Women in Saudi Arabia based on "Desert Royal" by Jean Sasson

Term Paper, 2014

27 Pages, Grade: 10





Saudi Arabia- a brief history

Laws Governing the Kingdom


Condition of women in Saudi Arabia





“I have lived the life of a young girl, with hopeful promise, I have lived the life of a woman, whose promises were cut short...I have lived the life of one, whose dreams were dashed; I have lived knowing tremendous fear for every man; I have lived to see the devil in the guise of a man ruling my every action; I have lived as a beggar to this man, pleading with him to leave me alone,

I have lived to be buried while still alive; I have lived to wonder why those who claim to love me, helped me to bury alive,

I have lived through all these things and I am not yet twenty-five years old…”

Desert Royal, Jean Sasson (2004), pg.285


The present term paper will try to compile the life and atrocities suffered by Saudi women, royals and commoners- the patriarchal society of Saudi Arabia, as well as the recent developments in Saudi Arabia with regard to women, both by taking references from the novels written by Jean Sasson as well as from the web sources.

Princess- A trilogy, which is written by international author Jean Sasson, is a heart stirring novel about the life of a Saudi Princess Sultana, which is testimony to a woman of indomitable spirit and great courage.

In this trilogy, Jean Sasson captured the flavours and reality of life in a country full of extremes and contradictions. Princess ‘Sultana’, a real Saudi princess closely related to king, lives those contradictions, with priceless jewels, many servants, unlimited funds at her disposal, but NO FREEDOM. Jean Sasson quotes princess ‘Sultana’ as, “A prisoner in a gilded cage with no vote, no control, and no value but as a mother of son, she is totally at mercy of the men of her life- her father, her brother, her husband’. In this novel, this bold Saudi princess gave an unvarnished look inside a closed society. ‘Sultana’ lifted the veil on the shocking world of forced marriages, sex slavery, honour killings and other outrages against women, both royal and common.

Jean Sasson lived in Saudi Arabia for over ten years from 1978. In 1983, Jean Sasson met an extraordinary Saudi women, princess Sultana Al ’Saud. According to Sasson, “Not only Sultana was young and beautiful, she was charming intelligent, and possessed of an independent spirit that was rarely discovered in other Saudi women”. As time passed, their friendship flourished and princess sultana slowly related the story of her own life, from her turbulent childhood to her arranged marriage, as well as the shocking episodes from the life of her nine sisters, her friends, her brother, and her servants.1 Then she asked Jean Sasson to write her story. Jean Sasson did so by writing Princess- a trilogy- Princess, Daughters of Arabia and desert royal, all of which became international bestsellers. She now lives in her native southern USA. In Princess, ‘Sultana’ reveals about life in Saudi Arabia’s royal family. Royal women live as virtuous prisoners, surrounded by unimaginable wealth and luxury, privileged beyond belief and yet subject to every whim of their husbands, fathers, and even their sons. Daughters of Arabia, featured Sultana’s teenage daughters, determined to rebel but in very different ways. Surrounded by opulence, Sultana’s daughters grew up taking their luxuries for granted. Yet, stifled by the horrendous restrictions imposed on all females, even royals, they have reacted in very different, but equally desperate ways. And in desert royal, Sultana fought for women’s rights in a repressive, fundamentalist Islamic society, and has an extra sense of urgency.2

The books got great reviews from leading newspapers and famous personalities. Some of these are:

‘The startling truth behind the veiled lives of Saudi Arabia’s women…Frank and vivid revelations’- Sunday Express

‘If it didn’t come from within palace walls, no one would believe it…gripping’- Daily Mail.

‘Unforgettable in content, fascinating in detail…a book to move you to tears’- Fay Weldon.

A New York Times bestseller named it as "one of the best 500 books written by women since the year 1300."

By telling her story and miserable life of women in kingdom, ‘Sultana’ risked the wrath of the Saudi people and for this reason, she told her story anonymously through the bestselling author.

This never forgetting real life story inspired me to write a term paper regarding society of Saudi Arabia, whose shimmers fade, when it comes to life of women.

Saudi Arabia- a brief history

Before unveiling the society of Saudi Arabia, I would like to give a brief history of Saudi Arabia and how the royal family came into being, and able to rule until now since a century.

Saudi Arabia, officially known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), is the largest Arab state in Western Asia by land area (approximately 2,150,000 km2 (830,000 sq mi), constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula) and the second-largest in the Arab world (after Algeria). It is bordered by Jordan and Iraq to the north, Kuwait to the northeast, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to the east, Oman to the southeast, and Yemen in the south. It is the only nation with both a Red Sea coast and a Persian Gulf coast. Its population is estimated to consist of 16 million citizens and an additional nine million registered foreign expatriates and two million illegal immigrants.3 Its present king is king Abdullah, and the novels have been written back in 2004, during the reign of King Fahd.

Al’Sauds are the ruling clan or family of Saudi Arabia since century. According to Jean Sasson, as mentioned in the novel, princess, ‘The present day Al‘Sauds date back six generations to the days of the early emirs of the Najd Bedouin lands, now part of kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In 1981 disaster struck when the Al Sa’ud clan was defeated in battle and was forced to flee the Najd. The first king of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz was child at that time. He was humiliated of his family’s defeat and thus a turning point came in his life. After two years of Nomadic desert travel, the family of Al Sa’uds found refuge in the country of Kuwait. The life of refugee was so distasteful to Abdul Aziz that he vowed from an early age to recapture the desert sands he had once called his home. So, in 1901 September, twenty-five year old returned to their land. On 16 January 1902, after months of hardship, he and his men soundly defeated his enemies, the Rasheed’s. In the years to follow, to ensure the loyalty of the desert tribes, Abdul Aziz married more than 300 women, who in time produced more than 50 sons and eighty daughters. The sons of his favourite wives held the honour of favoured status; these sons, now are the very centre of power in their land. No wife of Abdul Aziz was more loved than Hassa Sudairi. The sons of Hassa later headed the combined forces of Al Sa’uds to rule the kingdom forged by their father. Fahd, one of these sons became their fourth king. Many sons and daughters married cousins of the prominent sections of our family such as the Al Turkis, Jiluwis and Al Kabirs. The present day princes from these unions are among influential Al Sa’uds. In 1991, their extended family consisted of nearly 21,000 members. Of this number, approximately a thousand are princes or princesses who are direct descendants of the great leader, king Abdul Aziz.’4

With the world's second largest oil reserves and the world's sixth largest natural gas reserves, the Kingdom is categorized as a high income economy with 19th highest GDP in the world. Being the world's largest oil exporter is the basis for its position as one of the 20 most powerful countries in the world, it also ranked as a regional power and maintains regional hegemony in the Arabian Peninsula. It is a member of Gulf Cooperation Council, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, G-20 major economies and OPEC. Its economy is largely backed by its oil industry, which accounts for more than 95% of exports and 70% of government revenue, although the share of the non-oil economy has been growing recently. This has facilitated the transformation of the underdeveloped desert kingdom into one of the world's wealthiest nations, such as the creation of a welfare state. So, it can be well imagined, how rich and royal can be the people of Saudi Arabia.5 Yet the state of women here makes it sea without water.

The hierarchical order of the Kings of Al’ Saud clan, ruling the kingdom since 1902 till present can be depicted as:


Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: Sasson, Jean: princess

Laws Governing the Kingdom

The criminal laws of Saudi Arabia adhere to strict Islamic precepts. The word ‘Islam’ means ‘surrender to the will of God’. The most important concept of Islam is the Shari’a, or the ‘path’, which embraces the total way of life ordained by God.

The primary source of law is the Islamic Sharia derived from the teachings of the Qur’an and judicial precedent. Saudi judges tend to follow the principles of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence (or fiqh) found in pre-modern texts and noted for its literalist interpretation of the Qur’an and hadith. Nevertheless, because the judge is empowered to disregard previous judgments (either his own or of other judges) and will apply his personal interpretation of Sharia to any particular case, divergent judgements arise even in apparently identical cases.

Royal decrees are the other main source of law; but are referred to as regulations rather than laws because they are subordinate to the Sharia. Royal decrees supplement Sharia in areas such as labour, commercial and corporate law. Additionally, traditional tribal law and custom remain significant.6

Princess gives the following insights about the laws prevailing in the kingdom;

There are four main sources of the sharia: the Koran, which is compiled from thousands of religious verses revealed by God through is Prophet Muhammad; the Sunna, which are the traditions the Prophet addressed that are not recorded in the Koran; the Ijma, which are the perceptions of the Ulema, or religious scholars; and the Qiyas, which is a method whereby known jurists agree upon new legal principles.

The king of Saudi Arabia is not exempt from the regulations set forth by the Sharia.

The court system itself is complicated, but if a judgement is taken to appeals. This court, usually consisting of three members, increases to five members if the sentence imposes death or mutilation. The king is the final arbitrator who serves as a final court of appeal and as source of pardon.

Crimes are classif ied into three divisions: Hudud, Tazir and Qisas. Crimes of Hudud are crimes that are denounced by God; the punishment is made known in Koran. Crimes of Tazir are given to the appropriate authority to determine punishment. Crimes of Qisas give the victim the right to retaliate.7

Further, crimes of Hudud, Tazir and Qisas are as well explained in princess as following:

Crimes of HUDUD:

Crimes of Hudud include theft, drinking of alcohol, defamation of Islam, fornication and adultery. Persons found guilty of theft are punished by payment of fines, imprisonments, or amputation of the right hand. Left hand is amputated if the right one is already amputated. Persons found guilty of drinking, selling or buying alcohol, sniffing drugs, taking injections of drugs or stirring drugs into dough are punished by a sentence of eighty lashes. Persons found guilty of defamation of Islam are sentenced according to the circumstances. The harshness of the sentence varies depending on whether the person is Muslim or non-Muslim. Flogging is the general punishment for Muslims. Persons found guilty of Fornication are flogged. Men are flogged while standing and women while sitting. The faces, heads and vital organs of the guilty are protected. The usual number is forty lashes, but this may vary according to the circumstances. Adultery is the most serious of crimes. If the guilty is married, he or she is sentenced to death by stoning, beheading or shooting. Stoning is the usual method of punishment. Proof of this crime must be established by confession or by four witnesses to the act.

Crimes of TAZIR:

The crimes are similar to misdemeanour crimes in America. There is no set punishment, but each person is judged on an individual basis, according to the seriousness of the crime and the sorrow shown by the criminal.

Crimes of QISAS:

If a person is found guilty of crimes against an individual or his family, the aggrieved family has the right to retaliate. The sentence is decided in private by the family, and the actual punishment is carried out in private. If murder has been committed, the family has the right to kill the murderer in the same method their loved one was murdered, or in any method they choose. If a member of the family was accidentally killed (such as in a road accident), the family of the deceased may collect ‘blood money’. In the past, camels were used as pay for blood money; today the rate of exchange is in currency. There are set damages according to the various circumstances. If a woman is killed, the payment is half that of woman. In Saudi Arabia, when a person has been killed or caused to die by another, the prescribed blood money rates are as follows:

300,000 riyals if the victim is a Muslim man

150,000 riyals if a Muslim woman

50,000 riyals if a Christian or Jewish man

25,000 riyals if a Christian or Jewish woman

6,666 riyals if a man of any other religion

3,333 riyals if a woman of any other religion

The amount of compensation is based on the percentage of responsibility. Blood money is to be paid not only for murder, but also in case of unnatural death, interpreted to mean death in a fire, industrial or road accident, for instance, as long as the responsibility for it falls on the causer. If a person cuts off another person’s body part, the family or the victim may commit the same act upon the guilty party.

In the novel, Sasson also explains as who can testify in criminal proceedings. It is mentioned that, the witness must be sane, the age of an adult, and a Muslim. Non-Muslims are not allowed to testify in criminal court. Women may testify only if it is a personal matter that did not occur in the sight of men because the testimony of a woman is not regarded as fact.

There are four reasons given in the novel, why women’s testimony is not valid in a Saudi court:

1.Women are much more emotional than men and will, as a result of their emotions, distort their testimony.
2.Women do not participate in public life, so they will not be capable of understanding what they observe.
3.Women are dominated completely by men, who by grace of God are deemed superior; therefore, women will give testimony according to what the last man told them.
4.Women are forgetful, and their testimony cannot be considered reliable.8


-Princess, by Jean Sasson (2004)


Islamic religious police (also mutaween) is the police force responsible for the enforcement of sharia in Saudi Arabia. In addition to having the power to arrest anyone engaged in homosexual acts, prostitution, fornication, or proselytizing of non-Muslim religions, they can also arrest unrelated males and females caught socializing, enforce Islamic dress-codes, Muslim dietary laws (such as the prohibition from eating pork) and store closures during the prayer time. They prohibit the consumption or sale of alcoholic beverages and seize banned consumer products and media regarded contrary to Islamic morals. They also actively prevent the religious practices of other religions within Saudi Arabia.9


1 Sasson, Jean: Princess.

2 Sasson, Jean: Princess.

3 (N.A), "Saudi Arabia". American Bedu, Retrieved 13 Mar. 14

4 Sasson, Jean: princess, pg.23-25.

5 (N.A), "The Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia – A Welfare State", Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, London, Retrieved 14.03.14

6 Hefner, Robert W. (2011), ‘Sharia’s Politics: Islamic Law and Society in the Modern World’

7 Sasson, Jean: princess, pg.23

8 Sasson, Jean: princess, pg.281-285.

9 (N.A) "Saudi minister rebukes religious police". BBC News. Retrieved 14 Mar. 14

Excerpt out of 27 pages


Women in Saudi Arabia based on "Desert Royal" by Jean Sasson
BA Dual Hons Social Sciences
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ISBN (Book)
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women, saudi, arabia, desert, royal, jean, sasson
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Khushmita Sandhu (Author), 2014, Women in Saudi Arabia based on "Desert Royal" by Jean Sasson, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/282763


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