May 7, 2004

Baria Alamuddin: Al Hayat

You rarely meet a person who instantly makes you feel fully relaxed, trustful and self-confident. You also rarely feel that your limited or rich human experience has been greatly enriched by meeting such a person.

One of these rare personalities is Princess Al-Jawhara Ibrahim Al-Ibrahim, wife of the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques, King Fahd Bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud.

Mrs. Moodha Ibrahim Al-Ibrahim, Princess Jawhara's sister and wife of the Minister of Education and Higher Studies, Dr. Khaled Al-Anqari, received us at the entrance of the palace accompanied by her sisters, the princesses. I was accompanied by Princess Masha-el, daughter of Prince Turki Al-Faysal, the Saudi Ambassador in the United Kingdom and North Ireland, and princess Noura, daughter of Prince Saud Al-Abdallah Al-Faysal. Princess Nawf Bint Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz attended our meeting.

Princess Al-Jawhara received us in one of the halls of the Yamama palace which is considered an architectural masterpiece, although the magnificence of this palace was overshadowed by the warm reception we received from her royal Highness.

This was not the first time I meet princess Al-Jawhara, because I had the opportunity to meet her after the liberation of Kuwait at the home of Sheikha Lateefa As-Sabbah, wife of the Kuwaiti Crown Prince, Sheikh Saad Al Abdallah As-Sabbah. I have not noticed any change in the princess over the years that elapsed since our first meeting. She still has the same magnanimous face and smile and her kindness and warm reception that makes her visitor feel relaxed and comfortable. The dialogue lasted over one hour. I started by asking her about the health of King Fahd and about her only son, Prince Abdul-Aziz Bin Fahd Bin Abdul-Aziz. Then we turned to discuss the tragic situation of the Palestinian women and children. It is worth mentioning here that the Princess is well known for her noble deeds in the support of the Palestinian charitable organizations. Also our conversation covered the situation of the Saudi woman and her attachment to her culture and tradition as well as her strong desire to participate in the process of national development and growth. We also discussed King Fahd's support of the Saudi women and their causes. And here is the dialogue:

The interviewer: Your Highness represents in the Saudi Kingdom in particular and in the Arab Gulf in general the image of the woman who participates in developing an effective and honourable role for Arab women. How do you see the present and future role of the Saudi womaen?

The princess: The fair-minded person can see that over the last two decades the Saudi woman has succeeded in expanding her effective role in the service of her society. It is a balanced development that takes into consideration many factors, most important of which are the fundamental Islamic principles followed in our country. This progress in the role of our women is due to the success of the programs aiming at wiping out illiteracy in addition to the expansion in the education of women and their scientific training in the various specialties and fields. I consider this the proper foundation for making her role successful and effective. It suffices to mention here the tremendous growth in the number of women going to the public schools or to higher education. Today, we have over three million female students in comparison to merely a few tens thirty years ago. It is worth noting also that over half a million of these female students are pursuing higher education and that the total number of female students exceeds the total number of male students.
When the Saudi woman is a productive worker or an educated housewife, her role in upbringing the future generations and in directing them properly will be greatly enhanced. I feel confident, God permitting, that we are moving toward a bright future concerning the role of women in the Kingdom.

The interviewer: Failing to continuously give prominence to news about the role of women in the Saudi society does not conceal the importance of this role. How far has the Saudi woman moved and what are the obstacles to her progress?

The Princess: women in our society play an important role in various areas: Thus you find them as doctors, pharmacists, university professors, computer specialists, social researchers, educational specialists, business women, and so on. Undoubtedly, in our efforts to render the Saudi woman more productive and more effective we are bound to meet various difficulties and obstacle, most of which are of the technical nature that, God willing, will be overcome with time and proper planning.

The interviewer: Hostile writers and speakers use the imposed separation of the genders, forbidding driving by women, and the limited participation of women in the public life as pretexts to accuse the Saudi society of backwardness, violation of human rights and failure to adapt to the needs of the modern times. How can we convincingly respond to these hostile charges?

The princess: Islam gave women their full rights, and the Saudi society is a Muslim society which is proud of its values and fundamental principles. We have our evaluation standards and criteria which sometimes are similar to the measurement standards applied in other societies and sometimes are different. Also the social and economic circumstances differ in different places. Several societies have allowed the mixing of the genders and the other aspects you mentioned in your questions. The important question that one should pose is "has the general situation in those societies improved or they are still backward societies"? We should not look at the outer form but rather concentrate on the essence and substance of the policy.

The interviewer: How can we move with greater speed in our attempt to solve several social problems most important of which are the issues of unemployment and the increase in the number of unmarried women (spinsters) due to the fact that many young men cannot afford the financial responsibilities of marriage. Also among important problems requiring some solution are the tendency of young Saudi men to get married to foreign women and the dependence of Saudi families on foreign servants.

The princess: Many societies are now facing such social problem although in varying rates and forms. I think that the best approach to such problems is their scientific study and analysis by the specialists in the universities and the research centers, in addition to making these issues clear to boys and girls at an early age as well as to Saudi families through the civic societies and the different media of communication. I should finally add that some Saudi women organizations have successfully implemented programs dealing with many of these issues.

The interviewer: The woman and child in many parts of the Arab world from Iraq to Morocco and especially in Palestine are suffering and facing severe hardships. Your highness is well known for her noble deeds in this field. What are your plans for organizing this activity and for increasing the amount of assistance by the contributions of well to do persons?

The princess: There are many similarities and some differences in the problems facing the woman and child in Arab societies. I believe that there are various ways for improving the situation in the Arab world. Non government organization and specialized institutions could work together to implement joint projects. Also, it is worth learning from the activities and experiences of different Arab societies such as the wiping out of illiteracy, fighting poverty, public health awareness programs, avoiding hereditary diseases and others. Personally, I will not hesitate to support any activity aiming at realizing these goals whenever my circumstances allow me to do so.

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