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Ali Al-Ahmed
Ali Al-Ahmed, a Saudi scholar and activist, is executive director of the Saudi Institute based in McLean, Va. In this interview, he theorizes that the Saudi royal family reacted so harshly to the film because "the government saw this as an opportunity to distract and to unify the people by creating an outside problem." And, he says, it worked. While Saudi society has relaxed some rules regarding women, "what has changed is cosmetic, mostly," says Al-Ahmed. "Women cannot drive, cannot vote, cannot buy or sell property. ... This is, to me, like a man walking with half his body paralyzed. This is our society, a paralyzed society, because half of it is not moving, and the other half is trying to move." This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on March 17, 2005.

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isobel coleman
Isobel Coleman is director of a Council on Foreign Relations initiative focusing on the role of women in economic and political development in the Middle East. In this interview, she discusses the context in which to understand the Saudis' outrage about "Death of a Princess," how the situation of women has, and hasn't, changed in the kingdom and the important difference in how Islam is practised in Saudi Arabia compared to the rest of the Arab world, "What you've got in Saudi Arabia is an overlay of tribal custom … a very strict set of tribal rules and regulations, particularly with regard to women, that you don't see in other Islamic-majority countries." This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on March 16, 2005.

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Mona eltahawy
A columnist for Asharq Al Awsat, the London-based Arabic newspaper, Mona Eltahawy was born in Egypt and has lived in Saudi Arabia. Here, she discusses the film's continuing relevancy, portraying as it does the constricted lives of Saudi women "who live in an ultra-orthodox, extremely conservative environment that for all intents and purposes considers her half a human being." As to why so little progress has been made, she explains how women's liberation is one of the most threatening aspects of Westernization and modernization for Saudis: "…It's this paradox. The more open and modernized you become, the tighter you must hold on to women, in particular, and children, to show what a good Saudi you are or what a good Muslim you are, because here again, you have Islam equated with tradition and culture." This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on March 16, 2005.

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Edward S. Walker, Jr.
Edward S. Walker, Jr. is president of the Middle East Institute and a former ambassador to Israel, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. In this interview, he discusses the impact of "Death of a Princess" in the Arab world and how the Saudis found the film insulting in ways that a Westerner would not understand. He also talks about how much has changed in Saudi Arabia over the past 25 years and why he thinks the film may have played a role in that. Much of the interview concerns what Walker believes are the important things the West needs to understand about Saudi Arabia. "They are trying to balance between change that is important for long-term stability and maintaining a popular base on the one hand, and change which can create a counterreaction in the very traditional society that Saudi Arabia still is. So, it's a balancing factor here." This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on March 17, 2005.

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posted april 19, 2005

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