Coming To America: Saudi Arabia’s First Female Ambassador
KAREN TOWNSENDPosted at 3:31 pm on February 24, 2019
Saudi Arabia appointed their first female ambassador and she’s to be The Kingdom’s ambassador to the United States. The new ambassador is Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, no stranger to a Western lifestyle.
Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan is the daughter of Prince Bander Bin Sultan, a former ambassador to the US, where she grew up.
The princess is a graduate of George Washington University.
She had been a member of the Saudi Sports Authority and championed women’s participation in athletics.
She replaces Prince Khalid bin Salman, a son of the king.
Prince Khalid bin Salman will now be deputy minister of defense. It looks like the decision to appoint Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan was made to try and ease tensions between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, perhaps a decision made by the crown prince.
Reema’s appointment — the first time the Kingdom has named a woman as its top diplomat in Washington — comes amid tensions between the U.S. and its strategic ally in the Middle East over whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing in October last year.
The Trump administration has sought to move on from the controversy, but multiple Senate Republicans are pressing the president and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over what they deem to be a lackluster response to a legal requirement that the administration files a report to determine who was responsible for the murder.
Prince Khalid bin Salman, the previous ambassador to the U.S. and younger brother of the crown prince, was named as deputy minister of defense. According to a Washington Post report, he abruptly left the U.S. in October last year as the kingdom began to be pressed over its varying explanations for Khashoggi’s disappearance, and did not return until December.
She grew up in the United States as her father was Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005. She has been the vice-president for planning and development for the General Sports Authority with the goal of having a healthier nation.
The appointment of a woman as ambassador, in the historically conservative kingdom where women did not often hold major public roles, is an important step for Saudi Arabia. Washington is the Kingdom’s closest ally and this is a clear signal from Riyadh. She will now be key to that alliance as previous ambassadors have been. She has long experience in the US, having grown up there. She has been active in numerous campaigns to increase the role of Saudi women in professional spaces as well as increasing access to physical education for women in schools.
This is another step in the right direction for Saudi Arabia. While it is hard to believe for American women, women in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East (the exception being Israel) are treated as property and second class human beings. Only recently were women allowed to drive. Perhaps this is a gesture that shows a willingness to open the door into allowing women more freedom, even if this new ambassador has the advantage of being a princess and the benefits that her position provided. The crown prince is savvy enough to know that he has to smooth things over with the United States following the Khashoggi murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul as many American politicians continue to demand answers.
“The appointment of a new envoy signifies an attempt by Riyadh to try and reset relations with Washington and draw a line under the Khashoggi affair, however unlikely that may be in practice, at least with Congress,” Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute in the US, said.
Princess Reema’s appointment is a public relations move, to be sure. We’ll see how far she gets in mending a frayed relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
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