During recent years, several royal family members from Gulf states have tried to leave their countries or found themselves in prison if they remain. Some stories cause international outrage, others happen quietly and discreetly. Since one Saudi princess is particularly associated with our Foundation (NCF work in 2012-13, Media Awards in 2013, though less so in recent years) and has recently appeared in news articles again, it might perhaps be a good time to look at her case. We are speaking of Princess Basmah bint Saud – the youngest child of King Saud, part of a branch of the family once seen as a potential alternative to the current branch in power (HRH King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed).
To begin with, here is a brief picture of her life so far: Princess Basmah spent many years in Beirut and later, London. She studied social sciences at different universities across the world. In 2007, she divorced her husband and started operating her own businesses one year later.
Princess Basmah is known for participating in the meetings of human rights organizations and raising awareness about women’s rights issues in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Her main criticisms cover the state’s role in promoting virtue, the brutality of religious policemen, the banning of gatherings of men and women and the clothing laws for females. Surprisingly, the long (and recently successful) campaign to acquire the right to drive for women in Saudi Arabia does not seem too have been too important to her as she seems to have regarded that as being related to men being overprotective of women. According to her, it was something that could resolve itself over the years and was not an urgent problem as regards individual freedoms.
The daughter of King Saud has proposed some interesting ideas how to modernize society and improve the role of women. And ironically, many of the ideas she championed have indeed been adopted by the new Crown Prince, HRH Mohammed bin Salman.
In 2014, the EU registered a specific set of suggestions by her – the award-winning “Fourth Way Law”. This idiosyncratic but interesting concept contains strategies on how alternative governing systems could be implemented. The theory looks at what Basmah calls the four fundamentals of life which are required to create a balance: security (main focus), freedom, equality and education. In response to her persistent lobbying, countries such as the UK and US have at least considered some of her recommendations when developing laws regarding the implementation of human rights and the monitoring of social media.
Although Princess Basmah has frequently criticized the Saudi establishment and other middle-level administrators, she has continued to stress her loyalty to the royal family and the fact that she is proud of her country’s ancient culture. Nevertheless, a number of articles by her have been censored by Saudi Arabian officials.
Now these attempts to silence her have intensified. HRH Princess Basmah was arrested in March 2019, along with her loyal and devoted 28-year old daughter Suhoud.
On this occasion, eight armed men took her into custody when she wanted to leave the country. Princess Basmah intended to go to Switzerland for medical treatment, however, she was suspected of fleeing Saudi Arabia.
At first, the state security accused her of procuring a false passport, but these charges were dropped quickly – now it is unclear why she is detained. Since March 2019, Princess Basmah has not been seen in public. She is held in the Al-Ha’ir prison (Riyadh) which is normally used for Jihadis in Saudi Arabia.
Insiders suggest that this could be related to internal issues, either regarding the custody of her children, or Princess Basmah trying to receive the inheritance she is in theory entitled to under Islamic Law from her father – her assets are currently frozen. The Twitter account of the Princess obviously went silent after she was taken into custody.
A very significant issue in this problem is Princess Basmah’s health status. Since she is in need of medical care, her family is especially worried about this. Although she might have limited access to medication, it is feared that there may be no adequate treatment provided for her.
In April 2020, Basmah’s office tweeted a statement to ask HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (her cousin) for mercy:
“I am currently being arbitrarily held at Al-Ha’ir prison without […] charges against my person. My health is deteriorating to an extent […] that could lead to my death. I have not received medical care or even response to the letters I dispatched from jail to the Royal Court. I was abducted without an explanation together with one of my daughters and thrown into prison. I am beseeching my uncle […] and my cousin […] to review my case, and to release me as I have done no wrong. My current health status is very critical.”
These tweets and her website were taken down quickly. Her communications to the outside world, which consisted of one weekly call before, got completely cut off.
As the Crown Prince usually pardons some prisoners during Ramadan, Princess Basmah had hoped for his goodwill during that month. However, she was not released, which is concerning. As stated above, the widespread opinion is that Basmah bint Saud is held in the Al-Ha’ir prison without legal recourse. The public might not have insights into internal Saudi Arabian affairs – understandably – but a revision of her case would undoubtedly be a kind gesture.
All these points urge the Next Century Foundation to appeal to HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Princess Basmah be discharged as quickly as possible. By allowing her contact with the outside world and releasing her from Al-Ha’ir, her health could be improved from the critical state she is currently in and necessary treatments could be provided for her.
We beg the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to reconsider. HRH Princess Basmah represents little or no real threat to the status quo in Saudi Arabia. Indeed viewed from a Western perspective, she could be regarded as a credit to the Kingdom.