in Saudi Arabia could lead to disruption or stoppage of its oil production. Foreign powers protect the Al Saud. The army or the National Guard steps in immediately to crush any protests demanding human rights.
Because of its oil Saudi Arabia has incredible wealth and international influence. Foreign embassies keel over every time the Saudis throw a temper tantrum and are often powerless to defend their citizens. I had firsthand experience of that.
Mostly I played the role of the dumb blonde, but my defiant Irish rebel spirit moved me to take my grievances to the Saudi sharia2 courts – once against one of the kingdom’s richest sheikhs, and once against the uncle of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. The Al Saud runs the country as a family fiefdom. It is the world’s leading dictatorship.
Salem-News.com's Anna O’Leary is based in North Kerry, although she spent 17 years of her life in the Middle East, a region that captured her fascination.
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