Saudi Arabia appoints first female ambassador as it grapples with Khashoggi fallout

Saudi Arabia appoints Princess Reema as ambassador to the US.
Saudi Arabia appoints Princess Reema as ambassador to the US. Copyright Saudi Arabia Ministry of Foreign Affairs
By Alice TIdey & Reuters
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Princess Reema bint Bandar has been named as the kingdom's envoy to the US.


Saudi Arabia on Saturday announced it has appointed a woman as ambassador, a first for the ultra-conservative kingdom. 

Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan has been announced as the next envoy to the US, replacing the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's full brother Prince Khalid bin Salman, who had held the position since 2017.

The Prince has instead been named as deputy minister of defense. The appointments, announced on social media late on Saturday, were made by royal decree and come as the kingdom continues to grapple with the diplomatic fallout over the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Who is Princess Reema?

The new envoy to Washington is the daughter of a former long-time ambassador to the United States. She knows Washington well having lived there as a child and studied at the George Washington University.

She first started her career in the private sector, opening a women-only gym and spa upon her return to Riyadh in 2005. She was then named CEO for department store Harvey Nichols in Riyadh and in 2013 launched a luxury handbag brand as well as a social enterprise focused on women.

She made the move to the public sector in 2016 when she was appointed to the kingdom's General Sports Authority where she focused on women's participation in sports. 

What signal does it send?

Princess Reema's appointment comes as relations between the US and Saudi Arabia are particularly strained following the killing in October, by Saudi agents, of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom's Istanbul consulate.

US intelligence agencies have said they believe the violent killing would have needed the approval of the country's de-facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, creating a conflict between Congress — keen to harden its stance against Saudi Arabia — and the White House which has steered clear of accusing the Crown Prince, focusing instead on the kingdom's purchase of US military equipment. 

Riyadh, which in recent years has announced a slew of progressive measures including allowing women to drive and opening cinemas, has nonetheless come under fire for its human rights record. 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."

For Greg Gause, a Gulf expert at Texas A&M University, Princess Reema's appointment is therefore "an excellent public relations move."

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