[FoRK] The Arab Predicament

Ian Andrew Bell FoRK fork
Mon Oct 10 12:17:52 PDT 2005

In 1977 a Saudi Princess was publicly executed in Saudi Arabia after  
pleading guilty to allegations of adultery, sparking a controversy  
that dragged on for five years and was international in scope.  Her  
death by five gunshots to the head, as well as the beheading of her  
supposed lover, were both witnessed by a westerner, who photographed  
the event.

In 1978 journalist Antony Thomas had heard of the story and began to  
investigate every aspect of this story with dozens of interviews in  
London, Paris, Beirut, Riyadh, and Jeddah.  When the documentary  
aired in Britain, Saudi Arabia expelled the British ambassador in  
protest and threatened the interests of all of the major oil  
companies.  What Thomas had exposed was a profound and disturbing  
inner turmoil between the teachings of the Koran and the influence of  
the modern world on Arab society -- as the discovery of oil and trade  
with the West created Kings and Kingdoms, the tenets of Islam were  
corrupted by western-backed autocrats and a segregated society was  
created between rich and poor, men and women.

In his investigations and subsequent film "Death of a Princess"  
released in 1980, Thomas exposed a quiet revolution where women wield  
immense sexual power amid a society which defines them as sub-human,  
denies them basic human rights, and subjugates them to spouses in  
arranged marriages.  Since so few of those he interviewed would go on  
record, he made a crucial decision to direct a movie, versus the  
documentary he originally set out to make.

The docu-drama's airing in America was besieged by Saudi protest, and  
by support of that protest from American Oil Companies, the U.S.  
State Department, and members of congress.  The courage of the PBS in  
going ahead with airing the movie should not be overlooked -- could  
the same thing happen in today's climate?

"Death of a Princess" serves as a humiliation to Saudis on several  
levels -- their refusal to address the rights of women, their  
incompetence at absorbing western influences into their culture  
responsibly, the wanton self-indulgence of the royal family, and the  
effective manipulation of the oppressors by the oppressed.

Time has revealed that the Princess and her lover were not executed  
publicly in the square or put on trial, as the official reports  
stated.  They were executed in a parking lot by a vengeful Saudi  
prince after they attempted to flee the country; the public execution  
was the completion of a ham-fisted pantomime designed to cover up the  
events surrounding the affair, and involved two innocent teenagers.

Twenty-five years later, this film is still a poignant and revealing  
expose of Saudi society.



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