Exclusive: in her first television interview, the former wife of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia claims her four daughters have suffered years trapped in the royal compound in Jeddah.
She has gone public about what she claims is years of abuse against their four daughters. It is an extraordinary insight into the House of Saud, a secretive dynasty, which has held absolute power for more than 80 years.
Princess Alanoud Al Fayez was married to King Abdullah at the age of 15. It was a marriage arranged by her uncle and she had never laid eyes on him until their wedding day. Soon she had four daughters – princesses Sahar, Maha, Hala and Jawaher (pictured above) – but no son.
The girls led a privileged childhood – skiing trips in the Alps, visits abroad. But after their mother was divorced by the king, she says things deteriorated and she eventually fled to London.
For the last 13 years the girls say they have been trapped in the royal compound in Jeddah. They cannot leave without armed guards and are barred from leaving the country.
Their mother has not seen them in person for a decade. She tells me: “They are really in a terrible state, especially Jawaher and Sahar. She’s telling me, ‘Mummy, we are trying to hold on to our sanity’. They are hanging to life. They don’t deserve what happened to them.”
I have been communicating with the eldest daughter, Princess Sahar (pictured above), via email.
She sent me pictures of the compound where she says they are held and a surveillance tower watches them day and night. She says their villa is no gilded cage, but a house is slipping into ruin, with leaking pipes and shattered windows: “People don’t realise how hard our situation is. They still see us as ‘pampered’ Saudi Princesses. We never were. We suffer on a daily basis.”
She told me she was speaking out after being threatened by her father – the king. Sahar writes: “Our father said that we had no way out and that after his death our brothers will continue detaining us.”
A few hours ago Sahar sent me a long email detailing her views on Saudi society. She says: “Women and children [in Saudi Arabia] are abused, while their male guardian enjoy privileges granted by the court in cases of domestic abuse. Princes and the elite entourage are protected and the victims and their families suffer injustice.”
In London, their mother says she has tried everything to get her daughters released. Her lawyers have asked to visit the princesses in Saudi and have gone to the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights.
Their mother says she is especially worried about Princess Hala, who is suffering from extreme anorexia and psychological problems. She claims she was jailed after she got a job in a local hospital and spoke up about human rights abuses.
Channel 4 News put this and all the other claims to the government of Saudi Arabia though their embassy here in London. But so far we have had no response.
The house of Saud is one of the most secretive in the world. The king, now thought to be 89, is worth an estimated £11bn, and is feted by the west.
Just a few weeks ago Prince Charles paid a visit – and President Obama will visit later this month. Yet the princesses say the west remains silent on human rights abuses in the country, particularly the treatment of women.