Rumor has it Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has overturned a court ruling sentencing a woman to 10 lashes for breaking a ban on female drivers.

The ruling, although not officially confirmed, was tweeted by a Saudi princess and reported by AP news agency citing an unnamed official.

The woman was found guilty of driving in Jeddah this past July.

The sentence came two days after the king announced women would be allowed to vote for the first time in 2015.

“Thank God, the lashing of Shema is cancelled. Thanks to our beloved king,” tweeted Princess Amira al-Taweel, wife of Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

These headlines are a continuation of a book I recently read. A MUST read for book clubs.

This is seriously a jaw dropping, eye opening, and discussion provoking book!

Princess by Jean Sasson tells the story of “Sultana”, a Saudi Arabian princess.

It is marketed as a true story,  dangerous to tell, and therefore many names and other details have been altered to protect the identities of people who might otherwise suffer for the truth that has been told. The book is written by Sultana’s American friend, Jean Sasson, using her diaries and notes – and was approved by her before publication. It is written in a simple, matter-of-fact style which underlines the power of what is said.

Sultana lives an unbelievably privileged life as a royal princess in the incredibly oil-rich country of Saudi Arabia. There is unlimited wealth at the disposal of her family, and she lives in complete luxury. But she, and all her friends, are caged birds. Sultana is clearly proud of her nation’s history and tells wonderful stories about some of the Saudi women that she knows, and about the servants who look after her. She praises King Faisal (who died in 1975) and his wife Iffat for their efforts to advance women’s rights. She speaks positively about many good things in Saudi Arabia.

But there is a dark side to her life, and to the lives of all the women in her country.

In this book, we read about the way in which Sultana and her nine sisters are utterly subordinated to their one brother, who is spoiled  and becomes cruel while they are taught submission and obedience and subordination right from the cradle. Girls are taught to be grateful for crumbs of education or attention received, and to expect nothing but what a man (father, brother, husband) may choose to give them on a whim.

We learn about veiling, which stamps the child a woman, renders her a non-person, ready for marriage as soon as her menses starts. We hear how Sultana when first veiled longed to be a Bedouin woman so that she could go about with her eyes uncovered, at least, and not trip over things.

We hear about forced marriages between pubescent girls and old men.

We learn of multiple wives and how a first wife is expected live with and care for her husbands mother.

There is female circumcision – slowly going out of fashion but still common, and Halawa (a ritual stripping  all body hair other than head hair and eyebrows, traditionally carried out on a bride’s wedding day).

And gifts of bloodied wedding-sheets to the mothers-in-law.

There is the terrible hypocrisy of men who preach godliness and chastity while using pornography, and while using (foreign) women and girls as whores – whether they consent or not. There is the less terrible but equally hypocritical behaviour of men who claim to be compassionate, enlightened and in favour of women’s rights, but who uphold the Saudi system and in particular their right to take additional wives for the purpose of making sons.

There are the vile, appalling punishments meted out to women convicted of any offence, especially any offence against modesty or decency – such as speaking to foreign men, showing a face or any other flesh in public, having sex outside marriage, or being raped. Women are stoned. Women are drowned in family swimming pools at the hands of their fathers or other male guardians. Women are flogged. Women are locked up in “The Woman’s Room” – a windowless, soundproofed room where they live out their days in solitary confinement, food shoved through a narrow slot in the door. At best, a disgraced wife will be divorced and shipped home to her father. At best, a disgraced sister or daughter will be married off as the third wife of some ignorant, violent hick in a small, dust-choked town, out of the way.

The picture of Sultana is of a furious woman, helpless, and imprisoned. She fights tooth and nail for what dignity she can, and to do what she can for her children. But she is trapped and can do nothing.

This, it seems, was Saudi Arabia in the 1990s. But, judging from this weeks headlines, has there been change?

Added Suggestions:

Ask each reader to bring one Middle Eastern Dish for a buffet.

Don´t forget dessert!

Lemon Cream Cake

 Lastly ….the hostess should only be responsible for a welcome drink and coffee! Let everyone else do the rest of the work! BYOB!!!!

Happy Reading Yáll!