[FoRK] The Arab Predicament
Ian Andrew Bell 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
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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