Misha’al bint Fahd al Saud (1958 – 1977) was a Saudi Arabian Princess, who was executed for alleged adultery, although it is said that she was illegally killed, in 1977, at the age of 19. She was a granddaughter of Prince Muhammad bin Abdul Aziz, who was an older brother of the then-King of Saudi Arabia, Khalid bin Abdul Aziz.
Her family sent her, at her own request, to Lebanon to attend school. While there, she fell in love with a man, Khaled Mulhallal al-Sha’er, the nephew of the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon and they began an affair. When, upon their return to Saudi Arabia, it emerged that they had conspired to meet alone on several occasions, a charge of adultery was brought against them. After attempting to fake her own drowning and being caught trying to escape from Saudi Arabia with Khalid, disguised as a man but being recognized by the passport examiner at Jeddah airport, she was returned to her family. Under Sharia law, a person can only be convicted of adultery by the testimony of four adult male witnesses to the actual sexual penetration, or by their own admission of guilt, stating three times in court “I have committed adultery.” There were no witnesses. Her family urged her not to confess, but instead to merely promise never to see her lover again. On her return to the courtroom, she allegedly repeated her confession: “I have committed adultery. I have committed adultery. I have committed adultery.”
On 15 July 1977, both were publicly executed in Jeddah by the side of the Queen’s Building in the park. Despite her royal status, she was blindfolded, made to kneel, and executed on the explicit instructions of her grandfather, a senior member of the royal family, for the alleged dishonour she brought on her clan and defying a royal order calling for her to marry a man selected by the family. Khaled, after being forced to watch her execution, was beheaded with a sword by, it is believed, one of the princess’ male relatives. It took 5 blows to sever his head, which was not the work of a professional executioner. Both executions were conducted near the palace in Jeddah, not in the public execution square in Jeddah.
Following the execution segregation of women became more severe and the religious police also began patrolling bazaars, shopping malls, and any other place where men and women might happen to meet. When Prince Muhammad was later asked if the two deaths were necessary, he said, “It was enough for me that they were in the same room together”.
South-African born, independent film producer Antony Thomas came to Saudi Arabia, interviewed numerous people about the princess’ story, and was met by conflicting stories, which later became the subject matter of the British documentary, Death of a Princess. The movie was scheduled to show on 9 April 1980 on the ITV television network and then a month later on the public television network PBS in the United States. Both broadcasts caused livid protests and strong diplomatic, economic and political pressure from the Saudis. Failing to get the British broadcast canceled, King Khalid expelled the British ambassador from Saudi Arabia.
In May 1980, attention then shifted to PBS, where PBS officials endured a month of mounting pressure from corporations and politicians. A major PBS sponsor, The Mobil Oil Corporation, took out a full-page ad in the New York Times op-ed page opposing the film and declaring it jeopardized U.S.-Saudi relations. Finally the PBS officials and local affiliates chose to not continue with the broadcast, instead running two other programs, one was a pro-Saudi discussion of the film, the second shown in early June, presented a flattering portrait of the role of women in Saudi culture.
King Khalid, Saudi Arabia’s ruler at the time, was said to have offered $11 million to the network to suppress the film.
According to Antony Thomas, there was no trial nor was there an official execution.
It wasn’t a trial. She wasn’t even executed in the Square of Justice. She was just executed in a car park. I’ve witnessed executions in Saudi Arabia, I’m afraid. They’re always done in a special square. This wasn’t even done there. It wasn’t done with an official executioner, not that that would make it any worse or any better. But this was not following the process of any law.
Her death and events that led up to it are believed to have been the inspiration for the fictionalized docu-drama Death of a Princess (1980):
The difference between the official version, which was the girl was killed because she was found guilty of adultery, and the truth of it, which turns out that she was, in fact, executed by the king’s elder brother in an act of tribal vengeance in a parking lot in Jeddah, was, in fact, the heart of the controversy because that was the part that, of course, the royal family could not countenance. And that was the great outrage.
—David Fanning, Cowriter and Executive Producer of Death of a Princess