We have met with Saudi dissident Ali Al Ahmed several times over the last year in Washington, D.C., to discuss the changing situation in the Kingdom. Al Ahmed is the founder and director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, a lobbying group in D.C. for change in Saudi Arabia. During our recent chat, he expressed hope that with the appointment of a new female ambassador to the United States, the Kingdom may be changing with respect to its treatment of the political opposition, at home and abroad.
The appointment of Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan al Saud is a first for the House of Saud. Never before has there been a female representative to one of Saudi Arabia’s most important international relationships — the United States.
“Some say this is just a stunt to dampen criticism over the Khashoggi killing. However, 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,” says Al Ahmed.
“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.”
This is a serious woman with serious accomplishments. Al Ahmed sees this development as an opportunity to chart a new course for the Kingdom in regards to political dissidents such as himself. He openly will be calling on the new ambassador to enable these changes.
“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. Reema, show us that the al Saud dynasty, which has ruled Saudi Arabia since its founding in 1932, has really changed,” he declared.
“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.”
Al Ahmed alleges he has faced online attacks, threats of persecution, forced repatriation, and even death. He declares himself a Saudi patriot who only wants what is best for his country and his people.