Princesses Sahar, 42, and Jawaher, 38, said in emails and phonecalls to a British journalist that they and their two sisters Hala, 39, and Maha, 41, were being held prisoner in separate villas, unable to leave without permission from one of their half-brothers.
Their claims shed light into the usually secret world of royal family of a country where women are effectively treated as second-class citizens.
Their mother, Alanoud Alfayez, who is living in exile in the UK, has written to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which reportedly has referred the matter to the UN special rappateur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. It scored 130th out of 134 countries analysed by the World Economic forum in a 2009 report on gender parity.
But the restrictions allegedly placed on Sahar and Jawaher go well beyond what is allowed under Saudi law.
In emails and phonecalls to a Sunday newspaper, Sahar and Jawaher claimed that their sisters Hala, 39, and Maha, 41, are also being held, incommunicado, in separate villas in the Jeddah compound.
Their mother Alanoud Alfayez 2nd Wife of King Abdullah , who is divorced from Saudi King Abdullah, has reportedly written to the UN’s human rights agency to intervene on their behalf.
She told the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) that her daughters are ‘imprisoned, held against their will, cut off from the world’, according to a report in The Sunday Times.
Sahar and Jawaher told the newspaper in an email that they are kept alone in a house most of which they have closed off as they have been left to fend for themselves with nobody to help them with the housework.
‘We slowly watch each other fading away into nothingness,’ they said, adding that their sister Hala had told them ‘that her mind is slipping away … that the life is being sucked out of her.’
They added that they can only go out to shop for food – and even for this, they need permission from a half-brother whom the king has put in charge of them.
It was also revealed that Sahar found a teller’s job at a bank through a friend, which she enjoyed because it ‘saved me from the monotony and tediousness of life in Saudi’.
However, upon telling her father that she wanted to start working full time, he blocked it – and said he did not want any of his daughters to be an employee.
‘I tried to persuade him that it was a small women’s bank that dealt with university students’ accounts and that it was quite a decent place,’ she said. ‘He ridiculed my efforts.’
Abdullah became king of Saudi Arabia in 2005. The oil-rich state is a key ally of the U.S. in the Middle East and its extensive royal family enjoy massive wealth, with the king one of the world’s richest men.
Ms Alfayez was only 15 years old when she married King Abdullah, who was then in his 40s, but he divorced her just over a decade later.
The king, who has 38 children from atleast 30 wives, has placed his four daughters with Alfayez under the control of three of their half-brothers, according to Sahar.
Under Saudi law, girls and women are forbidden from travelling, conducting official business, or undergoing certain medical procedures without the express permission of their male guardians.
Sahar said that the sisters had enjoyed a pampered adolescence but that animosity towards her and her sisters had grown after they began to complain to their father about the poverty endured by most of the Saudi people.
Some of the young princes had also criticised them because of their party-loving lifestyle.
But it was in the late Nineties that matters came to a head when Hala, who has a degree in psychology, complained that the regime’s political opponents were being locked up in the psychiatric wards of the hospital where she worked.
The Sunday Times said that full details of the allegations made by the sisters and their mother had been put to the Saudi embassy, but there had been no reply.
The OHCHR said that it would pass on Ms Alfayez’s letter to Rashida Manjoo, who is the UN special rapporteur on violence against women.