Meet Princess Rima bint Bandar: First Saudi woman ambassador

Cheryl Sanders
February 25, 2019

Saudi Arabia replaced its ambassador to Washington, a royal decree announced on Saturday, as the fallout over journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder, the conflict in Yemen and women's rights tests relations between the two allies.

Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, a daughter of the kingdom's longtime ambassador to Washington Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud, faces a stark challenge in improving the image of Saudi Arabia in the US.

The appointment of Princess Reema appeared to be aimed at turning a new page after the killing of Mr Khashoggi, who lived in Virginia and was a columnist for The Washington Post, while also emphasising the kingdom's social reforms in the capital of its most important ally.

Princess Reema spent part of her childhood living in Washington DC.

The princess previously worked at the kingdom's General Sports Authority, where she led a campaign to increase women's participation in sports.

The new envoy has worked as an advisor to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has faced virulent criticism from USA lawmakers over Khashoggi's murder in the kingdom's Istanbul consulate last October. She will now be key to that alliance as previous ambassadors have been. Her appointment was the latest sign of the kingdom's effort to rehabilitate its image in the United States after USA lawmakers censured the Saudi leadership for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, and the arrests and alleged torture of Saudi women's rights activists. The elevation of Prince Mohammed's sibling - a former fighter pilot who's also under the age of 35 - suggests no change in the approach despite the intense pressure in the wake of Khashoggi's murder in October at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The newspaper said it was not known whether the ambassador knew Khashoggi would be killed, though he made the call at the direction of the crown prince.

Princess Rima, the daughter of a former long-time ambassador to the USA, has been a leading advocate of female empowerment in the kingdom, which has faced intense criticism over the recent jailing of women activists - and subsequent claims of sexual abuse and torture of some of them in detention. Human rights NGO Amnesty International has, for instance, condemned the country for the "ongoing repression and torture of a group of women's rights defenders".

The crown prince led Saudi Arabia into a war in Yemen that has killed tens of thousands of civilians and pushed the country to the brink of starvation, sparking widespread criticism especially after the Khashoggi murder.

But in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour in June, after the driving ban had ended, Reema appeared to acknowledge complaints that Mohammed was sending contradictory signals to women. According to him, each group has its own concerns.

Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke said it was clear that a majority of MPs would support an extension to Article 50 rather than leave Europe without a deal. "And until it's the reality for a lot of women, I think we need to keep pushing forward", she said. Only recently were women allowed to drive.

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