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The Marine and the Princess

Bahraini princess elopes as US marine

A member of Bahrain's royal family has eloped to America, disguised as a US marine, to marry a member of the corps in a Las Vegas chapel. Lance Corporal Jason Johnson, 25, and Princess Meriam Al-Khalifa, 19, met at a shopping mall in Bahrain, where the marine was stationed as part of a counter-terrorism unit providing security for expatriate Americans.

For several months, as they courted in secret, she hid the fact that she was the daughter of Sheikh Abulla Al-Khalifa, a cousin of the head of state, Emir Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, and holds the title sheika. When their relationship emerged, her family forbade her from seeing him, but the couple stayed in contact by telephone. When the marine's tour of duty was coming to an end, they decided to try to leave together.

Using his night-vision goggles, Lance Corporal Johnson examined the security procedures at Bahrain airport and noticed that while Bahrainis were asked for their passports, US marines were not. Disguising the princess as a fellow marine, dressed in "grunge" clothes and with a New York Yankees cap to hide her long hair, he obtained false military papers to get her past Bahraini officials. The ruse worked as far as Chicago, where Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) officials confronted them.

The princess requested political asylum, insisting that she would face persecution for breaking an Islamic taboo. "I did the worst thing possible in my country, to fall in love with a non-Muslim," said Princess Al-Khalifa. "To make it even worse, he's an American." The princess convinced INS officials that she had a credible fear of being harmed, and was allowed into the country.

Two weeks later, the sheikh's daughter and the son of a truck driver married in a wedding chapel in Las Vegas. They now live in spartan government housing at Camp Pendleton. Her husband, who has been demoted by the Marine Corps to private first class, said: "I think they'd kill her if she ever returned. She embarrassed the royal family. To keep their reputation clean, they would have to take vengeance." On July 17, the couple faces the latest in a series of INS hearings in San Diego, where a judge will consider her petition for asylum, a plea opposed by the US government. It is common for some families in Islamic countries to treat a woman who has dated, let alone married, without her family's blessing as nothing more than a prostitute who has brought dishonor to her family and country.

A spokesman for the Bahraini Embassy in Washington said Al-Khalifa has no reason to fear returning home. "The family still loves her very much and would love her to go back," he said. "Nothing will happen to her. This is a family matter, not a royal matter."


Update on this Story

Meriam's and Jason's story made it to the small screen.It aired a few days ago on NBC.Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Marisol Nichols played their parts.

Meriam and Jason were very happy with the outcome of their story on the T.V screen. Here is a small update on their lives:

On July 13, 2000, Johnson was court-martialed and busted from lance corporal to private for forging military papers. On September 29, Johnson was granted an honorable discharge from the USMC, so that he can protect his wife, who has received death threats. In the future, Johnson would like to take a bodyguard course, and, ultimately, go to college. Meanwhile, he and his bride await the outcome of her final INS asylum hearing.

On January 11, 2000, she joined her husband at Camp Pendleton Marine Base. Today, Al-Khalifa communicates with her sisters via e-mail. She would like to resume her schooling, but everything is on hold until her fifth and final INS asylum hearing, which will determine whether she is allowed to remain in the United States with her husband

(Thank you to NBC for providing the pictures)

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