It was a life out of a fairy tale — until it became one they couldn’t escape.
Sahar, Maha, Hala and Jawaher Al Saud are daughters of King Abdullah
bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi Arabian monarch who is worth an estimated $15
With such riches, the sisters, when younger, would take ski trips to
luxurious resorts in Europe and go on endless shopping sprees, buying
silk robes and jasmine oil, while their doting father bought them
parures — matching jewelry sets — topped with jewel-encrusted tiaras.
The women roamed elegant tents, filled with fresh fruits and treats,
on an 85-acre, $740 million compound that included a helipad emblazoned
with the king’s initials.
Each of them desired a normal, albeit privileged life: To study
abroad, travel the world, and eventually marry and have children.
Now they are prisoners.
Not only has the 89-year-old king forbidden any man to seek his
daughters’ hands in marriage, he’s confined them, against their will, in
separate dark and suffocating quarters at his palace.
The king’s eldest daughter, 42-year-old Sahar, spoke with The New York Post in a rare and surreptitious phone call.
“We are cut off and isolated and alone,” she says. “We are hostages.
No one can come see us, and we can’t go see anyone. Our father is
responsible and his sons, our half-brothers, are both culprits in this
Why are the princesses being held captive?
Because they believe women in Saudi Arabia, one of the most
oppressive Islamic nations in the world, should be free. Their mother,
Alanoud Al Fayez, long ago fled to London.
When the sisters openly spoke in opposition to women being illegally
detained and placed in mental wards, the king had enough and no longer
considered them his daughters.
“That was it for him. It was the end for us,” Sahar says.
“They once had a normal life for Saudi Arabia, but they are free
thinkers, and their father hates that,” mom Al Fayez says. “They are
compassionate about the plight of women in Saudi Arabia and throughout
the Arab world. The injustices that we see are terrible, and someone
must say something.”
Punished for having daughters
Al Fayez, a descendant of a well-to-do Jordanian family, recalls the
first time she saw Abdullah. It was 1972. She was 15, he was 48, and she
was told that he would be her husband.
“I was being given to him in marriage,” she says. “It was arranged.”
Despite the riches and the servants and the pampering, life quickly
became “monotonous,” she says. Almost immediately, she got pregnant.
“After I was forced to marry him, Abdullah would come to my room as a
visitor for a few hours every now and then,” Al Fayez says. “And then
he’d go to his other wives, so you don’t even fight, you don’t even
Within four years of the wedding, Al Fayez had given birth to four
girls. This was unacceptable: She was, in the king’s eyes, incapable of
producing a son, and so she was worthless.
Abdullah, who has had 30 wives and fathered more than 40 children,
finally divorced Al Fayez sometime in the 1980s — but she didn’t find
out until two years later, through an intermediary. In Saudi Arabia, a
husband can divorce his wife without her knowledge.
“Really, he had divorced me a number of times and he’d abuse me, beat
me and had me beaten by guards,”
Al Fayez says. “And the more I took
the abuse, the more I was abused.”
“The last straw, if you want to call it a last straw, really was that
when my daughters got real sick, they wouldn’t let me supervise their
care or participate in soothing them in any way.
“So that sparked my desire to break away and get to the West and tell the world about the abuses of women in Saudi Arabia.”
When it comes to the rights of women, Saudi Arabia has one of the
worst human-rights records in the world.
Women don’t have a say in
raising their children. They can’t go to school, travel, open a bank
account, conduct any kind of business or get medical treatment —
especially gynecological surgery — without male permission.
In public, everything except the eyes and the hands must be covered,
and the slightest infraction can result in a death sentence.
With the help of one of Abdullah’s security guards, Al Fayez fled the
compound in the dark of night to Jeddah airport, where, with the help
of a women’s rights group, she eventually flew to London.
It was an agonizing decision. Al Fayez says she would have fled with
her daughters, but Abdullah had already confiscated the women’s
passports and separated them from Al Fayez.
She also said she thought he’d eventually release them to spare the
embarrassment of Al Fayez going public with her charges. At the very
least, she thought their lives would be better than hers — that he would
not mistreat his own children.
“Leaving my daughters was very difficult, but I never thought they’d
be subjected to this,” she says. “After all, they are [the king’s]
Prisoners in his home
Al Fayez was wrong.
In 2002, less than one year after her escape, Abdullah began
tormenting his daughters. They are in intermittent phone contact with
their mother and have told her that he’s drugged their food and water to
keep them docile.
“They had felt some oppression before I left, but when he found that I
had gone, he vowed that he would kill the girls, slowly,” Al Fayez
says. “At one point, he tried to get me to come back, saying that he
would take away the divorce and release them, but that wasn’t true and I
know that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t trust that.”
It was then, about 2005, that she first began to fear for her
daughters’ safety, she said. “That’s when I thought, now he’d do
anything, even punish them till they die, which is exactly what he’s
trying to do now.”
The king locked Sahar and the youngest, Jawaher, now 38, in one area
of the palace, while confining Mahar, 41, and Hala, 39, to yet another
closet-sized and unkempt room.
Doctors aren’t even allowed in for checkups.
“The rooms they are locked in are so hot, they wilt from the desert
heat,” Al Fayez says. They suffer from dehydration, nausea and heat
Her daughter, Sahar, says the king is starving them all to death.
They haven’t had a full meal in more than a month, she says, and are
forced to eat canned goods that they pry open with nail files.
“We are not angels dropped from the sky as a gift to our father,”
Sahar says, “but I assure you that we didn’t commit a crime or do
anything to deserve this.”
Power, running water and electricity are shut on and off at random,
sometimes days or even weeks at a time.
Their rooms are overrun with
bugs and rodents.
“Our energy is quite low, and we’re trying our best to survive,”
Sahar says. Their “gilded cage” is only gilded on the outside. “We live
amid ruins. You hear ‘palace,’ but we don’t feel like we’re in a palace
An official at the Saudi embassy in London tells The Post that the
women are free to move about, but because they are royalty they must be
accompanied by armed security guards.
Al Fayez says that’s a lie.
“That place was once a home,” she says. “Now it’s a cage . . . The
king wants them dead and he wants them to die in front of the world, yet
he will deny any of this ever happened.”
All four women are routinely tortured, sometimes by their own relatives.
“They come in, the men, our own half-brothers, and they beat us with
sticks,” Sahar says. “They yell at us and tell us we will die here.”
Marriage isn’t an escape
Each daughter, says their mother, once dreamt of marrying a prince.
But with no chance to meet men on their own, and with their father
indifferent, they remained single.
“He won’t let anyone take them in marriage, and he’s threatened to
kill anyone who would ask,” Al Fayez says. “It’s about psychological
warfare and breaking them down.”
Al Fayez said she feels every bit of her daughters’ pain, yet she
tries to remind herself of how strong and special each of her girls are.
“Sahar is very bright and has always made us laugh. She’s the eldest, and she’s an artist and a free-thinker,” Al Fayez says.
“Maha is sensitive but has a penchant for business and politics. Hala
is compassionate and brilliant; she majored in psychology and graduated
at the top of her class. She loves to play the piano and compose music.
Jawaher, my youngest, is very similar in character to Maha. She also
loves music and hopes to earn a degree in sound engineering.”
Her daughters, she says, have much to offer. She says she taught each
of her them to be strong, to stand up to their powerful father, and now
that has backfired.
“My children have been living in agony,” Al Fayez says, “And this is far too great to bear. They are wasting away.”
Curiously, Abdullah has other daughters from other wives who are treated far, far better.
Princess Adila, for example, is married to a well-to-do Saudi
businessman; she often speaks on behalf of her father. Abdullah
appointed another daughter, Aliya, to the lead post in a Jeddah
Princess Maryam, says Al Fayez, “is a doctor in Europe and she stays
away.” The king’s youngest daughter, Sahab, 21, was given in marriage to
Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in 2011.
Why are these four different?
“His hatred stems from their outspokenness,” Al Fayez says. “But from
the beginning, even when he paid attention to them, he was angry that I
didn’t give him sons. The fact that they are like me bothered him.”
Al Fayez says she’s had little help in trying to secure her daughters’
release. She’s hired British and American lawyers, but Abdullah has
refused to be questioned.
“We know that the daughters have gone for 30 days without any food or
water,” says Ali Al-Ahmed, the director of the human-rights group
Institute for Gulf Affairs and a former Saudi political prisoner
“They’ve been resourceful, putting away a little food here and there,” he says. “They are in survival mode.”
Sahar tells The Post that she’s constantly threatened by her father and has been told that death is the only way out.
“My father said that after his death, our brothers would continue to detain us and abuse us,” she says.
Al Fayez is frantic. Time, she says, is running out.
“My daughters want the right to see their mother, and I want to see
my daughters,” Al Fayez says. “They are just trying to hold onto their
They are suffering . . . with no hope for salvation.”