Her Royal Highness Princess Basmah bint Saud bin Abdulaziz al Saud has long been known as a moderate and a human rights campaigner in a kingdom not known for its liberal outlook. However, the Saudi princess now faces her most arduous battle.
The princess, who currently lives in west London, has been blackmailed over a revealing video, which was stolen from her laptop by computer hackers. While the video appears innocent enough to Western viewers, the Saudi royals find it to be deeply embarrassing.
In the video, Princess Basmah is seen blowing a kiss to the camera, smoking a cigarette with her long brown hair flowing and uncovered. In a country where women are neither seen nor heard, these actions are all against Saudi tradition.
Her blackmailer demanded an exorbitant amount of money not to publish the contents of several conversations she was tricked into having, as well as the videos and photographs that were allegedly stolen from her computer.
Rather than pay the blackmailers, Princess Basmah decided to go directly to the public and pre-empt the blackmailer.
“In Saudi Arabia it is a scandal for a woman to smoke and not have anything on her head,” Princess Basmah told The Sunday Telegraph. “It is like seeing Princess Kate [the Duchess of Cambridge] with no bra. It has the same effect. And since I am a symbol – fighting for humanitarian causes and fighting corruption, and somebody with a moderate Islamic message that would ruin everything for me with my public in Saudi Arabia.”
Princess Basmah, 48, a mother of five children, is in many diferent ways an unlikely member of the Saudi royal family. Princess Basmah was the youngest of 115 children and saw her father only twice before he died when she was five years old. The princess established herself in Saudi Arabia as a writer, businessperson and charity worker. She moved to London two years ago.
The blackmail plot began while Princess Basmah was on vacation for Christmas at The Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland. Once logged into her Facebook account, she was contacted by a friend, whom she refuses to name, but only describes as a “30-something sheikh from the United Arab Emirates.” Adding more to the plot, the mystery sheikh’s account had also been hacked by the blackmailer.
“I won’t say the name [of the sheikh]; I don’t want to hurt him,” said Princess Basmah, “But it was through his Facebook account that I was hacked. It was one of the prominent sheikhs.
He sent me a message saying how fascinated he is by my work, how he admired my writings and how I was a hero of the Arab world.”
Naturally flattered by the praise, the princess and the “sheikh” continued speaking for another three days before having a long video conversation via Skype.
“We talked around December 27th,” said Princess Basmah, “He was a young man. He started getting emotional, saying he would be coming to see me and that I had to see him. He said he was very attracted to me and I started to become suspicious.” The princess believed that the man, who resembled the sheikh, was trying to trick her into making overtly sexual and embarrassing comments.
She then confronted the man she now suspected of fraud and he revealed his true motives.
“He told me: 'I am not so-and-so [the sheikh], I am a blackmailer’,” recalled the princess. “I was speechless. I thought, why would somebody blackmail me? There are lots of people who want to get me in trouble but why blackmail me? There is nothing they can expose me on. I am a very public person. I have nothing to hide. I felt like I was physically beaten up. I felt bruised psychologically and mentally.”
The blackmailer demanded $500,000. He also asked for the money to be transferred to accounts in Egypt but the princess went public first, posting on her website:
“I have been threatened and blackmailed by a large organization which has wielded its power to try and destroy my reputation. I have recorded these attempts and have evidence which I will publish via social media exposing the attempts to quiet my voice.”
After going public, the blackmailer published the 40-second video of the princess on YouTube.
The princess is now convinced that she is being watched and has brought in a computer expert to check for bugging devices on her computer and in her home and other cars. She is convinced the blackmailer has connections to an anonymous Twitter user called Mujtahidd, who has almost one million followers and has published additional intimate details about other members of the Saudi ruling family.