In This Review

‘Iffat al Thunayan: An Arabian Queen
‘Iffat al Thunayan: An Arabian Queen
By Joseph A. Kéchichian
Sussex Academic Press, 2015, 320 pp

Iffat al-Thunayan was the wife of King Faisal, who ruled Saudi Arabia from 1964 until 1975, when he was assassinated by a member of the royal family. Thunayan was born in Istanbul but descended on her father’s side from an Arabian family related to Saudi Arabia’s ruling Saud clan; her mother’s lineage included Turks or possibly Circassians. With Faisal, she had five daughters and four sons. The boys all rose to political prominence; one of them, the recently deceased Saud al-Faisal, grew up to become the longest-serving foreign minister in the world, holding the job from 1975 until earlier this year. In Kechichian’s account, Thunayan and Faisal were partners in governing; Thunayan was a driving force, Kechichian argues, in Saudi education and health policy. Thunayan’s life is undoubtedly interesting, but Kechichian, a prolific writer on Saudi Arabia, has produced a work of hagiography instead of biography. In his telling, Thunayan and her husband embodied unfailing sagacity, patience, and love of nation; he has hardly a critical word for either. A more dispassionate approach would have afforded readers a better sense of this power behind the throne.