Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia appointed its first female Ambassador to the United States. Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud’s designation was announced in a royal decree on Saturday, a move that seems to be attempting to heal the strained relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia which had since been badly damaged after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey. The CIA determined that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing, despite Saudi Arabia asserting that a Saudi intelligence chief ordered the mission. However, a source close to the princess informed CNN that her appointment predates the death of Khashoggi.
Princess Reema replaces Prince Khalid bin Salman Al Saud, the younger brother of the Crown Prince, who will become Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defense Minister. She lived in the United States for 20 years while her father, Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud was the Ambassador to the U.S. During her time there, she studied at George Washington University and graduated in 1999. She worked in the private sector after returning to Saudi Arabia, serving as the CEO of Alfa International, a luxury retail corporation. In this position, the Princess aimed to increase the inclusion of women in the retail sector. She worked with the Ministry of Labor to further this goal.
More recently, the Princess joined the Saudi General Sports Authority, where she worked as the Director of Planning and Development. In this position, she focused on increasing female participation in sports and physical education. She has also been a big advocate for breast cancer awareness. She is also a member of the Women in Sports Commission within the International Olympic Committee and a member of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee.
Princess Reema has stepped in during an extremely difficult time for handling Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the United States. Beyond Khashoggi’s murder, the nation has been criticized for its military intervention in Yemen, along with the arrests and alleged torture of Saudi women’s rights activists. Such activity is vastly problematic, and the nation must be held accountable. The gender equality situation within the nation is dismal. According to Business Insider, Saudi Arabia was ranked 141 out of 149 countries measured during a report on the gender gap across various nations.
The nation has only recently seen development toward fixing its extreme gender inequality, but the progress has been rather slow. In 2017, King Salman issued a decree that finally allowed women the ability to access government and health services without needing to receive consent from their male guardians. Advancements were further made in 2018, when women were given the right to drive, open their own businesses without a guardian’s permission, watch sports in certain stadiums, and enlist in the military.
Princess Reema appears to be at the ready to get to work fixing the relationship between the two nations. “[C]ultural exchange is where I believe our country will have a tipping point in cohesion and inclusion and understanding of the other,” she told CNBC on Tuesday. “And today, it’s not possible if we’re constantly separated within the boundaries of our own nation.”
While Princess Reema’s appointment is no doubt a step forward in the extreme gender gap that exists in Saudi Arabia, its timing makes the move seem like a last-ditch effort to mend the wounded relationship between the two nations. Saudi Arabia recognizes that a loss of connection with the United States means a world of hurt from an economic standpoint and a national security one. The nation is still lagging far behind the rest of the world in gender equality, and they must be held accountable for their actions. Hopefully, Princess Reema uses her position to bring attention to the proper issues and doesn’t just stand idly by as terrible acts are committed.