Book review: Inside The Kingdom (my life in Saudi Arabia)
Although the United States owes Saudi Arabia almost $120 billion, our relationship with that country has been kept at arms’ length since 2001 by both the Bush and the Obama administrations. A possible reason for this strained relationship was the disclosure that 15 of the 19 highjackers on September 11, 2001, were citizens of Saudi Arabia.
However, President Trump has recently attempted to form closer ties with Saudi Arabia. This was primarily through the sale of military aircraft to it, and by lending his support of Saudi Arabia leading the punishing moves against Qatar. By the way, Qatar hosts a U. S. Airbase with over 11,000 troops and 100 aircraft, which is one of the largest concentrations of military personnel in the Middle East.
Since it presently appears that Saudi Arabia may once again become an important player in our country’s commitments in the Middle East, I have chosen a 2004 book for this review which gives an up-close look into everyday life in Saudi Arabia, particularly for women.
This book is titled Inside The Kingdom (my life in Saudi Arabia) by Carmen Bin Ladin. It is available in soft cover (213 pages, which includes a 9 page 2005 postscript) and electronically.
The author was married a number of years to Yeslam Bin Ladin, who was an older brother of Osama Bin Ladin. According to the author, their father, Sheik Mahamed Bin Ladin, had 22 wives, and he died in an airplane crash on the way to marry his 23rd wife. Mohamed Bin Ladin also had 54 children (25 males and 29 females), and he built the most powerful construction companies in the Middle East. The Bin Ladin organization owned the only companies allowed to work in Mecca, which gave the family a very high status in Saudi Arabia.
The author’s mother came from an aristocratic Persian family. Her father was Swiss, and the author was Swiss born. She met her husband, Yeslam Bin Ladin, in 1973 in Geneva. She and Yeslam came to the United States in late 1973 to attend college at the University of Southern California, and, according to the author, she and Yeslam considered the United States their home.
However, they were married in Saudi Arabia in 1974, because Yeslam thought the family would lose respect if they were married in a foreign country.
The marriage ceremony itself was described as requiring Carmen to have a male relative stand in for her, because the wedding was a male only religious ceremony, and because women could not step into a mosque (they could only pray in a public space outside of it).
After the wedding, Carmen and Yeslam moved back to the United States, where Carmen claims they were very happy. She learned to drive here, and she even took flying lessons.
In March of 1975, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia was assassinated, and Yeslam felt that he and Carmen had to return to Saudi Arabia to help with the family’s businesses. Therefore, after Yeslam graduated from USC in 1976, they returned to Saudi Arabia that fall.
Life for Carmen in Saudi Arabia proved very frustrating because, as she describes, a woman was not allowed to speak to any man in public. Women could not be seen unveiled by any man outside of the family. They could not shop, because men might see them. Saudi Arabia was always blazing hot, and it was utterly miserable for a woman under a veil and being clothed from head to toe outside of their home.
If a woman left the home, it was to be driven some place specific by a man. They could not go for a walk alone, nor could they legally drive a car. If a woman was attending classes at the University, it was through a video presentation by male professors, who were not permitted to teach directly in a segregated women only classroom.
Also, according to the author, women in Saudi Arabia must live in obedience and isolation. It became essential for a Saudi woman to produce male heirs, because if a husband dies and his wife only had daughters, the wife and minor or adult daughter(s) become dependent on the deceased husband’s closest male relative(s). This male relative then becomes their guardian, and has to approve even their basic decisions, such as travel, education or the choice of a husband.
In addition, if only a wife and daughter(s) survive a deceased husband, 50% of his estate reverts to his parents and siblings; the other 50% would then pass to the widow and daughter(s). The whole estate will only pass to the widow and surviving children if there is a surviving son or sons. Once the oldest son becomes an adult, he then acts as the guardian for his mother and sister(s).
No woman could leave Saudi Arabia or travel outside her city without the written consent of her husband, father, son or male guardian.
As can be expected, these rules did not sit very well with the author, particularly after the revolution in Iran in 1979, because the revolutionary changes in Iran caused the rulers in Saudi Arabia to become very tense, which, in turn, caused them to start enforcing more extreme ideas of religious behavior, particularly for women.
Even Mecca was taken over in November of 1979 by hundreds of Islamic extremists, and it had to be liberated by French paratroopers, who were called in by the Saudi Government.
After giving birth to three daughters, Carmen and Yeslam became estranged, which ultimately led to a divorce in Geneva, where they had moved from Saudi Arabia just before their third daughter was born in 1987.
Their divorce, according to the author, was a bitter struggle, but the marriage did end in 1988. At the time the book was written, both Carmen and Yeslam lived in Geneva on a perceived unfriendly basis.
This book also presents a short history of Saudi Arabia from its establishment in 1932 by Abdel Aziz ibn Saud, with help from the British, and it became the only country in the world to take the name of its ruling kings (the al-Sauds).
As a side note, it was recently reported that Saudi King Salman appointed his 31-year-old son, Mohamid bin Salman, as Crown Prince. This places the young Prince as first in line to the throne, and it introduces a new and younger generation Saudi ruler for many years of the 21st century. He is also said to be very popular among the youth of Saudi Arabia.