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Susanne Koelbl Behind the Kingdom's Veil Cover

“A brilliant contribution to our understanding of the transformation in Saudi Arabia especially among women.”
Bruce Riedel, former CIA official and director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution

Behind the
Kingdom's Veil
Inside The New Saudi Arabia Under Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman

Foreword by Karen Elliott-House

Exclusive insights into a country that is just reinventing itself

Few of us have firsthand knowledge of who lives, suffers and wields power in Saudi Arabia. Now, Susanne Koelbl, award-winning foreign correspondent for the German news magazine Der Spiegel, takes us on an eye-opening journey Behind the Kingdom’s Veil. Koelbl unlocks the black box of Saudi Arabia and decodes why the country is such a crucial player on the world’s stage. She scrutinizes the dramatic change of the oil-export dependent nation into a vibrant society. Watch the book trailer

“It’s like watching a movie – just better”
Dr. Elisabeth Kendall, Oxford University, Senior Research Fellow in Arabic and Islamic Studies

How did religious extremism and oppression of women over the past forty years serve to maintain the power of the House of Saud? To find out, enjoy breakfast with Royal Highnesses and meet Osama bin Laden’s bomb-making instructor. Enter the palaces of secret-service chiefs and sit on floor cushions with spirited women who celebrate their new freedoms. Koelbl makes you an eye witness to what it’s like to be a third wife or a dissident and explains how the discovery of oil shaped the kingdom’s history - and changed our world. Susanne Koelbl lived in Riyadh during the most dramatic changes since the country’s founding. Her unique gift is to make complicated political and societal contexts accessible and entertaining.


Meet the Author

Susanne Koelbl is an award winning journalist and a military and foreign correspondent for the German news magazine DER SPIEGEL. Her stories highlight the intricate dynamics in conflict areas and wars around the world, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Koelbl is known for her probing reports from Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea. Her highly acclaimed book "Dark Beloved Country: People and Power in Afghanistan" was published in 2009, Siedler-Verlag/Random House.

Always close to the people, Koelbl uses their voices to make complicated political and societal contexts accessible. For her in-depth and thorough reporting she received several industry recognitions, including the Liberty Award and the Henry-Nannen-Price. In her exceptional interviews with state leaders, intelligence-chiefs and Islamic extremists Koelbl repeatedly challenges the powerful, for example the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted for genocide with an international arrest warrant, or the underground Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, to name a few. Koelbl has excellent contacts in all political camps in the Middle East. She is a fellow of the Bertelsmann Foundation's German-Israeli Young Leaders Program, and Media Ambassador in the China-Program of the Robert-Bosch-Foundation.

With The Poetry Project, the philanthropist Koelbl founded 2015 an international forum which gives a voice to the voiceless. With the help of translators, young immigrants from conflict zones and German youths tell each other their life stories in their native languages (

In the "Shattered Windows" project, young Yemenis from both sides of the frontlines write to each other and share their experiences during the war raging on for four years now. The format is portable and the Poetry Project’s international effort to export the model to create healing and constructive dialog between youths on both sides in violent conflicts.

As a Knight Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan, Koelbl gave guest lectures in 2012 on the war in Syria and the forty-year Afghanistan crisis. She also frequently provides lectures on Foreign Reporting at the University of Leipzig.

Koelbl is a much sought-after participant in international conferences and TV talk shows. The author has been travelling to Saudi Arabia since 2011.

Most recently she lived in Riyadh during 2018/19.

CV in Arabic

In the Media

Interview with John Bolton "Trump Is Capable of Almost Anything"

John Bolton, 71, served as U.S. President Donald Trump's national security advisor from 2018 to 2019. In a DER SPIEGEL interview, he speaks about Trump's relationship with women leaders and the roots of his conflict with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II." “The Danger of People Starving to Death Is Greater than the Danger from the Virus”

Jordan is concerned about the security of the country's food supplies in the crisis triggered by the coronavirus. In an interview with DER SPIEGEL, King Abdullah II discusses the pandemic and warns U.S. President Donald Trump against trying to implement his peace plan for the Middle East.

14 Years Innocent in Guantanamo The Story of Prisoner Number 760

Mohamedou Slahi has spent 5445 days in prison. A movie with Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch now tells his story of his ordeal. Slahi says he has forgiven his torturers.

WeltKiosk Podcast

Will there be war? How dangerous is the situation in the Middle East?

Ny Tid Norway’s is Norway's largest monthly international oriented newspaper.

TYPOtalk Berlin: Susanne Koelbl: Run!

Iran versus US: Trump cornered?

Book Review

A few weeks ago I rummaged through the announced new releases at Randomhouse and came across Twelve weeks in Riyadh of SPIEGEL reporter Susanne Koelbl. When talking about Saudi Arabia, I first came across petrodollars, desert landscapes and forced veiling. And recently in the media I came across the name of Mohammed bin Salman. But who exactly is he? I realized I know nothing about Saudi Arabia and so far I had not been very interested in it. Peeking into this distant, utterly foreign country, especially from the perspective of a woman, made me very curious.

Saudi-Arabia and the Crumbling Power of Men

SRF News: How revolutionary is it that Saudi women are allowed to apply for a passport?
Susanne Koelbl: For Saudis it is definitely revolutionary for a woman to decide where to go and now whether she wants to leaves the country since that puts her outside of the control of her guardian.

WDR 5 Radio Curiosity is Enough - Redezeit

Saudi Arabia is a country in turmoil. Everything is being newly defined – tourism, the guardianship law, women’s right to drive or how to dress. All of it results in much uncertainty and irritation – says Susanne Koelbl in “Redezeit”.

Watch Trailer

SPIEGEL reporter Susanne Koelbl has succeeded in doing what hardly any journalist is allowed to do: She was able to travel through Saudi Arabia without restrictions and state supervision. For several months, she freely explored a country that is currently experiencing the most profound change in its history.

Reforms in Saudi Arabia

The dynasty in Saudi Arabia grants women new rights - and fears the wrath of men. Real liberalization fails because of overwhelming intolerance.

On the Red Couch

To travel through Saudi Arabia as a journalist without restrictions for several months - actually impossible. The "Spiegel" correspondent Susanne Koelbl has succeeded in doing so. In Saudi Arabia, she met and talked with women, artists, oppositionists and deeply religious men. Koelbl experienced a country during a time of fundamental change - between turning to modernity and harsh brutality against dissenters.


Liberty Award




Desert, a rare oasis, untouched nature: starting summer 2019 travelers will have the opportunity to explore the enigmatic kingdom. Travel visa can now be obtained simply by ordering them online. Or directly at the border.


Revolution through public transportation. The new subway in Riyadh will help reduce gender separation.


Dinner al fresco around a small bonfire. Saudis enjoy nature’s beauty in the vast and silent desert.


Bedouin romanticism in modern times: The Schammar tribe in Dschuba preserves the heritage of their ancestors in this museum.


Not all Saudis live in homes with golden fossets: A shoe cobbler in the ultra-conservative city of Buraida.


Servants for every occasion: millions of low-wage workers from Asia and Africa make life easier for the Saudis. Now they are supposed to leave.


The most expensive substances in the world: A shop keeper at the bazar sells fragrant treasures at the Masmak-Fort in Riyadh.


“Am I pretty enough?” Veiled Saudi Arabian women at the state cultural festival Dschanadriya. Womens’ opinion about the religious dress code vary widely.


“We don’t want anything to change”: Pious men in a Sheba in Hail explain why they want to maintain their present lifestyle. ‘Women’s rights’ and ‘liberalism’ are here considered swear words.


Suddenly people communicate openly with another: after forty years of strict gender separation, there are now more and more places where men and women can meet without restrictions.


“Finally, we can breathe”: women at the 2018 Comic-Con Festival in Jeddah. Under the abaja they wear jeans and T-shirts like many other young people.


At the check-out counter, in banks, at a lingerie store: women now work and are visible in public. Riyadh has recognized women as a catalyst for the economy


A country without art education: painter Dia Asis Dia in his studio in Jeddah in front of the painting “Dschuhaiman” depicting the fateful year of the Grand Mosque seizure in 1979.


The new religion is called nationalism, entertainment, tourism and sports: female brand ambassadors for a mascara label at one of the first pop concerts in the country’s history, in Jeddah.

Contact Us

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