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Authors: Jean P. Sasson

Tags: #Non-Fiction, #Religion, #Adult, #Biography, #History


BOOK: Princess
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A True Story of Life
Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia




Jean Sasson











For additional information about Jean Sasson and her books, or for updates on Princess Sultana, women’s issues, and Saudi Arabia, please visit the following websites:


Author’s website:

Princess Sultana’s website:













To Jack

















© 2004 by The Sasson Corporation

Published by arrangement with the author


All rights reserved. This book may not be duplicated in any way without the express written consent of the author, except in the form of brief excerpts or quotations for the purposes of review. The information contained herein is for the personal use of the reader and many not be incorporated in any commercial programs or other books, databases, or any other kind of software without the written consent of the publisher or author. Making copies of this book, or any portion of it, for any purpose other than your own, is a violation of United States copyright laws.


Cover Design by Lightbourne

Book Design by Rosamond Grupp

Front Cover Model’s Photograph by Marco Baldi for Studio Babaldi

Author Photograph by Peter M.M. Sasson

A note to readers from Jean Sasson


Since the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, the violence in Libya, and the unrest spreading through Bahrain, Yemen, and Iran, I’ve received many letters from readers who are turning to PRINCESS and its sequels, PRINCESS SULTANA’S DAUGHTERS and PRINCESS SULTANA’S CIRCLE. My readers want to know whether the conditions described in the PRINCESS trilogy still reflect how women are treated in the Middle East. I will now answer that question in this introduction.


As most people now know, it’s impossible to describe the various countries of the Middle East as one region. Although joined in spirit through the Islamic faith, and with the pull of traditional values remaining strong in most Middle Eastern lands, the cultural expectations in each country can still be vastly different from the others. While some governments have allowed humanitarian gains for their female populations, others have walked back in time. Therefore, I’ll take you with me on a short walk through a number of Middle Eastern countries, providing a brief description of life for women in the year 2011.


In Algeria, women mainly stay in the home with a mere 7% of women working outside the home. Men even take care of the shopping. Marriages are still arranged by the parents of the couple, with the union considered to be a family affair, rather than a relationship between one man and one woman. Women are considered weak, and in need of male protection. Women are allowed to run for public office, but few make such attempts. In fact, Algerian law considers women permanent minors, requiring the consent of their husbands or fathers for most activities. Therefore, life for women in Algeria is still very limited when it comes to public life, and females are kept tightly under the rule of men.


In Bahrain, approximately 20% of women work outside the home, although this is changing as more women graduate from college. Although Bahrain is considered more liberal than most Middle Eastern countries, most men still consider women weak, requiring male protection. Arranged marriages are the norm although the bride and groom are often allowed supervised meetings prior to the wedding. Women are allowed to drive. There is great hope that women will continue to move forward in Bahrain.


In Egypt women work outside the home, drive automobiles and enjoy many freedoms other Arab women yearn for. Yet, there are many unsolved problems facing Egyptian women. Female circumcision is not uncommon in many regions of the country, although the more educated families have turned away from that appalling custom. Many Egyptian women complain of rampant groping should they make a trip to the market without their husbands or a male escort. Although Egyptian women recently stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their men when calling out for democracy, now that the constitution is being re-written, women have been left out of the process.


In the Gaza Strip things are going from bad to worse for women. Due to the never-ending exchange of violence with Israel, life has always been difficult, but after the election of Hamas, life grew even more rigid for women. Hamas campaigned for “Taliban like laws”, including total segregation of women and men, and the wearing of the total Hijab. (Women in Gaza had always had the right for personal choice when it came to veiling.) Since the Hama election, some government officials have attempted to impose the most severe penalties should women not adhere to strict Islamic dress and other restrictions against the civil population, such as the promotion of polygamy, card-playing, and dating. Clearly, Palestinian women in Gaza need someone to take up their cause.


In Iraq and in Iraqi Kurdistan, women’s rights have taken many twists and turns since the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein government. Few people realize that Iraqi women had achieved great gains in rights under the dictator. In fact, a 1958 law allowed Iraqi women to divorce their husbands, inherit property, study, work, and even move without the permission of the male member of the family. After the latest government came into power, women lost all previous gains. With regional control held by various tribes, women are beaten for not covering themselves in Hijab, and the act of rape is being used as a weapon by tribal factions at war. It is said by many Iraqis that Iraqi women risk their lives by studying or working.


In Iraqi Kurdistan, the message for women is mixed. Honor killings have reached an all-time high. In some cases, teenagers have even been killed for the crime of talking to a boy over their cell phone. Self-immolation is a huge problem, as well, and authorities are unsure whether the women are setting themselves on fire, or if they are victims of attempted murder by family members. However, the parliament has banned forced marriage, as well as the marriage of minors. And, polygamy has been restricted, much to the relief of many women. Despite the many set-backs, it appears that many men in Kurdistan are attempting to educate males regarding women’s rights and issues. Therefore hope reigns that the Kurdish parliament will continue ruling in favor of women’s issues.


Approximately 15% of the workforce in Jordan is female. Generally the female workers are single as married women are discouraged from working. Like most countries following Shariah law, divorced women lose custody of their sons when they reach age 7 and their daughters when they reach age 11. Currently the government is pushing to have the law changed so that children can remain with their mothers until age 12, with plans to make the age 15. Although women inherit, generally male relations pressure the women into giving up their inheritance. Because of this tendency, women own less than four percent of all property in Jordan. To the Jordanian government’s credit, they are introducing new legislation to regulate inequalities between men and women. Not surprisingly, many of the hard-line religious authorities are protesting such new policies.


Kuwait is considered to be one of the best countries for women in the Middle East. Women are allowed to drive, work without the consent of a man, acquire passports, travel out of the country, and even hold government positions, all without the consent of a male family member. Kuwaiti women even gained the right to vote in the local elections of 2005. While the family courts still require two women’s testimony to one man’s, that is not the case in the civil, criminal and administrative courts, where the testimony of a woman equals that of a man. While women still face some social and legal discrimination, the future for Kuwaiti women is bright indeed.


Although Lebanese family structure is strictly patriarchal, Lebanese women enjoy equal civil rights and attend colleges and universities in large numbers. Mainly this is due to the fact that women obtained the right to vote in 1953, although voting rights have not led to female participation in government and public life. Approximately three percent of parliament members are female; thus men continue to make decisions that affect women.


There are many distinctions evident according to women of different religious sects. Lebanon is one of the most diverse countries in the world with nearly 20 different religious sects. Christian girls can be seen sunbathing in bikinis on the beaches of Jounieh, while Muslim girls are sedately covered in Hijab. Therefore, the issue of women’s rights is complicated as there are different goals for different religious sects, making it almost impossible to create one law for all when it comes to women’s rights. Still, women are gaining ground with over 50 percent of college graduates female while 27 percent of the workforce is female.


Women in Qatar have made many remarkable advances, mainly due to the royal family of Qatar who established various women’s committees charged with proposing programs to upgrade the potential of women. Women in Qatar are allowed to vote and even run as government candidates. Women have even held positions in the cabinet. There are more female students at university than male students and women hold 52% of the jobs in the Ministry of Education. Women even outnumber men in the healthcare field. Of course, the society itself is very conservative, but the government is working to ensure that women are encouraged to pursue their personal goals.


Over the past few years women’s lives have greatly changed in the United Arab Emirates, as the ruling family has made women’s rights a priority. The UAE constitution guarantees equality between men and women. The numbers prove that great strides have been made for women as female graduates outnumber men two to one at the United Arab Emirates University. Although women were only 6 percent of the work force in 1988, those numbers are increasing. Most notably, the UAE ranked 29
among 177 countries when it comes to gender empowerment. While there is no guarantee that women have equal rights in their homes, the government is working to elevate the status of women.


Tragically, the women of Yemen face violence and discrimination in their lives. Women are not free to choose their husbands, and in many cases, girls as young as eight years old are married against their will. Once a woman is married, she has no rights, but must obey her husband and ask his permission for everything—even in matters as harmless and simple as leaving her house.. When women testify in court, their testimony is valued half that of a male. If a woman is married, her value is compensated half that of a male. Honor killings hang like a sword over the head of a woman if there is gossip about her behavior. While men are treated leniently, women will be put to death if there is an accusation of any “immoral” act. The government has made some small moves to improve the status of women, such as creating a ministry of human rights. But reforms for women in Yemen are still urgently needed.


As far as Saudi Arabia, I am pleased to report that in the years since I first met Princess Sultana, and I lived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a few things have changed. The current king, Abdullah, is a man of common sense who is using his position of authority to help. Princess Sultana also tells me that two of her cousins, King Abdullah’s daughters, encourage their father to pursue this important course, which has opened the way for more Saudi women to seek recourse when treated harshly.


But while I’ve been impressed with King Abdullah and his belief in change for Saudi women, ultra-conservative forces are still influential in the kingdom, insisting on the heavy restrictions of old. Although the Koran calls only for modesty in dress, many Saudi women are still veiling. And though there is no precedent in the Islamic faith for a law forbidding women to drive, Saudi women are bound by such a law. Even more puzzling, 58% of Saudi college graduates are female, but since they are not allowed to work or mingle with men not of their family, only 5% of the workforce is comprised of women. And while Islam gives females the right to refuse an unwanted marriage, many young girls in Saudi Arabia still endure the horror of arranged marriages with men double or triple their age.

BOOK: Princess
5.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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