A Saudi Arabian first: Spokeswoman at Kingdom’s US Embassy

Fatimah Baeshen
Updated 19 October 2017
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A Saudi Arabian first: Spokeswoman at Kingdom’s US Embassy

WASHINGTON: As Saudi Arabia feverishly portrays itself as ready to join the ranks of modern, tolerant societies, the Kingdom has turned to a once-unlikely messenger — one of its daughters — to make its case to the West.
On Fatimah Baeshen’s first day as the Saudi Embassy in Washington’s official spokeswoman, a royal decree was issued to lift a ban on women driving, starting next summer.
Baeshen, the first woman to hold embassy post, is no stranger to life behind the wheel of a car. The Saudi-born Baeshen spent years living, working and studying in the US, affording an easy fluency in the routines of American life that many Westerners see as irreconcilable with the country she represents.
“I’m a byproduct of the longstanding Saudi-US relationship,” Baeshen said in an Associated Press interview. “For years, Saudi students have been coming to the US to study. There are several Saudis that are like me, that are very comfortable and are able to fluidly go back and forth between cultures.”
For Saudi Arabia, Baeshen’s appointment reflects an opportunity to try to revise a narrative that is sharply at odds with the kingdom’s ambitious plan to transform itself for the future. In addition to sweeping economic changes, “Vision 2030” calls for easing social restrictions as a younger generation prepares to take the helm.
The Kingdom’s economic overhaul also means bringing more Saudi women into the workforce, with an eye toward creating more two-income households and weaning Saudis off of reliance on government perks. The official plan calls for increasing female participation from 22 percent to 30 percent.
“Women across the board deal with different issues, regardless of where they are,” Baeshen told the AP. She said the driving issue shouldn’t obscure the fact that Saudi women have been productive members of society for decades. “The myopic focus of this element I think deters the larger perception of what Saudi women have really been able to contribute.”
After attending the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, she wrote a thesis on Islamic financial regulation in secular markets while a graduate student at the University of Chicago. She worked in the Saudi Ministry of Labor and at the World Bank before joining the embassy.
As a director at the Arabia Foundation, she wrote in Time Magazine earlier this year: “The change-through-confrontation approach is counterproductive to achieving our collective goal; force is too often met with the strongest of cultural resistance.”
“Empowerment is about access, choice and control. Saudi Arabia has made tangible strides in the spheres of access and choice,” Baeshen said. “There are elements to be improved with respect to control.”


Crown prince award ‘will build Saudi-Sino cultural bridges’

Updated 22 February 2019
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Crown prince award ‘will build Saudi-Sino cultural bridges’

ARAB NEWS BEIJING: Leading academics and literary talents from Saudi Arabia and China will be honored under an award scheme sponsored by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan announced the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Award for Cultural Cooperation between the Kingdom and China during a visit to King Abdul Aziz Public Library at Peking University in Beijing on Thursday.
The announcement was made on the eve of the Saudi crown prince’s visit to China, the latest stop on an Asian tour.
The cultural cooperation award will honor leading academics, translators and high-achievers from the Kingdom and China in the categories: Best scientific research in Arabic, best artistic work, best Chinese-Arabic book translation and vice versa, person of the year, and most influential person of the year in the cultural milieu.
Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan said: “This partnership is in the name of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and represents the common commitment to build cultural bridges between the two countries, developing cultural exchange, and promoting artistic and academic opportunities for our citizens.”
He said the yearly award will promote language, literature, and Arabic and creative arts in China, and encourage cultural exchange.
The Kingdom and China have a long history of cultural cooperation, including the annual Arabic Arts Festival.
The King Abdul Aziz Public Library at Peking University was inaugurated in 2017 during King Salman’s official visit to China, where he received an honorary doctorate degree.