Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Princess Nura bt. Abd al-Rahman

While reading Madawi al-Rasheed's recent book on women in Saudi Arabia, I learned of Princess Nura bt. Abd al-Rahman, older sister of the kingdom's founder, and her role in her brother's rise to power:
During childhood, Ibn Saud's sister was a delightful and spirited playmate, and in later life she became a source of support and courage, especially after the family's exile in Kuwait in 1891.  We are told she played an important role in pushing her brother to embark on the long journey to re-establish their family's rule over Arabia.  Later, after Riyadh fell into his hands, Nura remained supportive, managing the royal household and dealing with mundane matters that would have distracted the king from his more urgent business.  No day passed without the king visiting her in her private quarters, where she exchanged news with her and sought advice and reassurance.
More importantly, Nura agreed to be married off to a rival Saudi prince, Saud al-Kabir, an arch-enemy who in the early 1910's had taken refuge with his mother's tribe, the Ajman, to challenge the king's right to the throne.  Nura offered herself up to effect a lasting reconciliation between the competing men of her family, whose rivarly was threatening the survival of the nascent Saudi state.  After the king brought the rebellious Ajman under his control and pacified his rival relative, Nura continued to cement the relationship between the contenders and the wide tribal milieu in which their competition was fermenting.  Placing Nura in the intimate confines of Saud al-Kabir's household was a political strategy that the princess willingly accepted for the sake of the stability of her brother's domain.  She used contacts with the Ajman tribe through her husband's affines to contribute to the pacification of this rebellious tribe and their chiefs.  She served as a messenger between the king and the women of the tribe, especially the mother of their chief, Dhaydan ibn Hithlayn.
Princess Nura (also Nora, Nourah bt. Abdurrahman) also played a role as diplomatic hostess for the wives of visiting dignitaries.  Riyadh's first telephone line was a direct connection between her house and the king's.  She died in 1950, and Saudi Arabia's official historical memory holds her up as a model of what women, especially royal women, should strive to be: pious, self-sacrificing, trustworthy, and wise.  Today Princess Nourah University in Riyadh is named for her.

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