Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Saudi Arabia, July 15, 1977
Saudi men praying in a mosque. A caravan of cars travels along a desert road to a car park in a souk. Curious men coming out of the mosque assemble around the car park. A truck dumps a large pile of sand in one corner. A woman covered in a black abaya is taken from the back of a panel truck, made to kneel in the sand. A gunshot.
Telex: "TFX 306: I saw a princess die."
Newspaper headlines: "Princess executed for love." "La princesse l'amant ...et le bourreau." "Kopf ab!"
"It was" Princess Misha'al bint Fahd al Saud, they say.
As the story goes, Princess Misha'al was "very honest. She was, you know, a free soul. She was like a bird. She was— she wanted to live, to be happy, to sing, to love. And I think that, you know, when she weighed it out, she thought that if she carried on living the way they wanted her to live, you know, she would have also destroyed herself."
A 17-year-old, "very beautiful" girl, Princess Misha'al was a granddaughter to Prince Muhammad bin Abdul Aziz, who was an older brother to the then king of Saudi Arabia, King Khalid bin Abdul Aziz.
"She was the King's favorite. He loved her. The entire family loved her. She traveled all over the world. Her parents gave her everything she wanted. And when she was at the right age, the family chose a good husband for her, a royal cousin."
"But the young lady had ideas of her own. She rebelled. She refused to fulfill the marriage contract. She wanted to go the university, to Beirut. The family agreed. The husband, he had no choice."
"You can imagine the influences in Beirut— radical Arab politics, women's liberation, Palestinians, Western influences all pulling, and all pulling in different directions. And then she— she met a boy from our country, a student. She completely lost her head. She forgot who she was— a royal princess, the king's niece, a married woman."
She fell madly in love with the boy Khalid Muhallal, the nephew of General Ali Shaer, the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon.
They both returned to Riyadh (Saudi), and continued their affair on the sly. Fully aware of what the consequences if caught, they decided to flee the country, and fly Westward forever.
Princess Misha'al, faked her own death due to drowning. "Four days later," she dressed up like a man, even wore a fake moustache, to fly out of the country...but both of them got caught at the airport.
"They'd wasted time. Four days, and still no sign of a body. Then there was a catastrophe. On the afternoon before she faked her drowning, she left a letter with her maid, with instructions that it would not be delivered for a week, whatever happened. It was just to tell her mother not to worry, that she was safe. Of course, when the search went on day after day, the maid got scared. She just handed over the letter. Everybody was alerted on the very day they were trying to escape."
"She could have traveled under the veil with the passport of a servant, any woman. We have a saying in Arabic, "A thief isn't caught unless he wants to be caught."
[The princess, unveiled, at the airport check-in. A security buzzer sounds. Security men grab her and take her to an office. The boy jumps up, pushes back through the crowd at security. He bursts into the office where the princess has been taken. The boy is held by the security men. The princess looks up at him in tears.]
"You see, in our country, execution for adultery happens very rarely. There have to be four independent and honorable male witnesses or eight independent and honorable female witnesses. They have to witness — excuse me — the actual penetration. Now, the only other way that the accused can be condemned is out of her own mouth, by saying three times in front of a court of law, "I have committed adultery." Three times.
"Well, that girl stood before the court. She was asked and she said, "I have committed adultery." Well, immediately the king stopped the proceedings. He loved her. He summoned her to his private rooms. "Do you realize that if you admit your guilt for a second and a third time, I can't save you, your grandfather can't save you. Go back. You only have to say one thing, that you will never see this boy again. Please."
"Well, she went back to that court and she said, "I have committed adultery. I have committed adultery." Three times. In five seconds, she had condemned herself and the boy."
"Both of them" were going to be publicly executed.
"We'd just knocked off work. I knew there were summat up, like, because they'd stopped all the traffic. They made us walk the rest of the way back up to the hotel. That were roughly half past 12:00. Anyway, I went in the hotel and I spoke to the little Lebanese guy behind the counter, and he told me that some guy were up for the chop. He didn't say nowt about a princess, like. I thought it was just one guy that were going to get it.
"Any road, I went up to me room to get changed. And me window, it looked out onto this car park, like, big open area. People were already starting to gather. They were dumping this big pile of sand. So I decided to take me camera. I cut a piece out of a cigarette packet, like a little window, for the lens, and I stuck me Instamatic inside it."
"I'm not much good at crowds. But by the time I'd got down there, you see, they were coming out the mosques. It's funny, isn't it, straight out of church and off to see a bloke get chopped. By the time I got to the car park, there must have been, oh, 3,000 or more."
The executioner was "just dressed like any old Arab you'd see in the street. He didn't have a great, big, massive, shining sword, neither. About that long it were, and none too sharp. Five blows, the lad still weren't beheaded. His head never did come off. They chopped him round his neck, both sides, and the back of his head. And after they'd finished with him, his head were just resting on his shoulders. And that were it. Like there were nothing holding it on. And that were it."
------"Sorry, can we go back to the beginning. They led them out of the trucks—"
"Aye. They led them into the middle of the square. The guy's hands were tied behind his back. He looked as though he had been drugged or beaten up or something. He were wobbling about all over the place. He weren't resisting. They led the girl off to the right-hand side, as I were looking at it. She were veiled, I didn't see her face. Any road, they knelt her down by this pile of sand. It's daft, but you see, I'd still no idea what were going to happen to her. I mean, I knew she weren't a passer-by or aught like that, but as far as I were concerned, there were just one guy were going to get done.
"I kept trying to get a better view. And there were these big iron wheels at me back, and there were all these Arabs, like, perched on the wheels and on the wheel behind, just like vultures. Anyway, I ran round the back of the crowd and I made towards them. I were about half-way there and the shooting started.
"The girl were already dead. She were just a black heap. They'd knelt her down like, in front of the sand, and shot her. And then they blindfolded the boy."
"The boy hadn't got a right lot about him. I don't think I would have had, in his boots. They practically had to carry him into the middle of the square. And then they made him kneel. I tell you, I was shaking. I'd never seen anything like that before. And all through the execution, there were this guy sitting next to me, and he never watched the execution, he were watching me all the time. I were a bit wary, like, but I carried on."
"It weren't like Wembley, just the odd clap when it were being done. You see, in their eyes, it's like ridding themselves of a murderer. It's against their laws, you know. They're dead set in their ways. And then these blokes, police or whatever they were, piled the bodies onto stretchers and chucked them into the back of the trucks. Then the crowd pissed off, and that were it."
Some people still believe Princess Misha'al lives on till date. The woman in the black veil who was shot six times in the head was not the Princess, people believe. "They all loved her too much to kill her. But they had to show they don't even spare their own."
Her "execution" and events that lead up to it were dramatized in the docu-drama Death of a Princess (1980). When British television aired the infamous documentary, the government of Saudi Arabia went on the offensive. And the movie was banned across borders.