Princess Nourah: The woman who had ‘the brain of 40 men’

One of Princess Nourah's famous dresses, decorated with a circular geometric shape and filled with colored sequins. (Supplied/“Nourah bint Abdulrahman bin Faisal bin Turki Al-Saud an Illustrated Biography”)
One of Princess Nourah's famous dresses, decorated with a circular geometric shape and filled with colored sequins. (Supplied/“Nourah bint Abdulrahman bin Faisal bin Turki Al-Saud an Illustrated Biography”)
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Updated 22 September 2021

Princess Nourah: The woman who had ‘the brain of 40 men’

One of Princess Nourah's famous dresses, decorated with a circular geometric shape and filled with colored sequins. (Supplied/“Nourah bint Abdulrahman bin Faisal bin Turki Al-Saud an Illustrated Biography”)
  • Born in Riyadh in 1875, Princess Nourah was close to her brother growing up and shared his trials during the family’s exile

RIYADH: The tale of the heroism of the small band of brothers who fought alongside Abdulaziz ibn Abdul Rahman, the founder of Saudi Arabia, in his epic battle to recapture Riyadh in 1902 is a key part of the story of the creation of the Kingdom.

But what should also not be forgotten on National Day is the role played in those turbulent times by the future king’s older sister, Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman Al-Saud.

One year his senior, Princess Nourah was Abdulaziz ibn Abdul Rahman’s playmate throughout his childhood and was by his side throughout the family’s exile in Riyadh after the defeat of their father’s forces by the rival Rashidi dynasty at the battle of Al-Mulaida in 1891.

When destiny beckoned, wrote the Saudi historian Dr. Dalal Mukhlid Al-Harbi in her 2008 book “Prominent Women from Central Arabia,” Nourah was “a great inspiration behind Abdulaziz’s quest to regain his forefathers’ seat of authority in Riyadh.” 

The Princess “nourished his will to recapture Riyadh after his first failed attempt. When he completed his preparations for his second attempt to regain the city, his mother cried long and hard and tried to dissuade him, but Nourah encouraged him to complete the mission, which he did successfully. This was part of her supportive role for her brother while the family was in Kuwait.”

That role became still more important to her brother after the recapture of Riyadh and the return of the Al-Saud family to their heartland, as Abdulaziz set out on the long and difficult road that would eventually lead to the unification of the Hijaz and Nejd and the foundation in 1932 of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Born in Riyadh in 1875, Princess Nourah was close to her brother growing up and shared his trials during the family’s exile.

Their bond only grew stronger as the future King took on the burdens of statehood, wrote Al-Harbi, going on to highlight “the close relationship Nourah had with her brother, a relationship in which the natural bonds of family were mixed with friendship and all that entails: consultation, asking for opinions and giving advice.”

Such was the depth of the lifelong connection between the two that, as King, “Abdulaziz would visit her every day, keen that a day should not pass without seeing her.”

When the telephone was introduced to Riyadh in the 1930s, the first line to be laid ran between the palaces of the King and his sister.

The Princess was a confidante upon whom the King could always depend for a straight answer and sound advice. She was “frank with King Abdulaziz, telling him what was on her mind without fear or hesitation,” Al-Harbi wrote.

In his biography of his father — King Abdulaziz’s half-brother, Prince Mohammed ibn Abdulrahman Al-Saud — the late Prince Bandar Ibn Mohammed Ibn Abdulrahman Al-Saud wrote that Princess Nourah was “one of the few women of her time who mastered reading and writing.”

As a result, she was “a woman of the deepest understanding, proper judgment.” Possessing the “best of character,” she was “adored by all members of Al-Saud family” and “also very close to people’s hearts and minds.”

Prince Bandar, who passed away in January 2020 at the age of 95, added that Nourah became a popular girl’s name among parents throughout the Kingdom, who “named their daughter after her in recognition of her noble character, right judgment, good faith, generosity, proper tongue, and humbleness.”

Aside from all of these characteristics, he added, Princess Nourah “had an amazing ability for solving the problems of those around her, Al-Saud and others alike ...  using her clear and enlightened judgment (and) was also able to connect with others, Saudis and non-Saudis.”

Abdulateef Al-Mulhim, writing as a columnist in Arab News in 2012, said the princess was “the most popular, charismatic and influential woman, not only in the Kingdom, but also in the Gulf area. Some of her advice had a very big impact on the history of the area.”

Western scholars considered her “the first lady in a country ruled by kings,” Al-Mulhim said, while many older Saudis referred to her as “the woman who has the brain of 40 men.”

Without doubt, he added, in addition to being a “very charming lady and a woman of wisdom,” she was also “a top-class political and strategic thinker.”

In her book, Al-Harbi recalled the impact the Princess had on foreign visitors to Saudi Arabia during the early years of the Kingdom. 

Violet Dickson, the wife of Lt. Col. Harold Richard Patrick Dickson, who until 1936 was Britain’s political agent in Kuwait, met Nourah in 1937. She later described her as not only “one of the most attractive and joyful women I have ever met ... one of the most beautiful, great and famous girls of all times,” but also “one of the most important personalities in the Arabian Peninsula.” 

For Harry St. John Philby, a British colonial officer who converted to Islam in 1930 after becoming an advisor to King Abdulaziz, Nourah was nothing less than “the First Lady of her country.”

The Princess, wrote Al-Harbi, “played an influential role in many aspects of political and social life,” and perhaps never more so than in the critical healing of a breach in the Al-Saud family.

Her marriage in the early 1900s to Saud ibn Abdulaziz ibn Saud ibn Faisal ibn Turki, from a branch of the family that had fallen out with her brother, was the “outward symbol of the process of reconciliation between Abdulaziz and his cousins.” Although the dispute continued for some time, “by 1912 the matter was settled and Saud became one of Abdulaziz’s staunchest supporters.”

Al-Harbi adds: “I would suggest that some credit for this change of heart must be given to Nourah, for Saud loved her dearly. This action shows her wisdom, soundness of mind and eagerness to heal the rift between him and her brother.”

Right up to her death in July 1950 at the age of 75, Princess Nourah remained a source of advice and inspiration for her brother, who died three years later. Many sources recall that, whenever faced with challenging situations that demanded boldness, wisdom, and quick thinking, King Abdulaziz would reach a decision with the declaration “I am the brother of Nourah!”

Today, Princess Nourah’s name and spirit lives on in a fitting tribute to this pioneering woman.

In 2006, the first university for women was established in Riyadh, bringing under one roof half a dozen colleges, the first of which had been established by the General Presidency for Girls’ Education in 1970. On October 29, 2008, while laying a foundation stone at the campus, King Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz Al-Saud renamed what has become the world’s largest all-female educational institution the Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University — known today as simply PNU.

“Women carry a responsibility that is more than a duty, to maintain the stability of society and contribute to building the economy of the nation, and to represent the community and the nation to the highest standards, outside and inside the country,” the King said at the ceremony.

In a speech that might have been addressed directly to Nourah, his father’s beloved sister and confidante, he added: “To be the caring mother, exemplary citizen and productive employee. Outside the nation, to be the ambassador of her country and community, and to represent well her religion, faith and our values.”

Diriyah, past, present and future
On Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day, the birthplace of the Kingdom continues to make history



Saudi soldier who died in Iraqi prison finally home and at rest

Saudi soldier who died in Iraqi prison finally home and at rest
Updated 24 October 2021

Saudi soldier who died in Iraqi prison finally home and at rest

Saudi soldier who died in Iraqi prison finally home and at rest
  • Capt. Abdullah Al-Qarni was captured in Kuwait during first Gulf War; his death was not discovered until after Saddam’s fall

MAKKAH: After three decades, Capt. Abdullah Al-Qarni, a Saudi soldier who was captured by Iraqi forces during Operation Desert Storm and died in an Iraqi prison, finally returned home this week.

His remains arrived at King Abdulaziz airport on Oct. 21 and were taken to Makkah for funeral prayers and burial at the city’s Cemetery of Martyrs.

The chain of events that led to his death began on Aug. 2, 1990, when Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait and took over the capital city within a matter of hours. The surprise attack was the beginning of a seven-month occupation of the country. In response, troops, tanks, artillery, ships and aircraft from more than 40 allied countries, led by the US, mobilized and gathered in the Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province and the capital, Riyadh, for Operation Desert Storm, with the aim of driving the invaders out of Kuwait.

By Jan. 17, 1991, an allied force of more than 600,000 ground, sea and air troops had assembled and an aerial and naval bombardment began. This was followed a week later by a ground assault. Al-Qarni was among the troops.

Most of the casualties during the 42-day war were among the Iraqi troops, with some estimates suggesting as many as 35,000 were killed. Dozens of allied troops also died. Among the Saudi forces, 18 were killed and 32 wounded. Eleven Saudi prisoners of war were later returned unharmed to the Kingdom. 

The exact circumstances that led to Al-Qarni’s capture remain unknown but it was eventually confirmed he was in a prison in Iraq and apparently died there at some point in the decade that followed, though the details are unclear. Years of efforts by Saudi authorities to have his remains returned home to his family were finally rewarded this week.

The martyred soldier’s brother, retired Saudi navy veteran Saleem Al-Qarni, and cousin, Saleh Salman Al-Qarni, told Arab News that he had died a noble death, serving his nation until the very end.

Before the war, they said, he had bid his three daughters and wife farewell and left their home town of Shaaf in Qarn, in Asir region, and headed to Riyadh for some military training.

“A few months before the Gulf War in 1990, my brother was chosen among a group to train in Al-Muzahimiyah (west of Riyadh),” said Saleem. “After more than a month, the brutal attack on Kuwait occurred and they were ordered to go directly there on military missions.”

He said that his brother did not hesitate to join the fight but it is believed that after about five days in action he was captured and taken to Iraq. The family was informed and the Saudi government continued to monitor the condition of detainees. Saleem said his brother was believed to still be detained in Iraq when US-led forces invaded the country in 2002.

After the death of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the fall of his regime, however, no trace could be found in any prison of Al-Qarni or a group of his friends. Later, his remains were identified and the family faced a new battle to have them returned. But they never gave up hope and, with the help of the Saudi government, continued their campaign.

“The government also did a thorough follow-up of all necessary procedures, until his remains were identified and taken back home,” said Saleem.

“My brother died fearlessly defending our country. God granted him the honor of martyrdom while he was defending the region with his colleagues who knew of the sacrifices and were loyal, fearless and defended their country to the very end.”

In 2004 the family had a death certificate issued the following year, Saleem married his brother’s widow to take care of her and his three nieces, the youngest of whom Abdullah only saw for a day before shipping out. Together they had two more daughters and remained together as a family until she died in 2019.

Saleem explained that his parents endured a lot of suffering as a result of what happened to his brother. Because his whereabouts were unknown until his death was confirmed, they had clung to the hope that they might be reunited. His father died in 2000 and his mother in 2015.

Saleh said that the martyrdom of his cousin while defending his country was a source of the utmost honor, pride and nobility. He was very religious and loyal to his homeland and king, he added, and did his duty without hesitation for the sake of his country and region.

“We bid him farewell as a body and soul and welcome his remains,” said Saleh. “This situation creates mixed feelings of pain, loss and pride. We are comforted that he honored his duty. We lost his pure soul and beautiful spirit in the darkness of Iraqi prisons.”

Saudi data science camp graduates first student group

Saudi data science camp graduates first student group
Updated 24 October 2021

Saudi data science camp graduates first student group

Saudi data science camp graduates first student group
  • The initiative aims to graduate more than 900 young professionals in data science and artificial intelligence during 2021

RIYADH: The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority celebrated on Friday the graduation of the first 35 graduates of the data science camp launched in July.

The SDAIA academy initiative aims to graduate more than 900 young professionals in data science and artificial intelligence during 2021.

The graduation ceremony was attended by Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah bin Amer Al-Swaha and SDAIA President Dr. Abdullah bin Sharaf Al-Ghamdi, among other officials.

Meanwhile, 20 teams qualified for the boot camp stage of the second edition of the Global Artificial Intelligence Artathon.

The event will now move to workshops and training sessions aimed at building attendees skills and the opportunity to complete the final versions of their artworks.

Three teams will be nominated to win cash prizes of up to SR500,000 ($133,305).

The Artathon is one of the main initiatives of the World Artificial Intelligence Summit, where people interested in music, interactive art, drawing and stereoscopic art work together with data and AI experts to create artwork using AI techniques.

This edition received worldwide attention, with 8,400 artists and programmers representing 69 countries taking part, and 500 candidates representing 164 teams being selected.

During the ceremony, Al-Ghamdi congratulated the graduates and those who qualified for the second phase of the Artathon, praising “their tireless efforts that reflect their keenness to make the most of the programs offered to them.”

Al-Ghamdi said that improving national competencies in the field is one of the top priorities of the SDAIA. He added that it comes as a result of the support and guidance of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is keen to support the national development process and achieve the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

The second edition of the Global Artathon of Artificial Intelligence falls within the SDAIA’s partnerships with the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones, Misk Art Institute and the Saudi Telecom Company, which sponsored the graduation ceremony.

Who’s Who: Naser Almarri, Saudi specialist in seed production policies and strategies

Who’s Who: Naser Almarri, Saudi specialist in seed production policies and strategies
Updated 24 October 2021

Who’s Who: Naser Almarri, Saudi specialist in seed production policies and strategies

Who’s Who: Naser Almarri, Saudi specialist in seed production policies and strategies

Since February, Naser Almarri has been general director of the Seed Center — MEWA; chairman of the Committee of Seed Producers in Saudi Arabia; and general-secretary of the National Committee on Plant Genetic Resources 2019.

Before that, he was deputy director general at the Natural Resources Department from June 2016 to September 2018.

Almarri is a specialist in seed production policies and strategies, seed and plant genetic resources laws, seed production, quality control, seed certification, field, horticultural crops varieties evaluation, seed testing, plant genetic resources collection, storage, evaluation, identification and maintenance.

He has experience and knowledge spanning more than 20 years in the application of agricultural and environmental strategies, programs and projects to achieve food security and sustainable development of areas with diverse ecosystems.

Almarri has been Saudi Arabia’s representative at the Gulf Cooperation Council since Sept. 2018. He is a member of the Kingdom’s team preparing the first report on biodiversity for food and agriculture.

Almarri is a member of the team for the national transformation program and the coordinator in the preparation of reports on the strategy and national plan of forests.

He is a member of the preparatory committee of the Saudi Environment Council.

Almarri has been a member of the National Committee for the preparation of sustainable development indicators from January 2015 till now.

He has published several articles in the Riyadh newspaper on the environment, biodiversity for sustainable development, and seed production.

Almarri obtained a master’s degree in 2002 from King Saud University with a specialization in agriculture science. He completed a Ph.D. in 2014 from the University of Reading in England on the environment and seed physiology.

Pakistan’s PM welcomed in Madinah, Islam’s second holiest city

Pakistan’s PM welcomed in Madinah, Islam’s second holiest city
Updated 24 October 2021

Pakistan’s PM welcomed in Madinah, Islam’s second holiest city

Pakistan’s PM welcomed in Madinah, Islam’s second holiest city

MADINAH: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and his accompanying delegation arrived in Madinah on Saturday to visit the Prophet’s Mosque.

Upon his arrival at Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport, he was received by Prince Saud bin Khalid Al-Faisal, deputy governor of Madinah Region; Maj. Gen. Fahd bin Saud Al-Juhani, regional commander; Maj. Gen. Abdul Rahman bin Abdullah Al-Mashhan, regional police director; Ibrahim bin Abdullah Berri, director general of the Royal Protocol Office in Madinah; and many civilian and military officials.

Saudi Arabia unveils road map to achieve a carbon-neutral future

Saudi Arabia unveils road map to achieve a carbon-neutral future
Updated 24 October 2021

Saudi Arabia unveils road map to achieve a carbon-neutral future

Saudi Arabia unveils road map to achieve a carbon-neutral future
  • Saudi Green Initiative forum in Riyadh attended by energy and environment officials and decision-makers
  • Kingdom aims for “net zero” carbon emissions by 2060 while preserving its leading role in energy markets

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia, the biggest oil exporter in the world, has committed itself to a carbon-neutral future at the Saudi Green Initiative in Riyadh.

Announcing a plan to reach “net zero” in carbon by 2060, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday said the move was in line with the Kingdom’s development plans, “while preserving and reinforcing its leading role in the security and stability of global energy markets.”

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announcing a plan to reach net zero by 2060 at the opening of the Saudi Green Initiative forum. (Screen grab from SGI video)

In a related announcement, Amin Nasser, the president and chief executive of Saudi Aramco, revealed plans to make the world’s biggest oil company a “net zero” operation by 2050. “The road will be complex and the transition will have challenges, but we are confident we can meet them and accelerate our efforts to a low-emission future,” he said.

The pledges were the most eye-catching items on a day when Saudi Arabia reasserted its ambition to lead the world in the battle against climate change, while retaining its traditional leadership in oil and gas markets.

Amin Nasser, the president and chief executive officer of Saudi Aramco,  (AN photo)

Nasser added: “We are not abandoning our existing sources of energy, but investing in new sources as well.”

Also notable was a commitment to double the amount of carbon the Kingdom will cut in its domestic economy, removing 278 million tons of the pollutant per year by 2030.

“These initiatives aim at modifying the Kingdom’s energy mix, rationing and increasing the efficiency of energy production and use, and investing in new energy sources, including hydrogen,” the crown prince said.

He also unveiled the first phase of the plan to eventually plant 10 billion trees in the Kingdom over coming decades, with an initiative to plant 450 million trees by 2030, rehabilitating 8 million hectares of degraded land, and allocating new protected areas, to bring the total of protected land in Saudi Arabia to more than 20 percent of its total.

Saudi Arabia aims to plant more than 10 billion trees in the next two decades as part of the Saudi Green Initiative.

Much of the domestic initiative will be focused on the capital Riyadh, already in the middle of a “green” regeneration. “The transformation of Riyadh into one of the world’s most sustainable cities is already underway,” the crown prince said.

The first set of the new “green” initiative would require investment of SR700 billion, boosting job creation in Saudi Arabia and presenting investment opportunities for the growing private sector, in line with the Vision 2030 strategy to reduce economic dependency on oil.

But it was the net zero commitment and the pledge to remove twice as much carbon than before that caught the attention of the hundreds of attendees in Riyadh, coming as it did just days before the start of the UN’s COP26 summit on climate change in Glasgow, Scotland.

Fahad Al-Rasheed, president of the Royal Commission for Riyadh City. (AN photo)

The Kingdom joins a growing number of countries that have pledged net zero by 2060 — such as China and Russia — rather than the accelerated goal of 2050 some Europeans and North Americans want.


278 million tons of carbon will be removed by 2030 in the Kingdom.

10 billion trees will be planted in Saudi Arabia over the next decades.

13 million Saudi Arabia’s new oil production capacity in bpd.

Some environmental activists have in the past criticized the Kingdom for not adopting a net zero target, and for not doing more to cut domestic carbon output. The new targets will go a long way to satisfying critics of the Kingdom as part of the debate on “nationally determined contributions” (NDC) that could figure prominently in COP26.

Nasser said: “We have to consider that this announcement comes from the biggest hydrocarbon producer in the world. To make that type of commitment is something great, and I’m sure others will follow the leadership of the Kingdom.”

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi energy minister, thought that the Kingdom could meet the net-zero commitment before the 2060 timetable, using the framework of the Circular Carbon Economy, which aims to reduce, reuse, recycle and remove CO2 greenhouse gasses.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi energy minister, speaking during the forum. (AN photo)

He said that technologies to help meet the new targets would be fully mature by 2040, boosting the plans to meet the goals and providing an example to others.

“The Kingdom is not seeking financial support or grants to achieve this NDC and it will use the best suited technology to do so,” the minister stressed.

“We can shift our energy mix by using 50 percent in empowering the power sector and all utilities, therefore 50 percent will be done on renewables and the other 50 percent will be the development of more gas. That 50/50 will be a major component in that reduction we have discussed,” he said.

Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the event in Tuwaiq, Nasser explained that Aramco would meet its 2050 deadline by focusing on emissions from its own wholly owned facilities, and not from its overseas operations, where it was “out of our control.”

Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, UAE special envoy for climate change. (AFP)

Nasser said that there was no contradiction between its net-zero goal and Aramco’s strategy on increasing oil production, pointing out that Aramco crude was less polluting than other types of oil, and that it was also planning to introduce strict controls on methane output, which is potentially more harmful than CO2.

He added that because of a shortfall in energy investment in recent years, spare capacity was declining fast in the global industry. “With the opening of economies there will be more usage of hydrocarbons, more need, more demand, and you will end up in not a good situation.

“We’re doing our part by maintaining our 12 million bpd, building capacity by an additional 1 million barrels, but the rest of the world needs to do its part. Demonising the hydrocarbon industry is not good to help anyone,” he added.

Abdullah Al-Swaha, Saudi Minister of Communication and Technology. (AN photo)

The SGI event will be held every year, allowing for a check on the Kingdom’s progress towards its goals on climate change. “We want to be held accountable,” Prince Abdulaziz said.

There were three areas of focus, he added: “Energy security, sustainable economic growth and prosperity, and attending to the serious issue of climate change. We can achieve all three without compromising a single one of them.”

The new Saudi commitment was a message to the world, the prince said. “It enables us to say that we are with you. We share the same concern. We want to evolve.”

Amro Madani, CEO of the Royal Commission of AlUla. (AN photo)

But he insisted that some of the more extreme solutions, like banning hydrocarbons and halting investment in oil and gas, were not practical proposals for dealing with climate change.

“The world cannot operate without fossil fuels, without hydrocarbons, without renewables … none of these things will be the savior. It has to be a comprehensive solution,” he said.