Hunt for answers into Saudi celebrity power couple’s whereabouts goes viral
Wednesday - 09/01/2019 02:10
They were a celebrity power couple who rubbed shoulders with Meghan Markle and Hollywood stars until, one day, they simply vanished.
He was a stand-up comedian known as the “Jerry Seinfeld” of his homeland and she was groundbreaking activist who pushed for women’s right to drive — but now nobody seems to know what happened to Saudi Arabia’s celebrity power couple.
Comic Fahad al-Butairi used to shoulders with some of the biggest Hollywood stars and his partner Loujain al-Hathloul was a close friend of Meghan Markle before the pair suddenly disappeared.
Ms Al-Hathloul was among 11 women arrested by the Saudi government after a brutal crackdown in March after allegedly “confessing to conspiring with enemies of the nation”.
It came two months after her partner was arrested in Jordan, in March reportedly “handcuffed, blindfolded and put onto a plane for Saudi Arabia”.
Now there is a massive social media campaign for answers into their whereabouts — as their high profile friends say they haven’t seen or heard from them since the crackdown.
American writer and television producer Kirk Rudell — who produced Will & Grace and Spin City — has written a powerful Twitter thread detailing his friendship with the couple and their disappearance which has now gone viral.
A couple years ago, when I was writing for American Dad!, I needed an Arabic speaker for a small part. Our casting director recommended a Saudi comedian, who happened to be in LA for a couple months shooting a tv show. His name is Fahad Albutairi.
According to the thread, the pair met a couple of years ago when Mr Rudell needed an Arabic speaker for a part in American Dad! and he was recommended Mr al-Butairi — who was known as the “Jerry Seinfeld of Saudi Arabia”.
Soon after, he met the couple — saying they were “young, cool, cosmopolitan, and incredibly nice. I liked them right away”.
“I mentioned the young, ‘progressive’ Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” wrote Mr Rudell.
“All the press in the US seemed pretty positive about the guy. He was meeting people in Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Were they feeling optimistic about the future of Saudi Arabia?
“They were hopeful but warned there was still a long way to go on human rights. Which is why they’d moved to the UAE.
“‘Huh. At least you’re safe’ I said. With millions of fans, he was too high profile to mess with.”
It was then that Mr al-Butairi explained his partner was even more famous than he was because of her work in attempting to advance women’s rights in the sharia nation.
However, their fame, high profile friends and power did nothing to save from the Saudi government which was determined to lock them away.
A flyer from around the time they were arrested — which is now circulating on social media — shows activists, including Ms al-Hathloul, with a “traitor” stamp over each of their faces.
Ms al-Hathloul must have felt she had a degree of safety due to the fact she was living in the United Arab Emirates at the time.
However, in March, she was stopped driving on a motorway and sent to Saudi Arabia and detained.
She was arrested along with 11 women’s right-to-drive activists and subjected to torture by electrocution, flogging and sexual harassment, according to Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International — a claim which the Kingdom strongly refutes.
She is understood to still be in prison.
At the time of the arrest official Saudi Press Agency said the women’s rights defenders were accused of “suspicious contact with foreign entities to support their activities, recruiting some persons in charge of sensitive government positions, and providing financial support to hostile elements outside the country.”
According to CNN, Mr al-Butairi was arrested in Jordan around the same time and put on a flight to Saudi Arabia where he was detained for a reason that has never been explained.
Mr al-Butairi was reportedly released only days later, but mystery surrounds his whereabouts.
“Nine months later, Loujain is still in jail,” wrote Mr Rudell. “I don’t know where Fahad is. He deactivated his Twitter.”
The crackdown which led to arrests came to a shock to the outside world as Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman was seen as a progressive force in the repressive nation — and it appeared human rights were marginally improving.
Bizarrely, just months after Ms al-Hathloul’s arrest, the nation’s ban on women driving was finally lifted.
However, the October killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has reignited criticism of Saudi Arabia’s lack of human rights.
Mr Rudell’s Twitter thread has now been shared more than 56,000 times and US politicians are beginning to ask questions about the power couple’s whereabouts.
The television producers says he “overwhelmed by the interest in and support” in his quest to find his missing friends.
“They were just young, creative people, trying to make stuff,” he wrote.
“I’d like to see what they could do in this world, if they were given the chance. I’d like to have that dinner with them some day.”