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A chance for Saudi Arabia to prove it has changed

newspaperBy Ali AlAhmed

For the first time in its history, Saudi Arabia has selected a woman to represent it as a foreign envoy.  The appointment of Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan al Saud as Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States could represent a historic turning point in the kingdom’s relationship with the United States.

Pundits have labeled Reema’s appointment a public relations stunt.  What better way to deflect criticism of Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record, they argue, than to send a woman ambassador to Washington?

This viewpoint ignores important facts.  Reema is an accomplished woman with many talents and a distinguished family history. She is a great granddaughter of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud. Her maternal grandfather was one of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful rulers, King Faisal bin Abdulaziz al Saud.  Her paternal grandfather, Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz al Saud, was Defense Minister from 1963 to 2011 and Crown Prince from 2005-2011.  Her father, Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, a “super ambassador”, served as Saudi Arabia’s envoy to the U.S. from 1983-2005.  She is literally the Saudi ruling family personified.

Reema’s accomplishments extend beyond her birthright.  She co-founded Yibreen, a day gym and spa for Saudi women. As CEO of Harvey Nichols in Riyadh, Reema led the inclusion of women into the retail sector and pioneered workforce integration by creating the Kingdom’s first workplace nursery.

In 2013, Reema founded Alf Khair, an NGO aimed at elevating the professional capital of Saudi women. She also organized a campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer.

Since 2016, she has served as the Saudi General Sports Authority’s (GSA) Deputy of Planning and Development, where she introduced physical education for girls in schools. She was featured on the Forbes 2014 list of the 200 Most Powerful Arab Women. ( Foreign Policy Magazine recognized Reema as a Leading Global Thinker of 2014 for her work helping women to “integrate their personal and professional lives.”  (

Dismissing Reema as a token is a serious injustice. As ambassador, she has the chance to prove that the ruthless monarchy ruling Saudi Arabia has learned the error of its ways and is prepared to join the ranks of civilized nations that respect the rights and dignity of their citizens.

As one of Saudi Arabia’s leading dissidents, I address myself directly to Reema:

Madame Ambassador, I call on you to engage in open dialogue with me and my fellow countrymen and women who have been mercilessly persecuted by the regime.

Dear Reema, people who knows you for decades, told me how nice and smart and hardworking you are. I believe them. They asked me to convey this message to you: “Show them who you really are.”

Your first weeks and months in Washington D.C. will be filled with meetings and courtesy calls on members of congress, administration officials, think tanks, journalists and business leaders. You will be bringing a message of reconciliation, urging that Americans turn the page on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and work with Saudi Arabia to reset the relationship.

Meanwhile, back in Riyadh, the repression continues unabated.  On March 1, Saudi Arabia’s public prosecution agency announced that the country’s leading women’s rights activists would face charges.  According to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, Saudi authorities had tortured and sexually assaulted at least four of them. (  Thousands of others have been forced into silence or exile by threats of violence and the imprisonment of family members.

Reema, show us that the al Saud dynasty, which has ruled Saudi Arabia since its founding in 1932, has really changed.

Engage with us, the people, in an open exchange about the future of our country.  And provide guarantees that the government you represent will not take retaliatory measures against us.

Promise us that our family members in Saudi Arabia will not be arrested and tortured as punishment for our dissent.

Stop the hacking, phishing and trolling of our on-line presence.

Stop the surveillance and public calls for violence against us.

Allow us safe passage to travel abroad without fear of kidnapping, forced return to Saudi Arabia, or worse.

All these things have happened to me and are part of the daily life of my fellow dissidents.  Madame Ambassador:  we are not criminals or traitors.  We are simply concerned citizens who want a better future for our country, just as you say you do.  The time has come for Saudi Arabia to change – not just from the top down, but from the bottom up.  You can prove that this change is real by your deeds, and not just your words.

Ali AlAhmed is the dean of Saudi dissidents in the United states, a columnist, a journalist and a lecturer 

augusta free press
augusta free press