2006 Speech

Prince Turki Al-Faisal address on Saudi Arabia in the global community at MIT
Ambassador to the United States Prince Turki Al-Faisal address “Saudi Arabia in the Global Community” to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts on February 16, 2006. The event is a special Starr Forum, hosted by the Center for International Studies at MIT and moderated by Institute Professor and former CIA Director John Deutch.

I had the pleasure of hosting Dr Deutch some years ago, when he was director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  We held talks in private, he met all the officials in private, and then he departed, in private. So, when he invited me to visit him in Cambridge, I thought I would be treated accordingly, in private.   Alas, I am to be put on display, and not only will I have to speak in public, but I shall have to submit to being questioned in public, so much for reciprocity.   Thank you, Dr Deutch.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Truly, thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today. It is an honor to be visiting MIT, one of the world’s most innovative and prestigious academic institutions.  Many Saudis are alumni of this school.

The type of education one obtains here – the type that fosters critical thinking – has always been important to me and my family.  My father, the late King Faisal, even sent my brothers and me to be schooled in the US from the time we were teenagers, so we could be exposed to American learning.  He always believed that education is the greatest agent for change and progress.  His commitment to this was unwavering.

Shortly after his passing, about 30 years ago, my brothers and I founded the King Faisal Foundation to continue his legacy in philanthropy and education.  The foundation’s pursuit of these ideals continues today with its most significant program currently coming to fruition. Along with several international partners, we are in the process of establishing the first truly private, non-profit Saudi university in science and technology. Al-Faisal University, as it is known, was formally chartered in 2004, and will open in 2007.

This will be nothing less than a world-class, multi-national university to educate the next generation of Saudi leaders.  The university will have an American curriculum – in engineering, science, medicine and business. We are even reaching out to top-tier academic partners in the US – including schools like MIT and Johns Hopkins University school of medicine – to help us reach the level of excellence for which the university was founded. 

Think of the contrast: Just 60 years ago Saudi Arabia had less than ten schools.  Forty years ago, we only had one university.  Now the Kingdom has 11 public universities, some 25,000 schools, and a large number of colleges and technical institutions. Our public system provides every Saudi with free education, books and health services.  We have come very far in a short time.

More than 5 million students are currently enrolled in the Saudi educational system, which boasts a student to teacher ratio of 12.5 to 1 – one of the lowest in the world.  Over 25 percent of our annual budget goes toward education and vocational training.  And more than half of our college-level and graduate students are women.

Ladies and Gentlemen: It is imperative we prepare our citizens for life and work in a modern, global economy. And as you well know, education is critical to success.

While we recognize that oil is a finite resource, we know our best and infinite resource is our people, and in order to diversify our economy, we need to educate and train our youth in new areas where they can develop, grow and innovate.

You may have read recently that the Saudi government is promoting a scholarship program to send Saudi students to attend colleges and universities abroad. In the first phase, the Kingdom has offered 10,000 students full four-year scholarships. Most of them will come to the US. 

In fact, there are already 192 Saudi students currently enrolled in the program who will be coming to Massachusetts for their education.

The Saudi people have a lot to offer the world community.  Through improved education and exposure to the world at large, we hope to facilitate continued, mutually beneficial international relations. 

As you are aware, Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam, one of the world’s three monotheistic religions, and the site of Islam’s Two Holy Mosques.  Five times a day, more than one billion Muslims turn in the direction of Makkah in prayer.  Each year, millions of Muslims come from all over the world for spiritual rejuvenation and fulfillment of their religious duty – as they did just last month.  This places great responsibility on the Kingdom.

This is why last December, leaders and heads of state from 57 Arab and Islamic nations came together in Makkah, Saudi Arabia to answer a call by King Abdullah. The third extraordinary summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) was convened to address the problems in the Muslim world, and offer solutions for a better future.

An open and honest dialogue ensued, and specific steps were decided on, including combating terrorism and extremism, promoting academic excellence, implementing political and economic reforms, and opening up economic systems to enhance economic growth and to create jobs.

The conference concluded with the approval of a ten-year strategic plan for reforms, which is marked by moderation, modernization, and tolerance.  The extremist element that seeks to pervert our faith is an undeniable evil, and we intend to take back our religion, which has been marred by these malevolent cults.

As King Abdullah has affirmed, “We must put our Islamic house in order.”

At one time, Islam was at the forefront of global civilization, providing significant contributions to humanity in fields such as astronomy, mathematics, agriculture, medicine and architecture.  Indeed, many of the precepts of architecture and mathematics, including the very numbers themselves which are studied here at MIT, are products of Islamic innovation.  We again intend to regain a position from which we can make positive contributions to the global community.

We seek to contribute in other areas as well, such as working towards the eradication of destitution and poverty.  The OIC plans to take practical steps to achieve scientific and technological advancement, with a view to supporting sustainable economic development. 

The OIC member states also recognize a need to establish an independent permanent body to promote human rights.  This includes preparation of an Islamic charter on human rights in accordance with the provisions of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam.  The charter would also interact with the United Nations and other relevant international bodies.  In addition, the OIC aims to promote women’s rights and education and has welcomed Turkey’s offer to host the first OIC women’s conference.

The outcomes of this OIC conference represent a new level of cooperation in the Islamic world. To remain helpful to our neighbors and to be able to make contributions in this world, we recognize that our skills and understanding must be kept current.

As the mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, who lived part of his life here in Cambridge, said: “The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order.”

Ladies and Gentlemen: It is a characteristic of the Saudi people to be deliberate and careful in our actions. Our Bedouin heritage dictates that our plans should be studied and meaningful, as there is little room for rash behavior in the desert.  We have learned, over the centuries, that in order to survive in the desert, we must be able to differentiate between a mirage and reality.

Our society today operates in a similar way, and the pursuit of successful and lasting change needs to be as considerate of tradition as it is of the future.  It must be deliberate to be real. 

Last month, the Mayor of Riyadh Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Miqren chaired the first meeting of the municipal council of the city of Riyadh.  This is the first of the 178 municipal councils throughout the Kingdom to which members were elected last spring.

Formation of these councils and the corresponding elections represent an important step in the Kingdom’s ongoing effort to promote greater participation by Saudi citizens in the decision-making process.

Even more recently, Saudi citizen Nadia Bakhurji won a seat on the new 10-member board of the newly formed Saudi Engineers’ Council. She hopes to increase membership and visibility of women, and to create a database of all female engineers, designers and architects.

Women now have also been elected onto the boards of other professional organizations, including the Saudi Journalists’ Association and the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  These women, who have the support of their peers and communities, are reaching new levels; each year, we witness an increasing number of female graduates from Saudi schools and colleges – and that number has been consistently greater than the number of male graduates.

These are all universally positive developments.

Saudi Arabia looks to continue this progress.  We understand that we live in a global community and our neighbors’ peace, stability, and prosperity is as important as our own. 

Ladies and Gentlemen: We are at a time of economic expansion in many places throughout the world, and what enables this growth is energy, specifically oil.

In recent years, the price of oil has seen a marked increase, which has occurred for a number of reasons – from economic growth in Asia, to speculation in the oil markets, to a lack of global refining and shipping capacity.

In the long run, both high and low prices have negative effects on the market. Erratic swings in prices create economic dislocations and make long-term planning difficult.  High oil prices hurt oil importing countries in the short-term by slowing economic growth.  They also hurt oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia in the long-term by slowing down demand for oil and setting the stage for a drastic drop in price.   

Saudi Arabia has been working with its partners, both producers and consumers, to seek ways to better ensure market stability.  Several years ago, the Kingdom took the initiative to establish the consumer-producer dialogue to improve the exchange of information on energy supply and demand.  It now has a permanent secretariat headquartered in Riyadh.

The US and Saudi Arabia, as the world’s largest importer and exporter of oil, play major roles in the global oil markets, and cooperation between the two countries is essential to market stability.  Officials in both countries regularly meet and exchange information, including at the highest level.  In April of last year, then-crown prince, now King Abdullah visited President Bush at his ranch in Crawford.  Oil, as you can imagine, was a major topic of discussion.

Secretary Bodman visited Saudi Arabia last November to tour Aramco’s facilities and to attend the inauguration of the consumer-producer dialogue’s International Energy Forum secretariat.  The meeting also launched the Joint Oil Data Initiative.  This initiative, supported by both our nations, is intended to enhance the transparency of world oil markets by incorporating oil-related data from more than 90 countries. It will also help promote better information sharing between producers and consumers to help plan for the future.

As you can see, throughout this period of escalated prices, there has been a pattern of growing cooperation and coordination between the US and Saudi Arabia.

We have had a long and mutually beneficial relationship when it comes to oil. And although the Kingdom currently supplies only 15% of the US’ oil imports, we continue to work together to seek stability in the global oil market. 

Saudi Arabia encourages all nations to develop and adopt viable energy policies.  We want to ensure that the global economy is adequately supplied with energy to grow sufficiently, and new energy strategies, including the development of alternative sources, will be needed in the long run to meet the world’s demand for energy. 

In the meantime, Saudi Arabia will continue to supply as much oil as the world market demands. Because, even as the world’s largest producer and exporter of oil – and as a strategic partner of the US in many areas, including trade and the war on terrorism – Saudi Arabia is still only one thing: a nation of people who want a secure and prosperous future for their children.

Thank you, and may God’s peace be upon you.