Working for the patriarchs and matriarchs of Middle Eastern royal families and their mercurial offspring has never been regarded as an employment opportunity without its drawbacks.
Known risks include being murdered, raped and imprisoned, so perhaps the Parisian decorator who turned up to paint the apartment of a Saudi Arabian princess—and who then alleges he was bound, beaten and made to kiss the Princess’s feet before being kicked out of the apartment without pay—should count himself lucky.
He had enraged the princess, according to Le Point by taking some photographs of the room at the apartment on the Avenue Foch, an expensive road that runs off the Arc de Triomphe, where he was carrying out some decorating work.
He said taking pictures was standard practice, and that the snaps were shot simply so he would know where to put back any furniture he had moved, but the unidentified princess accused him of scheming to sell the photographs to the press, and told an armed bodyguard: “You have to kill this dog, he doesn't deserve to live.”
Le Point reports that, in the course of what became a four-hour ordeal, the bodyguard, “struck him a blow to the head before tying his hands”, after which the craftsman was ordered to kneel and kiss the feet of the princess.
Abuses of staff appear to be a troublingly regular phenomenon among the wealthy Gulf families that populate Europe’s capital cities during the summer months. Migrants’ rights organizations consistently highlight appalling treatment dished out to staff, but the fact that many staff are foreign workers on tied visas combined with the diplomatic immunity many of these minor royals enjoy means meaningful interventions rare.
Last year, Majed Abulaziz al-Saud, a 29-year-old Saudi prince, allegedly sexually accosted five women at a Beverly Hills compound.
He was arrested after neighbors spotted a naked, bleeding woman frantically trying to scale the 8-foot fence around Al-Saud’s Beverly Hills compound. They helped the woman escape and called police.
A few days later Al-Saud—subsequently revealed to be a son of Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah—was free on $300,000 bail.
He allegedly told his victims: “I am a prince and I do what I want. You are nobody!”
Sheikh Rashid, the fast-living eldest son of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, fell into disfavor with his father—and was stripped of his order in the succession in 2008—after he apparently murdered a worker at his father’s office.
The alleged homicide was revealed in a confidential memo sent from the U.S. consulate in Dubai back to Washington published by Wikileaks.
Acting consul general David Williams wrote: “It is alleged that Rashid killed an assistant in the Ruler’s office, thereby forfeiting his opportunity to be heir.”
The astonishing claim was never proved.
Some foreign domestic servants working away from their native lands for foreign princes have suffered astonishing levels of abuse.
A United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Ireland was ordered to pay three Filipina workers a total of €240,000 for breaching their employment rights.
Ambassador Khalid Nasser Rashed Lootah and his wife Mehra Metad Alghubaisi had paid the women less than $2/hour to perform housework and other tasks for 15 hours a day, seven days a week, a tribunal heard.
The staff were constantly on call, had their passports confiscated and were never given a day off.
One of the women, Jennifer Villaranda, told Irish website thejournal.ie that she and her colleagues were treated “like slaves.”
Racial abuse has also allegedly been a fact of life for some employees. One black man working in the British household of a Gulf Sheikh alleged he was referred to as, ‘black slave’ by other staff members.
Another Saudi Princess, Buniah al-Saud, was arrested and thrown in the town jail in Orlando after it was alleged she hit her Indonesian maid and pushed her down the stairs of her Orlando townhouse. The princess, who denied the charges, was reported to be a niece of King Fahd.
In 2013, a Saudi princess named Meshael Alayban was arrested in Irvine, California on charges that she imprisoned and abused a Kenyan house servant. However, the charges were eventually droped.
The most shocking case of domestic abuse to be widely publicized however came in 2010, when Saudi Prince Saud bin Abdulaziz bin Nasir Al-Saud was jailed for life in the UK after bludgeoning his manservant Bandar Abdulaziz to death in London.
During Nasir Al-Saud’s trial it came to light that the man he murdered was also his sexual partner. The BBC noted that the 34-year-old prince spent more of his time in court arguing that he wasn’t gay than he did denying the murder.
It all makes the ordeal suffered by the Parisian decorator seem a rather trifling affair.
As a British businessman with extensive knowledge of Saudi and Gulf life told the Daily Beast despairingly of the alleged incident, “It’s not particularly a ‘royal’ thing. It’s the same culture as ISIS, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, and Assad destroying Aleppo. So this poor decorator had to kiss a princess’s feet? He got off lightly.”