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Saudi sex-change ruling is talk of the town

December 5, 2004

A judge in Saudi Arabia has provoked controversy within the strictly Islamic kingdom by ruling in favour of a transsexual whose scandalised family tried to strip him of half his inheritance after he became a woman.

The son of a Saudi millionaire was sued by his relatives after they discovered he had secretly spent part of his father's estate on an operation to change his sex.

Furious at the perceived disgrace he had brought on their family, his sisters pointed out that under the country's inheritance laws he was entitled to only half as much as when he was a man.

But the action has been dropped after a judge in Jeddah ruled that since he was male when he received the inheritance, he could keep it in full. In future, however, he will be treated under inheritance law as a woman.

Although the ruling does not challenge Saudi men's superior status in law, the spectacle of the conservative judiciary grappling with legal issues of transsexuality has caused a furore in a country where sex is a taboo subject.

Ever since "Ahmad", as he is known, confided anonymously to a popular Saudi women's magazine, Sayidaty, his story has dominated talk in the coffee shops of Jeddah and Riyadh.

Bullied at secondary school and fed up with persistent parental advice to "toughen up", he persuaded his father to send him abroad for education. At university in the US he developed "female bodily features" and began to dress in women's clothes.

When his father died, and he had received his full inheritance, Ahmad returned to the US and had a sex-change operation.

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Saudi son faces the cruellest cut of all

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