Saudi Arabia has named Princess Reema bint Bandar as ambassador to the US, making her the first woman envoy in the country’s history, as the kingdom seeks to repair its image in American power circles.
Tension has dominated US-Saudi relations in recent months after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. While President Donald Trump has defended the alliance, the kingdom has come under increasing scrutiny by members of Congress who voted to withdraw US support of the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.
Prince Khalid bin Salman, who will leave Washington to become deputy defence minister, has faced mounting criticism following Khashoggi’s murder by Saudi agents in Istanbul last October. That criticism has led to calls by some legislators to expel him from the US, but these calls were rejected by the state department.
He will now be replaced by Princess Reema, who has no diplomatic experience, but many officials in Washington would be familiar with her name because she is the daughter of Prince Bandar bin Sultan who was the kingdom’s ambassador to the US between 1983 and 2005.
Princess Reema has a background in business, including operating the Harvey Nichols store in Riyadh, before she was appointed undersecretary of the General Sports Authority in 2016 to focus on boosting female participation.
Ride-hailing company Uber named her to its Public Policy Advisory Board in the same year, and she has emerged as one of the voices promoting recent Saudi economic and social reforms led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“You ask us to change but then when we begin to exhibit change you come to us with cynicism,” she told a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2018.
Saudi women have begun assuming senior positions in recent years but many of them continue to live under restrictive male-guardianship rules that require the approval of a male relative to get married, travel abroad or leave prison.