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How a princess can help Saudi women find their voice

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Her royal highness has assumed the mantle of change for women with a passion. In interviews with CNN, Forbes, and at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, she said that the new generation of Saudi women not only wants to drive, they also want to contribute fully to their country. She even speaks of the power of the op-ed as a way for women to coordinate their efforts – just as the clerics do.

She advises "evolution, not revolution,” but at a much faster pace than in the past. Hers is a savvy and pragmatic approach to present-day Saudi Arabia, where 60 percent of the population is under 30 but conservative clerics are entrenched.

Change so far has been glacially slow, though King Abdullah has pushed harder for women in recent years than any other previous ruler. In 2009, he allowed women and men to share classes at a university, and granted women the right to run in municipal elections in 2015.

Princess Ameerah recognizes that opposition to women’s reforms is based in tradition and culture, but more specifically in the powerful lobby of the conservative Saudi religious establishment. The clerics repulse efforts toward liberal reforms even when instituted by the monarch himself.

Their power comes from royal patronage and state-sanctioned “official” Islam, including religious police. But their enhanced influence of today stems from the media, especially social networks.

The clerics rapidly fill columns on opinion pages as the princess pointed out in a September interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. They also mobilize the population through Twitter feeds. In contrast to their Luddite image, radical clerics were among the early adopters of social media in Saudi Arabia. Their tweets go out by the millions, many of them against women, including warning against sending Saudi women athletes to the Olympics. That particular effort thankfully failed, and the kingdom’s first judo athlete competed in London last summer, as well as a track athlete who holds dual US-Saudi citizenship.

Clerics or not, the number of Twitter users in Saudi Arabia is exploding. Saudis are the fastest growing group on the social networking site, with usage rising 3,000 percent in just one month last year, according to Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo.

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