Saudi princess becomes country's first female ambassador with US role

Sara Elizabeth Williams
Princess Reema bint Bandar al-Saud grew up between the US and Saudi Arabia - AFP

A Saudi princess has been named the country's first ever female ambassador, and its next envoy to the United States, amid strained diplomatic relations. 

Princess Reema bint Bandar al-Saud's appointment comes as the conservative kingdom is under international scrutiny over the alleged torture of imprisoned female activists and the murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi. 

The kingdom’s strict guardianship laws were highlighted last month after teenager Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, made a dramatic escape from the country, citing an abusive family and state-sponsored oppression.

Princess Reema, whose father Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud held the post from 1983 until 2005, grew up in the US and Saudi Arabia, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in museum studies from George Washington University.

A high-profile businesswoman, she has worked in the public and private sector, notably as the CEO of a retail company with Harvey Nichols in its portfolio. 

She is also known for her advocacy work around women’s rights, increased women’s participation in sport, and breast cancer awareness. 

Princess Reema will take over the role from Prince Khalid bin Salman, the younger brother of  crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, who has been named Saudi deputy defence minister.

The US envoy oversees one of Saudi’s most valuable relationships, which has been strained over the murder of Mr Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, and Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen. 

The two countries, are bound by shared interests in the Middle East, such as controlling an ascendant Iran, and hundreds of billions of dollars in arms deals.

In May 2017, US President Donald Trump and Saudi King Salman inked a series of letters of intent for Saudi to purchase US$110 billion worth of US arms  immediately, and another $350 billion over 10 years.

Many of these weapons end up in Yemen, which has attracted mild statements of concern from the US. 

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