Princess Adelah, daughter of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, is remarkably down-to-earth for the daughter of the reigning monarch of the Gulf’s largest Kingdom. She is so composed and self-confident that she did not ask for a preliminary look at the questions I planned to ask her. She spoke at length of her own public activities, of family matters and of the personality of King Abdullah. She sees the king striving, not only for increasing women’s role in the country’s development but also for assigning more important roles to women. Her father’s major priority is fighting poverty and guaranteeing a satisfactory living standard for every citizen.
What can you tell us about your relationship with your father?
To be frank, our relations with our parents are much like those in other families. Our father taught us our basic duties — to religion, society, customs and tradition and the will to hold to them as strongly as possible. He never missed even the smallest detail in teaching us the basic values. Our mother also played a profound role in shaping our characters. The awe and respect for our parents, however, never kept us from expressing our opinions on any matter. While they never tolerated lies, they always encouraged honesty and self-confidence. They wanted us to be able to handle any situation and also to be concerned about the basics rather than be diverted by irrelevant details. They also taught us to be grateful for the blessings of God.
Did your parents find the time to follow your affairs very closely?
My mother was able to follow them more closely than my father. Their roles, however, were complementary and I would say my childhood was very happy. I am indebted to my mother for developing punctuality, discipline and the willingness to take on any responsibility; she also taught me to respect even those who disagreed with me. Before I was married, when I disagreed with her on something, I used to tell myself, “I would never do this to my children.” But now I behave with my children exactly as she behaved with me. The basic values never change and I am proud to pass them on to my children. I never remember, for instance, sitting down before my older sister did. No younger one should sit before the older did. My car should not overtake the cars of my aunts or elder sisters. These are values, though very simple, inculcated into us as children. We should pass on our family values to the next generation. Strengthening family bonds is very important. Things have changed a great deal and every one is busy browsing the Internet, Still, it is personal relations within the larger family that are important and these in turn become strong social relations.
Could you tell us something about the king that most people do not know.
He is an open book and there is nothing about him that people do not know. He does not have one face for the public and another for us at home.
What is the king’s view on women’s role in the development of the Kingdom?
He is keen to expand women’s role as active members of society and partners in overall productivity. I wish society understood his vision of Saudi women. He believes that “a capable woman brings honor to her father, brother and son.” He is confident of women’s capabilities as participants in society’s development. He wants women to have a greater role, not because they are weaker but in recognition of their efficiency, sense of responsibility and energy — none of which are inferior to man. Women are even better because they are prodded by the challenge to establish their worthiness.
What is his view on women’s participation in voting and elections?
In fact, I don’t know. In my view, however, these are things which should come from society itself once it has sensed the need. Society should be convinced of the importance of women’s role in decision making. If society does not feel any need for women’s contributions, then such things will not materialize.
What about your public activities? What was the first serious task you undertook?
I started systematic social work after becoming president of the National Organization for Home Health Care in the Western Region in 1997. My experience with voluntary work gradually widened to head the Sanad Charity Society for the Care of Children Suffering from Cancer, the advisory committee for the National Museum in Riyadh, the Friends of Health in Taif and the Committee for Businesswomen at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I am also involved with the Khadijah Bint Khowailed Center and the women’s advisory committee for the King Abdul Aziz and his Companions Foundation for the Gifted in addition to several other activities in the area of culture and health for the promotion of women’s empowerment.
You show special interest in the National Organization for Home Health Care which takes care of the chronically ill and their relatives. Are you satisfied with the cooperation of hospitals?
In this kind of health care, which is relatively new in the Kingdom, hospitals are now showing more interest. This kind of care began at the National Guard Hospital in the Western region with a patient who had spent 14 years in the hospital. His relatives had some initial doubts about the success of such a patient being cared for at home but gradually they realized the positive elements. A sick child who spends most of his life in a hospital will feel better if he is at home. Psychologically it gives the patient a boost; at the same time, the family must be careful about essential medical equipment and other accessories required for the patient’s care. Presently we operate a center at the King Abdul Aziz University Hospital and another one will be opened in Madinah shortly with Ministry of Health cooperation.
What is your view on the role of Arab women, particularly in the Kingdom? How does their present one differ from their past one?
The role of a woman is very important whether she is a mother, daughter, sister, wife or a working woman. She is the one who manages most family matters. Her present role has, however, exceeded the basic domestic ones of the past. What we should do is derive maximum benefit from the positive side of this change and minimize the negative. At the same time, we should not turn a blind eye to beneficial ideas and practices from outside the Kingdom. We should have an open mind and borrow the good from other cultures, including the West. There should be a process of a cultural give and take. Western civilization is indebted to Islam on several counts. The only thing is that we should be careful to take the good and leave the bad. Without doing that, we cannot progress. In the age of globalization, it is impossible to erect barriers. Let us take what is best in Asia, Europe, and America and use it for the healthy growth of our society. Our women have made remarkable progress. They are very ambitious as well. They believe that if they are employed it is a service to their children and dependents. Their belief that they can offer a better future for their children prompts them to take up any job.
What about the image of Arab women in the Western media?
The Western media often presents a stereotypical image of Arab women. Because of the diversity of the Arab world, we cannot deny that such women are not present in society. Unfortunately the Western media ignores the more common positive image of Arab women. This is because media persons visit us with a negative preconceived notion and seek what supports their misconception. A journalist will, for instance, come and talk to me for an hour and in the end her article will have an unfair slant and emphasize only negative points. This practice prompts us to be reserved when talking to western journalists. I do not claim that our society is without negative qualities but there are exceptionally positive ones as well. If both sides were presented, they would portray a more realistic picture. It is also a fact that we point out the negative sides of Western society such as widespread moral corruption and family disintegration. At the same time, we do not note their positive qualities — punctuality, respect for other civilizations and religions, their hard work and willingness to sacrifice personal interest to protect the public interest.
We Arabs are shy of speaking of our merits and achievements; however since 9/11, we have been compelled to let the outside world know the facts in order to dispel the distorted images about us which appear in the Western media. The Arab media, on the other hand, used to give woman her due, though at times the negative stereotype also appeared. It is incorrect to claim that there is no unemployment, administrative corruption and abuse of women and children in our society. These are evils found in even the most advanced societies. Arabs should not be sensitive to criticism appearing in the Arab media. We should not insist on focusing only on our positive aspects. In this high tech age, no fact can be concealed from the public eye. Reporters from different countries are everywhere looking for information. In fact the negative reports about women have the advantage of prompting authorities to take serious steps to solve the problems.
What do you say to those who obstruct Saudi women’s progress and participation in the social awakening?
It is not reasonable for half the population to be idle while the other half is working for society. That means the work will be completed in twice the time it should take. Saudi women must be given the opportunity to participate in social development in all areas and help speed up social progress.
What do you say about the claim that it is Arab men, not women, who make the call for women’s rights?
I don’t blame women for this because their social and cultural constraints do not permit them to voice complaints too loudly. Some people accept men’s views on women’s issues more than women’s views. It is also true that some men do not like women organizing conferences to discuss their issues. I don’t believe that enlightened Arab men are afraid of competition from women. The main thing is dealing with the issues objectively without looking at who is presenting them. Some women, for instance, told me about their disappointment in not being able to vote in the municipal elections. I told them it was irrelevant who raises an issue in the council. Let it be a man or woman. Any problem that concerns us can be presented by our fathers, sons or husbands. What matters is that someone should raise the issue. In my view, capable persons, regardless of sex, should go to the municipal councils. Capability should be the sole criterion for membership of municipal bodies. I do not support the idea of a quota for women in Arab parliaments as has been suggested. There is no paucity of capable women in our societies. They should have the chance to serve without being impeded by a quota system.
Women in every society are troubled by such negative phenomena as divorce, spinsterhood, abuse and insecure marriages. In your opinion what unhealthy phenomena haunt Saudi women and how can they be overcome?
Whatever the phenomenon, the first step is to identify it, enlighten the public about it and take action against it. This is how we have tackled the family violence. First we acknowledged its presence and then we organized studies and conferences to find out how to curb it. We have also formulated strategies to stamp out the circumstances that breed evils such as family violence, spinsterhood and misyar marriages.
Tell us about your husband Prince Faisal ibn Abdullah ibn Mohammed and his role in your life?
He is a pillar of support to me. A married life could not continue without mutual respect and support. He is very understanding and encouraging. He allows me full freedom in making decisions but I always consult him before making them. He has taught me to be composed and not get carried away by temporary emotions. He also taught me the habit of reflecting on any issue because every problem has a solution. I am happy with him and I thank Allah. We have three daughters and two sons. Our oldest daughter has just taken her degree and the others are still studying.