Late Queen Effat of Saudi Arabia

By Hanley, Delinda C. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Late Queen Effat of Saudi Arabia


Hanley, Delinda C., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


This year's fall lecture series sponsored by the Mosaic Foundation's cultural committee is examining the lives of internationally known and admired women of the Arab world who married men with great political power, then went beyond traditional roles to make significant contributions to their countries. The series' first lecture, held Oct. 9 at the Reagan Center in Washington, DC, examined the life and contributions of the late Queen Effat Al-Thunayaan, wife of the late King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud. Frances Meade, author of Honey and Onions, who worked as an educator in Saudi Arabia from 1970 to 1993, welcomed several hundred attendees after a reception made possible by a grant from Chevron Texaco. Meade said she hoped this series would help introduce Americans to Arab culture and dispel Western misconceptions.

Two of the late queen's nine children, or "legacies," Princess Lulua Al-Faisal, dean of Effat National College in Jeddah, and Prince Turki bin Faisal, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Great Britain, described their mother's life. The future queen was born in Istanbul during Ottoman Empire days, Princess Lulua said. Her father, Mohammad Saud, was killed in the war, plunging the family into poverty. Bffat's mother took her brother into the country to live, leaving Effat with an aunt in Istanbul.

A "sterling student," Effat was so poor she wore shoes without soles, stuffed with paper, to school. As the Ottoman Empire collapsed in the late 1920s, members of the Al Saud family began to reunite in Saudi Arabia. Effat's aunt contacted the family and asked for their assistance to finance a pilgrimage to Mecca for her and her niece, who was by then 16, and held a teaching degree.

As soon as the future King Faisal laid eyes on his cousin Effat, in 1932, he sent a message to his family saying he'd already married her-just to forestall anyone else beating him to the punch. Effat spoke no Arabic and King Faisal no Turkish, so until they mastered each other's languages, they had to communicate through an interpreter.

When the couple had children, they decided against hiring tutors to home school, in the manner of other well-off Saudis. Instead they started a boarding school in Taif, which attracted children from all over the Kingdom. Graduates of that school are still in leadership positions across the country.

The queen launched many philanthropic societies in the Kingdom to help women assist each other. Her societies promoted literacy, libraries, maternal care, nurseries, legal aid, and assistance for the blind and people with Down's Syndrome, to name a few.

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