Since the beginning of time, Arab women have unified families, grounding them with the pillars of faith and community. Now, marking the historic reunification of the GCC countries, royals from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE come together for the first time in four years, in our February issue, to show their people – and the world – that they are one. Below, meet Saudi Arabia’s HRH Princess Lamia Bint Majed Saud AlSaud, who is reserving traditional crafts and redefining philanthropy.
On summer trips to London, a young HRH Princess Lamia Bint Majed Saud AlSaud, an avid reader, would browse the aisles of bookstores, sometimes furtively purchasing romance novels behind her mother’s back, like a typical preteen. Among the bestsellers, she would see sensationalist titles: tell-alls about the secret lives of Saudi princesses. “They were talking about me. I am a Saudi princess, too. There was some truth to them; I’m not denying that. But, I’ve had a lot of dreams and goals in my life and so do many of my cousins,” she recalls of the experience that profoundly impacted her. Princess Lamia is well aware of what outsiders may think about her country. For decades, two things defined the Kingdom in their view: an oppressive form of Islam and the House of Saud, with its vast reserves of oil wealth (estimated at US $1.4 trillion). The “Saudi princess” holds a particular fascination for the public. She is allegedly caught between these two realms, an occupant of a 24-carat cage; living in unbridled luxury but bereft of freedom.
HRH Princess Lamia set out to demystify stereotypical notions of Saudi royals. “I decided in the seventh grade that one day, I’ll have my own magazine and I will highlight who the Saudi princesses are.” Later, through her journalism, philanthropic work, and advocacy of women’s empowerment, she not only helped change the narrative, but also came to embody a new definition of what it means to be a female Saudi royal.
Princess Lamia graduated from Misr International University in Cairo in 2001. Two years later, she started the publishing company Sada Al Arab, producing three magazines from Cairo, Beirut, and Dubai. When relatives suggested that she not use her own name in order to be taken more seriously, she refused. She rarely shied from away from controversial topics, shedding light on the realities women in the Middle East often contend with. In 2010, she published the novel Children and Blood, which delves into the subject of honor killings. Since 2016, she has served as the Secretary General of AlWaleed Philanthropies, a global foundation established 40 years ago by HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud. She has also earned numerous international awards for her humanitarian work.
The lifting of the Qatar blockade and reunification of the Gulf States provides newfound optimism about the future of the region. “Fighting between brothers and going through a dark route… In one way or another, they will always come back. In the Gulf, we look the same, our culture is the same, we are identical. It was a period and I hope it is in the past. Now, we have a lot to do and a lot to build,” she shares.
In recent years, Princess Lamia has seen how quickly things can transform as Saudi Arabia has undergone seismic social changes. Throughout this, AlWaleed Philanthropies has been an essential change agent. Within weeks of the changes to the driving regulations, it trained female ride-sharing drivers. It also offers training and employment programs for female law graduates through the Waeya Legal initiative. AlWaleed Philanthropies’ partnership with Turquoise Mountain, a charity established in 2006 by HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, to revive historic areas and traditional crafts, is a project Princess Lamia is passionate about. “In any part of the world, when you go to a department store and you read something is handmade, you will accept that the price will multiply, because it’s rare, right? And in this part of the world? No!” she says emphatically. “This kills me, because people still see artisans as someone, ‘Haram! [poor thing], let’s just give her something.’ No, these are the people who preserve our culture and full history, and we want to make sure they are compensated and acknowledged.”
More opportunities are forthcoming. The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan includes bolstering the female workforce and launching the first female football league. To many who have long championed women’s empowerment, it is a national reckoning. “I don’t think we had any other choice but to catch up,” she says. “Seeing what’s happening around us, and how the world is functioning very fast. Changing everything quickly is a smart move, given that we have a tribal mentality and are very attached to tradition.”
It is easy to see why Princess Lamia has been successful as a changemaker. She has a presence that can only be described as regal, combined with an approachability that allows her to truly connect with people. “I think God gives everyone a gift and I believe mine is that people listen to me and I can help them,” she says. “I’m not the typical HRH,” she says, downplaying her legacy. “This title was my grandfather’s [King Saud bin Abdulaziz Al Saud] and we inherited it. But I want to do something for me. What impact can I make in this world?”
Originally published in the February 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia
Photography: Taha Baageel
Style: Norah AlEisa
Hair: Tarek Akel
Makeup: Ruby Ftoun
Style assistant: Arwa Alkadi
Assistant photographer: Abdullaziz Taj
Location: Digital City
Production: Norah AlEisa, Ankita Chandra