Princess Sultana’s Daughters is a true story. Names have been changed and various events slightly altered to protect the safety of recognizable individuals. In telling this true story it is not the intention of the author nor of the princess to demean the rich and meaningful Islamic faith.
An earlier book, Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia (first published in 1992, and due to its popularity, re-released in a new edition in 2003) set the stage for this work by depicting the life of Princess Sultana from early childhood to the Gulf War of 1991. This book is the continuing story of Princess Sultana, her daughters, and other Saudi Arabian women they personally know. While readers are encouraged to read the first book about Sultana, Princess Sultana’s Daughters is a story in itself and can be read on its own.
Additionally, the third and last book in the trilogy is titled Princess Sultana’s Circle. Although many facts are revealed about a land that is little understood by the Western world, none of these three books propose to be a history of Saudi Arabia, or to reflect the lives of all women who live there.
Know that these three books, linked by one woman, come to one conclusion: that the degradation of women is a worn out habit. Though the double standard is still alive and well in most countries, it is time for male dominance over women to end.
I lived in Saudi Arabia from 1978 until 1990, a country well known for its segregation of the sexes. I quickly came to see that forced gender segregation created a close bonding between women.
During that time I met and befriended a number of Saudi Arabian women. After living in the country for five years, I came to know an extraordinary woman the world now knows as Princess Sultana in Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia. What a brave woman! I admire Sultana’s strength and courage more than I can say for she literally risked her life for her story to be told.
After the amazing success of Princess, Princess Sultana requested that I continue to write the stories of abuse that continue to occur in her homeland, Saudi Arabia. And so I have. Like most women who are mothers, Sultana’s deepest concerns are for her own daughters, yet I believe that Sultana’s determination to “right wrongs” also stems from a basic goodness and desire to help mankind.
Although my small town American life has been nothing like the royal life of Princess Sultana, we do share several common bonds: both of us want to help all women who are unable to help themselves; both of us are relentlessly determined to continue fighting the men and women who have made numerous efforts to stop us from revealing these truths; and, both of us are optimistic in character. Princess Sultana and I both truly believe that by the telling of these true stories that we can make a difference in women’s lives.
When I was young, my optimism in all things knew no bounds. I truly believed that I could solve every problem and right every wrong. In part I believe this optimism stemmed from the fact that I grew up in America’s deep south in a tiny town of only 800 people. Small town life carries a happy innocence that clings to its inhabitants forever. And, the people in my little community were for the most part, decent and kind. Due to this inherent “goodness”, I can’t recall a single incident in my youth where I felt females were less valued than males.
Although Sultana grew up in a wealthy environment that I could not have begun to imagine in my poverty-stricken youth, I now know that I was more fortunate than a royal princess, for I never felt I was second-class in any way, to anyone. This wonderful confidence instilled a great sense of optimism in my every emotion and action.
After years of living an adventurous life that, thus far, has taken me to 66 countries, my optimism has survived, although it has been battered by the reality of life for so many women of the world. I have found that the oppression of women and the social pressures to which they are exposed, are a worldwide problem. Sadly, some governments and social systems are downright hostile to their female population. Too many women of the world are condemned to a life of heart-breaking and even cruel discrimination. Too many men, who are the world’s social or political leaders, turn a blind eye to this “war” against women.
How anyone with an ounce of feeling can turn a blind eye to the horrors inflicted on women is beyond my comprehension. I know that I am haunted by many incidents of abuse against women. I am sad to report that I have personally seen the following:
• While working at a hospital in Saudi Arabia, I personally knew of young girls admitted to the hospital to give birth. “Babies having babies,” as we often sadly observed. For the most part, those young girls were the third or fourth wife of an aging man.
• I have seen young Asian women auctioned off to the highest bidder for the purposes of unlimited sex. I witnessed young girls, some that looked no older than eight-years-old, stand weeping as heartless men inspected their bodies. I was shocked to see that most of the men buying the young girls were citizens from Western countries.
• I visited a brothel in Asia where beautiful young women had been bought to serve men as sex slaves. During the day the “owners” of these young girls forced them to work in a clothing factory located on the premises. At night they were compelled to return to the brothel on the ground floor to allow strangers to take possession of their bodies.
• I once saved a young woman from a slave-like existence and supported her for years. This same woman later gave her own three-year-old daughter away to a group of men so that she could devote herself solely to supporting her treasured son.
Many well-meaning people have often advised me to temper my reactions to such abuses, that social change comes slowly, and that I must be patient. Although history tells me this is true, as far as I am concerned, change cannot come quickly enough for young females who are so brutally mistreated.
And so a princess from Saudi Arabia and an American woman from small town America continue to tell the stories that we hope will provide knowledge to readers, and that this knowledge will compel people to gather their courage and take action to bring change to our planet.
I am proud to be the voice for Princess Sultana. And, I am proud to present the second book in the Princess Trilogy: Princess Sultana’s Daughters…
Jean Sasson, March 2001
For additional information about Jean Sasson and her books, including maps, timelines, glossaries, and key facts about Saudi Arabia, please visit the author’s website: http://www.JeanSasson.com
A great rock is not disturbed by the wind; the mind of a wise man is not disturbed by either honor or
Once, I read that any good pen can stab any king. As I study the photograph of my uncle, Fahd ibn Abdul Aziz, the king of Saudi Arabia, I contemplate the fact that I harbor no desire to stab our king, or even to spark the wrath of a man I know to be kindly.
I trace my fingers across his face, calling to mind the man, Fahd, from the days of my childhood. The photograph portrays the king in maturity and reveals not a spark of the youthful figure I remember.
The king’s stern brow and strong jaw belie the charming man I wistfully summon into my mind. My thoughts wander back in time, remembering the king before he was crowned. Standing tall and broad-shouldered, with his large hand outstretched, he had offered a sweet date to a child in awe.
That child had been me. Fahd, like his father before him, was a robust man, and, to my young eyes, had looked more like the son of a bedouin warrior he was than like the statesman he would become.
Contrary to my bold character, I had reacted in a timid manner, reluctantly accepting the desert fruit from his fingers, then running away to the arms of my mother. I overheard Fahd’s fond laughter as I tasted the sweetness of the date.
As is our Saudi custom, I have not been unveiled in the presence of the king since the age of puberty.
Since that time he has grown into a man of age. Acknowledging that the king now appears somber, I decide that while the years of statesmanship have strengthened him, the responsibilities of leadership have chastened him. And, though massive and regal, our king cannot be judged handsome. His eyelids droop too heavily over his bulging eyes; his nose overshadows his upper lip, which tightly frames a delicate mouth. In the picture so familiar to all Saudis and visitors to the kingdom, the official photograph that hangs conspicuously in every business and institution in my country, I think the king appears to be what I know he is not: forbidding, insensitive.
In spite of his unquestioned power and vast wealth, his position is not to be envied. As absolute sovereign of one of the wealthiest nations on earth, King Fahd’s rule over the hot, dreary land of Saudi Arabia is a perpetual struggle between old and new.
While most nations maintain themselves by abandoning or recasting the old ways, growing slowly into newer and better systems that advance civilization, our king has no such options. He, a mere mortal, must force into unity and peace four divided and completely distinct groups of citizens: the religious fundamentalists, stern, unyielding men of power who demand a return to the past; the prominent, well-educated middle class who cry out for release from the old traditions that stifle their lives; the Bedouin tribes who struggle against enticements to abandon their roving ways and yield to the lure of the cities; and, finally, members of the vast royal family who desire nothing more than wealth, wealth, and more wealth.
Bridging these four factions is the one group of natives who have been forgotten, the women of Saudi Arabia, as diverse in our desires and demands as the individual men who rule our daily lives.
Yet, strangely, I, a woman of great frustrations, have little anger with the king over our plight, for I know that he must have the loyal backing of ordinary husbands, fathers, and brothers before moving against the disciplined men of religion. These clerics claim that they correctly interpret the historic code of laws to allow men to rule harshly over their women. Too many ordinary men of Saudi Arabia are content with the status quo, discovering that it is easier to ignore the complaints of their women than to follow their king in negotiating change.
In spite of the difficulties, the bulk of Saudi citizens support King Fahd. It is only the religious fundamentalists who call for his downfall. To the remainder of Saudi citizens, he is known as a man of generosity and good cheer.
And, I remind myself, the women of our family know the king is well-loved by his wives, and who knows a man better than his wives?
While King Fahd rules with a milder hand than did his father and his three brothers, it does not require the wisdom of a sage to know that Princess, the book that tells the story of my life, will be viewed as a slap in the face to the man who rules my country.
That, alone, I regret. I bluntly admonish myself that I, under no duress, made the decision to break the precedent of generations by flinging family secrets to the wind. Now, for the first time, I wonder if I acted with passion rather than wisdom; perhaps my earnestness and enthusiasm led me to overestimate my capacity for intrigue.
In an attempt to soothe my conscience and calm my fears, I vividly recall the intensity of my anger with the men of my family, the rulers of Saudi Arabia, who appeared so oblivious to the suffering of the women in the land they ruled.
Despair weakens our sight and closes our ears. We can see nothing but specters of doom, and can
hear only the beating of our agitated hearts.
It is October of 1992, and I, Sultana Al Sa’ud, the princess featured in a tell-all book, follow the days of the calendar with a mixture of feverish excitement and morose depression. The book that exposed the life of women behind the veil was released in the United States in September. Since its publication, I carry with me a somber presentiment of my doom, feeling as though I were precariously suspended in space, for I am aware that no deed great or small, bad or good, can be without effect.
While taking a deep breath, I hopefully remind myself that I am likely to be safe in the anonymity of the extended Al Sa’ud family. Still, my trusty instincts warn me that I have been discovered.
Just as I conquer my conflicting guilt and fear, my husband, Kareem, enters our home in a rush, shouting out that my brother, Ali, has returned early from his trip to Europe and that my father has called an urgent family meeting at his palace. With black eyes glaring in a pale face marked with blotches of fiery red, my husband looks madder than a mad dog.
I am struck with a horrifying thought. Kareem has been told of the book!
Imagining suffocating confinement in a subterranean dungeon, deprived of my beloved children, I surrender to my agitation for a moment, and in a thin, high voice that bears no similarity to my own, I implore, “What has happened?”
Kareem shrugs his shoulders, answering, “Who can know?” His nostrils flare with irritation when he remembers, “I informed your father that I have an important appointment in Zurich tomorrow, that you and I could see him when I return, but he was adamant that I cancel my plans and escort you to his home this evening.”