Damage control

Amid firestorm over missing journalist, Saudi Arabia reportedly eyeing princess for key diplomat role in U.S.

Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al-Saud (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Fast Company)

Amid the disturbing reports that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally tortured, dismembered, and murdered inside of the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey, the Middle-Eastern kingdom is believed to be considering a variety of approaches to salvage its relationship with the U.S. — including by sending a princess with a penchant for women’s empowerment to serve as the new ambassador to the U.S.

Khalid bin Salman, current Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. and young brother to crown prince and effective ruler Mohammed bin Salman, returned to Saudi Arabia last week after the U.S. State Department told him that he was expected to return to the U.S. with more information about the journalist’s disappearance. But according to a number of Saudi experts and dissidents, Khalid is likely gone for good and may be replaced by his cousin Princess Reema bint Bandar, a George Washington University graduate who has been leading a push to integrate women into the workforce.

Reema, who previously headed Saudi luxury retailer Alfa Intl and now serves as head of women’s affairs for the Saudi sports authority, could be named as the new ambassador to the U.S. before the end of the year, according to Ali Al-Ahmed, a Washington-based Saudi dissident who works with nonpartisan think tank the Gulf Institute. The royal family, he said, hopes “to promote her as the new head” as Mohammed bin Salman continues to push the narrative of a changed Saudi Arabia that is slowly beginning to embrace increased autonomy for women. In June, women were legally allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia for the first time in decades, and Reema has publicly spoken about the country’s plan to expand women’s access to and participation in sports.

Critics have alleged that the reforms are a means of staving off criticism from larger issues such as the country’s male guardianship system, which prevents women from traveling abroad, getting married, or even receiving medical care without a male relative’s permission. A recent crackdown on women’s rights activists that led to the detention of more than a dozen women, at least one of whom is potentially facing the death penalty for nonviolent offenses.

Read the full story at Quartz.

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