Saudi Arabia: Who is Reem Asaad?

         Reem Asaad is an exceptional Saudi woman.  She is a wife, mother, financial advisor, writer, activist and key promoter of rights for women in her country. She was ranked the third most powerful Arab Woman in 2012 by Arabian Business Magazine.  It gives American Bedu the greatest pleasure to further introduce Reem to readers through this exclusive interview.

First of all, Reem, thank you so very much for agreeing to this interview.  It is an honor to have the opportunity to ask you a bevy of questions.

You are welcome. My pleasure.

I’d like to start at the beginning.  Where are you from in the Kingdom?  How would you describe your upbringing?  Traditional?  Open?  Conservative?

My family is originally from Al-Madina Al-Munawarah. However, I was born in Egypt, where both my parents went to school then college before moving to Saudi when I was one year old. Their upbringing was a hybrid of liberal and traditional. Liberals in thought and beliefs, they still held some traditions with a “twist”.

What influences did you have in your childhood that impacted you to become the successful businesswoman you are today?  In addition, who influenced you the most and how?

Both my parents are college graduates and professional. My father is a retired orthopedic surgeon and my mother earned a degree in commerce  and held a variety of jobs in education, banking and later became an entrepreneur.

What was your educational background?  Where did you go to school and in what subject did you major?

I graduated with a bachelor degree in science at King Abdulaziz University, majoring in chemistry. Years later I enrolled in an MBA program offered by Northeastern University (Boston) and graduated just before the tragic 9/11/ 2001. My focus was investment finance.

When did you first travel outside of the Kingdom?  How often did you get to travel outside of the Kingdom as you were growing up?  How did these trips exposing you to differing customs and cultures impact you?

My first trip was back to Saudi Arabia from my birth country of Egypt. As I grew up my parents took me and my siblings to Asia, Europe and the US on summer vacations. Foreign language was a key part of our upbringing both in Saudi and abroad. We learned English at a very early stage and grew up “thinking” differently. At school I was always asked: “How do you speak English so well?” I never really understood why it was even a “question”. I knew better later J

How were you as a Saudi woman able to break into the field of investment management and finance?  What were some of the challenges you, as a woman, had to face and overcome?

Upon my return from the States, I was hired by the National Commercial Bank one of the largest in the Kingdom. Luckily the banking platform was a turning point in terms of female hiring. I was one of three women to be hired into non-female related positions. I received intensive training in my area of choice. Today, women assume all roles in banks including executive positions.

Do you think your campaign to provide women opportunities in Saudi lingerie stores not only made you a wider known public figure, but was that also a pivotal moment for you as an activist?   

It was a great learning experience. Through it I came to know many underlying social, labor and economic issues that contributed to the delay of women’s progress and advancement. I would like to add that the success of this campaign is not about me, but rather about the thousands of women who supported the initiative and determinedly entered the workforce.

Can you share some details about your campaign and how many Saudi women have had new employment opportunities as a result?

This is a big Q. I suggest that you visit the Lingerie campaign page on FB (it is closed but please request and I’ll open up).

What did you feel when your campaign experienced success?

Exhilarated! When I learned that the Ministry of Labor (regulator) put the law into practice and enforced the recruitment of women in the sector, I simply sat back trying to digest a journey of 3 years that came to a happy end. It was like graduating with a high degree after years of work.

What are other campaigns in place or that you would like to see in place which would provide more rights and opportunities for Saudi women?  Which are the most important to you and why?  How can others help support you?

  • Daycare facilities for women at work.
  • Transport for every working woman without a personal driver, plus transport compensation for women below certain income bracket who use personal driver.

I’d like to now ask a few personal questions if you don’t mind.  I know you are a mother and have three daughters.  Is your husband Saudi?  Was your marriage arranged?

My husband is of a Saudi father and Lebanese mother. My marriage was arranged by choice. We met through mutual friends and got married within a few months.

How does your husband feel about having a wife who also has an executive level career?  Have you had to make any career comprises due to any family requests?

My husband’s and entire family support was vital in keeping me moving on. In fact both my parents and husband are the strongest supporters of all and any work that I decide to embark on. Naturally, we have differences, but work and career decisions are ultimately mine.

What is your personal advice to Saudi women who would also like to have both marriage and their own career?  What sacrifices should they expect to make?  How can they convince a lesser supportive husband to allow them to have a career?

I like women who know what they want. Every woman must have a degree and / or skills that enable her to get a job in hard times. Life is full of surprises, and we can only prepare early on. The sacrifice that working women face are quality time with her family. But even that, nowadays is not warranted; for with all technological distractions, kids prefer leisure away from parents. In terms of unsupportive spouses, I believe that economy dictates what happens in the family. Men under financial pressure often yield to ideas previously unquestionable such as a wife getting a job. Unfortunately, there are no clear statistics on these trends which hinders the better understanding and measuring of this social detour in the Kingdom.

You are setting an example and a legacy for your three daughters.  As a mother, what are your hopes, dreams and aspirations for them?  Do you want for them to have careers?

My daughters will hopefully have the opportunity to choose for themselves, in terms of career, marriage and life in general. Their generation will have different aspirations and pursuits, something we cannot predict. All we can hope to offer them is solid education and best possible exposure to the outside world.

Saudi Arabia is not always an easy place for women.  Do you want your daughters to have their adult lives inside the Kingdom?  Please explain your answer.

Yes. It started as early as kindergarten. My two elder daughters (youngest is only 2 yrs old) attend a French school where their learning and educational experience is different from the mainstream experience in local schools. For adult education, I would like to see each one successful in her field of choice, be it arts, sports or academia. No boundaries, no limits as long as she is fulfilled and positively contributing to the world.

Your lingerie campaign was a landmark campaign for the Kingdom.  Do you think that opportunities will eventually open up for women to have a greater choice of career opportunities; to drive; to vote and to have greater control over their own lives?  Why or why not?

Yes, eventually things will change’; “when” is the million dollar question. With the population growth, the state will not longer be able to accommodate more personal chauffeurs or excess foreign labor, which is already exhausting the feeble infrastructure. Generation Y will ultimately have the upper hand. It is up to the government to join forces and win them over.

There remain misunderstandings among Westerners about the Saudi women.  Too many see a Saudi woman as repressed and oppressed based on how she dresses when in public and due to the fact that a woman requires a mahrem (male guardian).  What would you like to say to individuals who share this view?

First, Saudi women dress the same but cannot be more different, ideologically, and in every aspect of life. The mystique surrounding typical Saudi women is a result of traditional preference of anonymity and privacy – a very cultural matter. This is also changing, thanks to social networking and new technology. The philosophy of sharing and exposing oneself to the world, was previously tabooed, socially speaking. Today, girls compete to post up not only their full name, but their photos and stories for the entire world to read and engage. This all happened in the span of 5-8 years, and the trend is accelerating, so in a few years, Saudi women will lose that edge (joking).

How can expatriate women in the Kingdom and Saudi women meet and get to know one another?  It seems like these kind of bridge building opportunities would erase many false impressions.

Expat women are very good in building their own networks. Some are keenly interested in building bridges and contributing to clearing a highly distorted image of Saudi women. I think that a good collaboration of both teams can generate excellent results.

In closing, is there anything else you’d like to add that I’ve not asked?

Not so far J

Thanks again, Reem, for giving American Bedu the opportunity to interview you and ask all of these questions.  I wish you all the continued success!

Saudi Arabia: American Bedu among Saudi Blogs Featured in Newsline Magazine

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Every so often I will search either my name or my blog’s name to see what I may find online about myself and my blog.  To my surprise, I found an article today which features American Bedu blog in Newsline Magazine written by Naima Rashid.

I want to thank Naima for mentioning American Bedu blog in the article.

I would also like to take this opportunity to also thank YOU, readers of American Bedu blog.  In addition, with a new year soon upon us, I welcome your feedback and comments on what would YOU like to see on American Bedu?  How can I make it better and more enjoyable for you?

As long as there is an active readership of American Bedu blog I fully intend to keep the blog going as it has been since September 2006 with its daily posts that touch upon the cultures, customs, traditions and sprinkled with personal experiences of what is day-to-day life in Saudi Arabia.

Last but not least, American Bedu is available for interviews or direct questions.  I can be reached at [email protected]

Saudi Arabia: He’ll Sing for his Meal!


Qusay Today is another Saudi blog I like to follow.  On Qusay’s blog you never know what he may choose to write about next but always worth reading.

Most recently he posted a youtube video of a young Saudi who was hungry enough to sing for his meal!  This Saudi enjoyed singing his order at a McDonald’s drive through in the Kingdom.  What is also cute is that the individual taking the order (sounds like a gent from the Phillipines) sang right back to him.

What kind of a response do you think YOU would receive if you were to sing for your meal at a drive through?  Hmmmm….sounds like a fun way to put a smile on someone’s face and make a routine job more interesting.

Saudi Arabia: They Do Not Deserve the Title of Cleric

Finally I have read data that has literally made me see red.  A group of Saudi clerics…yes, I repeat, clerics, who consider themselves among the finest representatives of Islam, gave an ultimatum to the Saudi Minister of Labor , Adel Fakieh.  These clerics are strongly against women in the workforce.  So, the ultimatum they delivered to Minister Fakieh was that he either stop allowing women to work in retail or they are going to collectively pray that God gives him cancer.

As an active cancer warrior who has been battling stage IV cancer since 2008 and lost my dear Saudi husband to the dreaded disease in 2010 I have a very strong reaction to the idiocy and hypocrisy of these so-called men of faith.  I would never wish cancer or any kind of disease upon an enemy or anyone for that matter.

How can these so-called clerics maintain any semblance of creditability when they publicly declare such sentiments?  Where is the Islam of peace, tolerance, forgiveness and kindness?  It clearly does not seem to be practiced or preached by these group of clerics.

The Minister responded to the clerics saying he would only ban women from retail jobs if ordered by the courts to do so.  My question is who does one complain to in order to get such callous and insensitive men who dare to call themselves clerics removed?

If you are a Saudi, do you want Islamic clerics speaking like this?

Saudi Arabia: Is There a Financial Awareness?


One of my personal observations during the years I spent in Saudi Arabia was a general lack of financial awareness and particularly among young adult Saudis.

I believe this general trend is due more to the cultural traditions than anything else.  Saudis are brought up under the premise that their parents and other family members will take care of them.  This is especially true among women.  As a result, the young Saudi may pay less attention to what things will cost as they have not had to do so.  However, this pattern can result in difficulties when young Saudis marry and find themselves having to face a budget for the first time.

If a Saudi couple pays rent, it generally has to paid one year in advance.  Otherwise, the typical monthly expenditures a Saudi couple must account for is electricity, water, groceries, gas canisters if there is a gas stove, mobile phone bill and gasoline and/or transport.  In many other cases a couple also pays a housemaid or driver a monthly stipend as well for services.

In general, monthly utility bills are much less in Saudi Arabia than in the Western world.  Groceries used to be much cheaper too but in recent years the cost of groceries have increased to near Western prices.  Mobile phone plans are either pre or post paid.  Satellite tv is simply the one time charge to acquire and install a satellite dish. Therefore, without factoring in a monthly rent or mortgage payment it may seem like there is good positive cash flow each month.

I had many Saudi couples, male and female, tell me they did not worry about saving money and viewed it as unnecessary.  They had the inherent faith that there needs would always be met.  I remember one young Saudi male with two children tell me that if he no longer had money in his pocket then it meant they had to stay home and wait until the next pay day came along.  He didn’t worry about checking to see how much was left in his wallet each day.

This system seems to work while a Saudi is in the Kingdom but if leaving the Kingdom for University or business abroad in the West, the Western financial culture can be a severe culture shock.  Utilities run higher, rents are higher and due each month, satellite service requires a monthly fee, gas costs significantly more and mobile phone plans can be both expensive and confusing!  Health care is critical and so is adequate car insurance.

SEDCO Holdings, as part of its corporate responsibility program, partnered with Operation HOPE, a leading global social empowerment non-profit organization specializing in financial literacy education, in designing a program of financial awareness for young Saudis.

As part of the program all participants took a survey about spending habits and financial awareness.  Not surprisingly, the survey indicated that even today few young Saudis track their spending.  Thankfully though, programs like the one initiated between SEDCO Holdings and Operation HOPE have given great benefit to those Saudis who participated.

Saudi Arabia/USA: Reflections of Christmas


This post is more a series of fond memories and reflections on the special times of Christmas in Beduland!

It still feels strange to not have Abdullah physically present during the Christmas holidays but his spirit is certainly around.  Abdullah was always and good sport and joyously participated in my family’s holiday traditions.  He not only would help with the Christmas baking but over the years he had his favorites that were included in our baking list.  In addition, he became an expert at finding unique stockings and special stocking stuffers.  He loved how in my family, in addition to traditional gifts, we exchanges stockings which were also full of surprises.

I honestly wasn’t sure if I was going to be here for Christmas 2012.  I had some difficult times during the year in my battle with cancer.  At one point my doctor thought it would be time to call Hospice but thankfully that did not come to fruition.  As a result, every moment of the Christmas season has been very special.

My son and I did our traditional Christmas baking together.  We made both cookies and candies so we had delicious sweets to share with family, friends and neighbors.  We have a few other traditions that we also follow in our family during the Christmas season.

Back when my son was young we had a rule that he could not open presents until everyone in the house was awake.  However, he could open the surprises in his Christmas stocking whenever he woke up.  As a joke, I started putting a National Enquirer magazine in his stocking each year from when he was about six years old.  He loved to read and would amuse himself reading through its stories until we were ready to open the presents under the Christmas tree.

Another tradition is the annual Christmas stocking.  Each year family members receive a new Christmas stocking filled with surprises.  My son and daughter-in-law have saved all their stockings over the years and they now grace the entire circular stairway each Christmas.   

But Christmas is not only about getting new gifts each year.  We always take special time out as a family to give thanks for the true meaning of Christmas and prayers of appreciation of what we have and the joy of being a family.  Given my health scares earlier, this year’s time of thanks and prayers was even more poignant and joyful.

There’s nothing like seeing the absolute delight and joy on a child’s face (ie, my grandsons) first thing in the morning when they first see the tree complete with presents and treasures underneath.  I love watching their innocence and how they jump with joy in their excitement!

Christmas is one of the special days that I reflect upon all the gifts and love I have in my life.  The most precious gift of all is that of family.

So in closing this post, after you’ve read it, go ahead….give the first special person you see a hug….just because!



Saudi Arabia/World: It’s Christmas!


American Bedu takes joy in wishing Christmas Blessings today to all those who celebrate and recognize the birth of Jesus Christ.  May this day be filled with joy, laughter and rich in the love of family.


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