Deputy Prime Minister and Commander of the National Guard Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz arrived in Paris on April 13, 2005 for a three-day State visit to France. On that day, the French newspaper Le Monde published an interview with him, conducted earlier in Riyadh. The following is an English translation of that interview provided by the Saudi Press Agency.
Q: There is a lot of talk about winds of democracy blowing in the Middle East. However, a UN report written by a number of Arab researchers reached drastic results as it views the partial reforms, like the ones you have launched, as insufficient. What do you think?
A: Democracy is part of our Islamic faith. I, too, would like to ask you a question. How old is your democracy and how long did it take for you to have a full democracy? We, too, shall, God willing, reach that end. Justice, equality and respect of human rights are the most important. All these principles are dictated by our religion, as they are also dictated by all divine books, the Bible and Torah.
Q: How do you foresee the Kingdom in 20 years from now?
A: God alone knows. We are working to implement the real democracy we wish for, and I hope its realization will take less than 20 years.
Q: Municipal elections have been held for the first time in Saudi Arabia. Will it be the first step towards parliamentary elections?
A: Everything is proceeding ahead on its right track, God willing.
Q: You have initiated a number of National Dialogue sessions. What practical results are being sought?
A: We have benefited greatly from these meetings. The National Dialogue has brought together the Saudi people whose different segments and sects have not been used to dialogue. Saudis have now become united brothers, and this alone is a benefit, a great benefit.
Q: You say that each country should make its reforms in its own way. What is the Kingdom's way, then?
A: Democracy and reforms cannot be imposed from outside. They must emanate from the people. Has someone imposed on you your own reforms?
Q: You have accepted to receive us, two female journalists, and answer our questions. When can our Saudi counterparts be able to do that?
A: In less than was needed by women in your culture to meet a man. And you could divide that by two.
Q: Then, a Saudi female journalist can tomorrow interview you?
A: The Saudi females have for sometime now found their way to public professional life. They work in banks and the public sector. In time, their ways of thinking as well as those of their husbands and sons will change. This needs a few years, less than the fingers of one hand.
Q: Isn't it a contradiction that Saudi females pursue their higher studies and become academicians, artists, doctors and scientists and at the same time the application of their professional life remains under the custody of their close male relatives: husbands, brothers or even sons?
A: This custody translates our protective concern for the woman and her dignity; after all, the woman is the sister, mother, wife, and daughter. My mother is the one on whose hands I have seen the light of life.
Q: Two years ago, you announced that the Kingdom has to confront the phenomena of poverty and unemployment. What are the solutions you see?
A: The Saudi press have exaggerated the issue of unemployment. Newspapers claimed that some million Saudis are unemployed, but after investigating the matter, it proved to be that the number of job-seekers ranges between 200,000 - 300,000. Half of those have been employed, while the second half is made up of an unskilled category that rejects the kind of jobs offered them. However, to be fair to the newspapers, I can say that they were not just criticizing for the sake of mere criticism; their aim was to push towards reforms and to help the unemployed.
Q: Since May 2003, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its residents have been targeted by terrorists. Do you think that waging war against terrorism and suppressing those elements are the most effective means to wipe out the phenomenon?
A: Terrorists are the enemies of Islam, humanity and the human race: and we are going to fight them for ten, twenty or thirty years, if necessary, be they Muslims or non-Muslims. We started by calling on them to resort to reason, wisdom and dialogue, but in vain. They continued their activities, forcing us to confront their violence by force. Along with that, we have had to target the sources of terrorism finance, as we put it during the Riyadh-hosted counter-terrorism conference - which means that we ought to fight money laundering, smuggling, and drug trafficking.
Q: What outcome do you expect from your visit to France?
A: First of all, I am visiting France because I missed my friends: the French people and their President Jacques Chirac, a dear and sincere friend of mine. In fact, Chirac is a rare man in this time, or this is how I see him. He is a man distinguished by his noble manners, sincerity, friendship, humanity, frankness, and warmth.
Q: What else? Are you going to touch on the issues of Lebanon and Iraq?
A: Lebanon, Syria and Iraq concern all people interested in liberty and humanity. Lebanon could never do without Syria and vice versa. Any differences between the two can be solved; but assassinations are contrary to ethics and humanity.
Q: Do you mean the assassination of the previous Prime Minister Rafiq Alhariri?
A: Rafiq Alhariri and others. The assassination of Rafiq Alhariri is without doubt a catastrophe. What was his crime? I knew Rafiq Alhariri very well, and knew that he had respect for Syria and the Syrians, and at the same time observed the interests of his country. I never heard him disparage Syria.
Q: It was reported that you pressed Syrian President Bashar Alassad to withdraw his troops from Lebanon when he came to visit you recently.
A: He was convinced of that before arriving in the Kingdom.
Q: Do you think that the UN Security Council's resolution to set up an international committee to investigate the crime of assassinating Rafiq Alhariri is a good measure?
A: Certainly, because all kinds of accusations have been leveled against Syria, Israel, and against other Lebanese parties: and the investigation panel can expose the truth.
Q: What do you think of the situation in Iraq?
A: I wish the Iraqi people patience and success. This is all that can be said.
Q: For Washington, the war on Iraq was the first step towards democracy in the Middle East. Do you share this view?
A: I do not see any benefit from war; and peace cannot be achieved through war.
Q: You have launched the Arab Peace Initiative which was adopted by the Arab Summit in March 2002; do you believe that the chances of success for this initiative will be better in the post-Arafat era?
A: Yasser Arafat was the first to accept this initiative which also received the acceptance of the Israeli people. It is Israel, or rather a minority in Israel, that has to be held responsible for the lack of progress.
Q: What changes have the incidents of September 11 brought to your relations with the United States?
A: What has changed is the position of the press; most of the U.S. press represents a category you know well.
Q: Then, everything is okay?
A: There have been some differences, not with President George W. Bush whose positions have never changed, but with those around him. Yet, thanks to God Almighty, the two parties have realized the matter, and today our relations are good.
Q: Do you think Europe has another role to play in the Middle East, different from that of the United States?
A: The Europeans, be those the French or the British or the others, arrived in the region before the Americans. But they have kept away from it; Europe has to play a role in the region.