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Sun 24 Feb 2019 07:57 AM

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Saudi Arabia names Princess Reema bint Bandar as first female ambassador

Prince Khalid bin Salman, the younger brother of the powerful crown prince who was appointed vice defence minister

Saudi Arabia names Princess Reema bint Bandar as first female ambassador
Princess Reema bint Bandar

Saudi Arabia on Saturday named a princess as its first woman ambassador to the United States.

Princess Reema bint Bandar replaced Prince Khalid bin Salman, the younger brother of the powerful crown prince who was appointed vice defence minister in a flurry of late-night royal decrees announced on state media.

Princess Reema, the daughter of a former long-time ambassador to the US, has been a leading advocate of female empowerment in the kingdom, which has faced intense criticism over the recent jailing of women activists.

The princess previously worked at the kingdom's General Sports Authority, where she led a campaign to increase women's participation in sports.

"Princess Reema becomes the first female ambassador in Saudi history and the first female with a rank of minister - a strong signal to the integration of women into the government and workforce," Ali Shihabi, founder of the pro-Saudi think-tank Arabia Foundation, said on Twitter.

Prince Khalid, a son of the king who served as ambassador since 2017, had been expected to leave Washington for some time.

His new appointment as deputy defence minister comes as a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia remains bogged down in a four-year conflict in neighbouring Yemen.

A separate royal decree on Saturday ordered a one-month salary bonus for frontline military officials on the kingdom's southern border.

'Difficult portfolio'

Prince Khalid, a former Saudi air force pilot, takes his post a year after the crown prince - who also serves as the defence minister - announced a military reform plan and a dramatic overhaul of top defence commanders.

"As the Yemen war drags on and the military reform programme continues to move painstakingly slow, Prince Khalid is gaining a difficult portfolio but one that is critical to his father, brother and the kingdom," Becca Wasser, a policy analyst at the US-based RAND Corporation, told AFP.

"Prince Mohammed has struggled to delegate authority within this file which has rendered some efforts - chiefly military reform - stagnant, and Prince Khalid's appointment may be an attempt to reinvigorate these initiatives."

Shihabi said Prince Khalid will virtually have the same authority as the defence minister, shouldering some of the burden on the crown prince.

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