New York: When it comes to royalty, we all have our notions. And when it comes to Saudi royalty, these are ever so amplified. You think oil money, massive entourages and shrouded veils. But for Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdul Aziz, words are currency. Articulate, passionate and forthright, the Princess has a simple agenda- fight for reform. Her battle is rare for a country where women are considered legal minors all their lives, cannot retain custody of any child above six in a divorce, and the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. The 115th and youngest child of former ruler King Saud, she is a rare high octave from a family that mostly favours a silence.
I met her in New York City on a rainy afternoon. Slim and elegant, dressed in a black business suit and red pumps, she is surprisingly approachable. She apologizes for the traffic delay, and sprints to the studio with me to record our slot. She adjusts her head scarf and is ready to roll. "We must walk before we run. Women in the Shura council or being allowed to drive is useless if we don't first reform the basic laws. What is the point of driving, if the woman is going to be beaten, harassed or even worse. You in India know. The Delhi gang-rape happened where you have laws but justice is missing."
We talk about the fundamentalists who propagate male superiority. Religion has nothing to do with it, she asserts. The divorced mother of five is not reluctant to address a sensitive subject. "I challenge anyone to an open debate on media, tell me where in the Holy Koran the mixing of sexes is forbidden or women are portrayed as lesser beings."
And the Princess, who is a also a journalist, is just as candid when it comes to the Arab Spring, which has turned into a bitterly cold Islamist Winter. "US has no right to intervene, neither does Saudi Arabia. I still call the Saudi interference in Bahrain a 'faux pas'. You cannot deny the people."
The princess hopes to visit India soon, several earlier attempts failed at the last minute but she is hopeful of making it to the country year. "I think India is going to be the world's next superpower, not China. Because China has spread itself too thin and India has the better brain power.
"The Saudis will be keen to leverage India's potential. We have so much in common- the way we look, what we eat, and our culture, and it is much easier to invest in something you understand. Saudis would love to invest much more in India if it opens up a dialogue," she says.
When asked how she can criticize the Sharia and speak out in a country that treats women as 'slaves', as she put it, and get away, she admits that censoring is inevitable. But she balances her criticism with genuine praise for her uncle, King Abdullah. It's a tight rope she walks on. But she does it with poise and grace. This is the woman the princess has chosen to be. "Speak out, speak out, speak out.....we must speak out for the women who have no voice" are her last words to me as she runs off in the grey drizzle.