2006 Transcript
 

03/23/2006
Saudi Ambassador addresses World Affairs Council of Northern California
Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki Al-Faisal address titled “Plying the Modern Trade Routes” to the World Affairs Council of Northern California, San Francisco, March 23, 2006

JANE WALES (President and CEO, World Affairs Council): I’d better start talking because you’ve stopped. Good evening and welcome to tonight’s program with His Royal Highness Prince Turki al-Faisal, ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States. I’m Jane Wales. I’m president and CEO of the World Affairs Council.


For those of you who are new to the council, our goal is to engage the public in an exploration of issues and opportunities that transcend borders, and you can learn about our programs by checking online: www. itsyourworld.org. If you miss one of our programs, you might want to subscribe to our podcasts or listen to streaming audio on our Web site, and also of course you can listen to KQED on Monday nights. And if you forget any portion of tonight’s event, you can listen to it again and be reminded.

Before we begin, I’d like to briefly mention some upcoming council programs. On Monday, March 27th, we’re going to be hosting Her Excellency Barbara Masekela, who is the ambassador to the United States of South Africa. She has been a diplomat of note for many years, was a key political activist in the fight to end apartheid, and she’ll be speaking at the council at 312 Sutter Street at 6 p.m., March 27.

Then on Thursday, March 30, we will be joined by Yitzhak Nakash. He’s director of the program of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at Brandeis University, and he will discuss his new book on the Shi’a of Iraq. That program will be at 6:00 at the council March 30.

And then on Thursday, April the 6th, we will host Hirsch Goodman, senior researcher from the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv. It does feel like we’re covering the region, doesn’t it? And he’s going to discuss Palestinian elections and their implications for Israel.

And then on Monday, April 17, His Excellency Jehangir Karamat, ambassador of Pakistan to the United States, will join us in a discussion of US-Pakistani relations. That’s at 6:30 on April 17.

Some people already have question cards up, so members of the staff, you know you’ve already provoked – you’ve already inspired. For those of you who don’t have question cards up yet, let me call your attention to the question cards on your seat, let you know that you can just write down your questions as the ambassador is speaking. Members of the staff will be circulating and they’ll bring the cards to me. I will probably paraphrase what I see because I’ll want to keep it flowing in a logical order.

In a few moments we’re going to begin taping for broadcast on KQED 88.5 FM, and this show will be uplinked across the country, so as a courtesy to radio listeners as well as to your neighbors, please turn off your cell phones at this time. What a virtuous group. There were no cell phones to be turned off? It never fails. It never fails.
As both a source of political leadership and of energy resources, Saudi Arabia plays a critical role not only in the Middle East, but in the world, and for over half a century the kingdom has been a very important ally of the United States, so it’s our great pleasure this evening to welcome our distinguished guest, the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States, His Royal Highness Prince Turki al- Faisal. The ambassador has entitled his talk “Plying the Modern Trade Routes,” and he will discuss the kingdom’s role in an increasingly global economy.

He began his tenure as ambassador to the United States in September of 2005, and like his predecessor, Prince Bandar, he’s very well known to council members. Prince Turki comes to the United States after having served as ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland, and as key leader of the Saudi National Intelligence Agency for 25 years. From 1977 to 2001, Prince Turki served as the director of general intelligence directorate, and from 1968 to 1977 served as the agency’s deputy director.

His Royal Highness also serves as a trustee of the King Faisal Foundation and as chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies. A former undergraduate at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, he now serves as a member of the board of trustees of Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. The Prince is married to Her Royal Highness – oh, I cannot possibly pronounce your name, so you’re going to have to do that for us. They have six children and one grandchild.

Please join me in welcoming Prince Turki.

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: My wife’s name is Nouf. (Speaks in Arabic.)

Thank you, Ms. Wales and the World Affairs Council of Northern California for inviting me to speak to you today. I am glad to be here in San Francisco, where in April of 1945 the Conference on International Organizations met, establishing the United Nations. The late King Faisal attended that meeting as the head of Saudi delegation; and now, here I am, 60 years later, proud to be visiting our friends in this great city.

The Bay area is renowned for its educational institutions: University of California at Berkeley and Stanford among them. Incidentally, last night we had dinner at the University of California at Berkeley and they had a group of young students who sang for us, and they sang a song that did not mention Stanford very well. Next time I visit Stanford, I expect to hear the same song about Berkeley. The graduates of those universities have become great ambassadors for your great nation, and for the San Francisco 49ers, in the Kingdom.

I have spent the last couple of months traveling around the United States, meeting Americans and sharing with them what is going on in Saudi Arabia today. I’ve talked of many things, from the war on terrorism to education, but one of the topics I have not discussed much is economic development in the kingdom. I believe San Francisco is an excellent place for this because of your city’s history.

After becoming an outpost for missionaries and traders in the late 1700s, San Francisco boomed after the California Gold Rush in 1848 and the discovery of the Comstock Lode in 1859. The original economic development of your city derived from natural resources. What was pulled from the earth launched San Francisco into becoming an economic center, and enabling it to become the great city it is today with a thriving technology industry and financial markets.

As I’m sure you can recognize, in Saudi Arabia we have a similar start. Our ancestors plied the ancient trading routes of the Arabian Peninsula. The Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him – was a trader who worked the caravan route between Damascus and Mecca, and in the employ of a businesswoman no less: the blessed Khadija bint Khuwelid.

While centuries of trade and religious pilgrimage were significant to Saudi Arabia’s development, our nation changed because of our oil reserves.

During the past few decades, oil enabled Saudi Arabia to build the infrastructure needed to support a modern society: schools, roads, hospitals, and even entire cities. Some people have said, “As long as that oil keeps flowing out of the ground, Saudis will be living well.”

I assure you, ladies and gentlemen, the oil will be flowing for a long while to come, but Saudi Arabia cannot live on oil alone. As with the gold in your hills, we recognize that oil is a finite resource. Moreover, it is a commodity, dependent on the movements of markets around the world. At times prices are high, and at times prices are low.

To accommodate this fact, fiscal planning during the past two decades has helped control our government spending, and today King Abdullah has undertaken many initiatives that will secure our future. However, Saudi Arabia is also working to properly anticipate another factor: a burgeoning population.

The boom years of the 1970s created wealth, and the wealth was used to develop the nation. Infant mortality rates dropped significantly, and life-expectancy increased among Saudis. The government put in place a social welfare system that took care of our citizens from the cradle to the grave: free education, free health care, interest-free mortgages for first-time homebuyers, interest-free loans for small businesses, and subsidies for farmers.

As a consequence, many Saudis began large families and had children who are now part of the generation coming into the workforce.

We’ve known our oil alone was not going to create jobs for our youth, so we’ve had to ask some important questions. Where do we want to be? Where do we, as Saudis, want to be as a nation this year, next year, and 10 and 20 years from now? And where do we want to fit into the global economy?

Ladies and gentlemen, I will tell you: Saudi Arabia wants to become a full, contributing member of the global economy. We want to see our citizens competing in the world, and we want to see our economic reform be a key driver of positive change in our society. Our citizens need to be educated; they need to be employed; and they need to make constructive contributions to the world community.

The partnerships we form by working with others will build bridges of understanding between our cultures for generations to come. Our common business will underscore our common interests and common goals. And despite our different traditions, we must not forget that our desire for a better future for our children is an objective we all share.

During the last 20 years, we have taken steps to accomplish this. In recent years, King Abdullah has overseen many efforts to diversify our economy and expand opportunities for our citizens so they may reach out to their global neighbors. Many of these steps have come to fruition lately, but we have been working at them for a long time.

Allow me to explain to you briefly what we’ve done, where we are, and where we’re going in terms of development so you can see how we are moving to reach our goal of economic and societal progress.

During the last 30 years, the Saudi economy has expanded in size to become the largest economy in the Middle East, and the world’s 24th largest economy. As I’ve stated, we’ve made this progress despite a fluctuating oil market, and a population that has doubled between 1980 and today. Please do not forget that Saudi citizens do not pay any taxes to the government, but still receive all the benefits and subsidies of a modern country.

So to boost our economy over the past ten years, the Saudi government has enacted 42 new laws and created nine new regulatory bodies aimed at streamlining commerce in the kingdom and opening up our system to increased investment. The cumulative outcome of our reforms – from overhauling the Saudi patent office, to empowering SAGIA, the entity that attracts foreign investment – has been clear. Last year, the World Bank ranked Saudi Arabia as the best place in the region to do business.

So this brings us to today. Where is Saudi Arabia now? Currently, we are experiencing an economic boom in our stock market, and we are now a member of the World Trade Organization. Some say the economic up-turn is a result of oil prices, but I view our current performance as an affirmation of our citizens’ confidence in the system.

Over time it will run through its cycles – as we have seen in recent weeks – but we have laid prudent groundwork. We haven’t just thrown money at our problems. We didn’t just make up a spending list. Ours has been a systematic approach to facilitate considerable investment opportunities for both overseas investors and the Saudi private sector. Many people understand this and the market reflects it.

Also strengthening our economy is Saudi Arabia’s recent accession to the WTO. The path we’ve traveled to become a member began almost 13 years ago and, as they would say here in San Francisco, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” But we will be well served by it.

Membership has resulted in a liberalized trade regime, and a transparent and predictable environment for trade and foreign investment. This means more Saudi products will have opportunities in the global marketplace, such as petrochemical and electronics. And it will also encourage more international investments and products to come to the kingdom, including pharmaceuticals and telecom services.

This leads us to the Saudi Arabia of tomorrow because WTO membership affects our future as much as it affects our present, and the Kingdom is making substantial investments to take advantage of the opportunities now before us.

One of our most significant moves, intended to create jobs and increase foreign participation, is the creation of the King Abdullah Economic City. This is a planned city on the Red Sea, which will contain all of the most modern facilities to take Saudi Arabia into the next generation of global business and trade.

The project broke ground last December, and will cost over $26 billion. The city will feature one of the largest deep-water ports in the world for freighters moving between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. It will also contain a “financial island” that will be home to the assets and funds of the world’s biggest financial institutions, including banks, investment houses, and insurance companies.

This will truly demonstrate Saudi Arabia’s place as the largest economy in the region. In total, this new city – this megaproject – is expected to create half a million jobs in various sectors, including education, healthcare, and information technology.

And, ladies and gentlemen, some 20 years ago, we were still building the basic infrastructure to enable Saudi Arabia to operate. Today, we are building communications and observation satellites and launching them into space. Six of them will be sent up this year. Our aim is high and we hope new investment will connect us on entirely new levels to the world around us.

Currently, there are investment opportunities worth over $600 billion available in Saudi Arabia in the next 15 years. These are in a number of fields, including expanding natural gas industry, growing IT, developing the mining and tourism sectors, and further privatizing state-owned corporations.
 
Last May, a trade mission toured several cities in the United States to highlight these opportunities. I am pleased to extend an invitation to the Saudi-California Alliance to lead a business delegation from California to the kingdom to develop mutually beneficial – and hopefully profitable – commercial ties. Such a trip has been made easier by recently enacted initiatives regarding business visa regulations. The new law allows owners, investors, board chairmen, and directors of foreign companies to obtain visas without an invitation. The Kingdom is making every effort to foster an environment friendly to business and to foreign participation.

I hope none of these initiatives come as a surprise. Saudi Arabia did not spend decades fighting communism alongside the United States only to back away from free-market economy once we have won that fight. And in light of changes in the world since the end of the Cold War, these economic reforms are more important now than ever.

King Abdullah’s vision for Saudi Arabia is to create a new world of opportunity founded on our common bonds with our partners around the globe, and limited only by the imagination of our citizens.
 
The language of trade and commerce is a powerful one – one that has the ability to connect people in ways no government can. In fact, the original connection between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. was formed through business. Geologists from the California firm Chevron helped us survey for oil long before official government relations even existed between our two countries. And those ties developed many years ago have grown and prospered: Today, the Kingdom is America’s largest trading partner in the Middle East, and one of its largest trading partners worldwide.

Two-way trade between our nations exceeds $25 billion annually, and we hope to further increase it.

Relationships formed on the basis of mutual benefit and personal bonds are the ones that last and allowed us to bridge misunderstanding, ignorance, and confusion. Our nations are stronger, better, and more prosperous because of it.

Thank you, and God’s peace be with you.

MS. WALES: (Off mike.)

PRINCE TURKI: Very good.
 
MS. WALES: (Off mike) – and a range from economic issues to security issues to overall U.S. relations with the Islamic world. So I’m going to start these – some questions about the Iranian nuclear program and ask you – (off mike) – what in your view is Iran’s motivation? Are they seeking security? Are they seeking prestige? Or is this a matter of national pride?
 
PRINCE TURKI: I think it’s probably a combination of all of those things. First of all, let me say that when I was leaving King Abdullah to take up my post here, I asked him, “How do you want me to deal with President Bush and the American people?” And he turned to me and without batting an eye he said, “Just be frank with them.” So I’m going to be frank with you.

It is a combination of all of these things, and it would be remiss for me as ambassador of Saudi Arabia to comment on another country’s ambitions, however complicated and of interest to all of us. What I can tell you is what we tell our Iranian neighbors about atomic development. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has had a long-standing policy of advocating a nuclear-free Middle East from the Mediterranean all the way across the Middle East countries, and we’ve urged our Iranian neighbors to join us in making that a real issue for the countries in the Middle East because we think that’s the only way we can remove any dangers, whether they be accidental or derived by politics, from our part of the world. And this is how we view the situation on atomic development in the Middle East.

MS. WALES: So long as Israel feels that its very existence is under threat – some of these – one of these questioners assumes that it would retain nuclear weapons, and therefore the question that follows is, what kinds of assurances would Israel’s neighbors provide Israel with respect to its security as part of a conversation about denuclearizing the region.

PRINCE TURKI: Well, with due respect, I think we in the Arab world feel more threatened by Israel than the other way around. Israel has the largest army in the Arab – in the Middle East. It has the most effective air force. It has the most efficient navy. And it has used them quite well. I mean, in the past, in defending itself. So a nuclear-free area in the Middle East would bring assurance to everybody, not just Israel.

We all know that Israel has atomic weapons and that’s why removing these threats from the Middle East on a uniform basis would serve Israel’s purpose as well as the rest of the countries in the area.

MS. WALES: In keeping with that question, this questioner asks, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, wasn’t it fortunate that Israel had destroyed Iraq’s nuclear bomb facility before?

PRINCE TURKI: Probably yes. And the fact that Iraq did attack Kuwait was a tremendous trauma for all the Arab countries and the Arab peoples, and with the support of the United States, to which we will eternally be grateful, we managed to turn back that invasion and liberate Kuwait, and now Kuwait is a thriving country with tremendous potential and activity in the area, helping (us all ?) together and joining with Saudi Arabia, by the way, in calling for a nuclear-free area.

MS. WALES: This questioner asks why the kingdom supported the original Persian Gulf War in ‘91 and was not an advocate for the current war in Iraq.

PRINCE TURKI: I think the two issues were different and the times had changed. First of all, in 1990-91, Iraq had invaded another country and thereby flouted all of the ideals and aspirations of people not just in the Middle East, but worldwide. And not to have stood up to that kind of flagrant abuse of international law and international relations would have allowed other countries to follow suit and perhaps try to extend their influence in other countries by military means, so the call of Saudi Arabia for help and support from the rest of the world was issued and thankfully the United States and a lot of other countries participated in liberating Kuwait from Iraqi forces.

In 2003, the situation was different. Iraq was a country that was under United Nations sanction. It had been boycotted for the last 13 years before that, and it was not invading any other country, and we thought that the consequences of an invasion might not be as peaceful or as helpful as some other – some people were promoting at the time. And therefore we advised our American friends not to initiate military hostility in Iraq.

MS. WALES: Right now, do you see civil war in Iraq as a real prospect? Do you fear a contagion of violence? And let me get to the third question – I’m trying to bundle them here – at this moment do you share President Bush’s view that the world is better off with the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

 PRINCE TURKI: Well, let me say on the issue of Saddam Hussein, I think the Iraq people are better off without Saddam Hussein, and hence the neighbors of Iraq are better off without Saddam Hussein. There is no question about that.

On the issue of civil war or sectarian war or whatever you want to call it, I don’t think that’s the important issue how to define what is happening in Iraq. We all recognize that there is a struggle in Iraq, that there is social dysfunction in Iraq, that there is a problem in Iraq. And the kingdom has been in the forefront of countries trying to get our Iraqi brothers to put their house in order, and the only way they can do that is by thinking of themselves more as Iraqis rather than as Sunni, Shi’a, or Kurd.

We promoted the meeting of all of the political factions last November in Cairo under the Arab League auspices, where the – for the first time since the toppling of Saddam Hussein, all of the political factions met under one roof and talked to each other. And they reached a common understanding at the time, which led to the fact that when the elections were held for parliament in December of last year, all of these factions – Sunni, Shi’a, Kurd, Turkoman, Yezidis – you name it, they have it in Iraq – participated fully in those elections.

So we can say that the parliament that came out of that is not only truly representative of the Iraqi people, but is also legitimate and sovereign. And hopefully the government that will be formed as a result of the negotiations in that parliament will also be sovereign and legitimate. And they are the ones who can then carry on on the issue of bringing stability and security to the Iraqi people.

MS. WALES: Say a word about the role that Iran is playing in Iraq right now. It is supporting both of Muqtada al –

PRINCE TURKI: Sadr.

MS. WALES: – Sadr militia. It is – in fact, it’s supporting two different militia groups. What is its purpose and what is its effect?

PRINCE TURKI: We’ve been working with our Iranian neighbors and the other contiguous states of Iraq – there are six of them: Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait – plus two other countries in the area: Egypt and Bahrain – since the end of 2003, and now – and since the establishment of a government in Iraq there is also an Iraqi representative on this contiguous countries meetings, and they meet periodically. And we meet with all of these countries in various capitals, and the first meeting was actually held in Riyadh in 2003.
 
And we talked to our Iranian neighbors and the rest of the neighbors of Iraq and express our views to them, whether it is on matters of interference or on matters of trying to extend influence or trying to gain position of preference in Iraq. And inasmuch as Iran is a close neighbor of Iraq and has for years shared a sectarian bond with the majority of the Iraqi people – the Shi’a – their relationship with that sect in Iraq has been historic and long- standing.

But your government is now talking to Iran also about security matters and the influence of Iran in Iraq. And what we tell our Iranian colleagues in these matters is that the stability and the territorial integrity of Iraq is the best option, not just for the Iraqi people, but for the neighbors of Iraq because division of Iraq may affect all of us in the area, and none of us will be ready to suffer the consequences of a divided Iraq that remains weak and liable to remain, if you like, a magnet for terrorists and terrorism.

MS. WALES: Your citizens have access to satellite radio, satellite television from around the world. What can you tell us about their attitudes towards the West based on what they see?

PRINCE TURKI: Well, I will tell you, in the last year King Abdullah met with President Bush in Crawford, Texas, and they reviewed the relationship between our two countries and saw that the number of Saudi students who are attending universities in America had dropped dramatically since September 11th, 2001, mostly because of visa restrictions. And so they agreed that they were going to do something about that. And since then, the Kingdom initiated a scholarship program for 10,000 Saudi students, and most of those students are actually coming to the United States.

Over the past year, your embassy in Saudi Arabia has processed more than 4,000 visas already. So this year our cultural attache, who is with us here, told me that the number has risen from 2,000-some-odd in the beginning of 2005 to now nearly 7,000 Saudi students coming to the United States, 500 of whom will be coming to the California area actually.

And that is an indication of what the Saudi people feel about the United States, how our young people want to come and acquire their skills and their knowledge in your universities. And equally importantly, their families are happy for them to come and acquire their knowledge and skills in American universities. So on the popular level, there is a great deal of not just affection, but aspiration for people to come to the United States, and it is the most visited country by Saudis anywhere in the world.

Over the years, I think from 1945 until today, literally hundreds of thousands of Saudis have come through either for your universities or for medical treatment in your hospital or for business activity or for any other tourist attractions that you may have. Orlando is a very popular target of many Saudis, as is the San Francisco Bay area. I know many Saudis have homes in the area here, and they come on a yearly basis and they bring their children and they taste of the – whether it is the food or the natural scenery or the other attractions on the San Francisco Bay area.

So there is a genuine feeling of identity between the Saudi people and the American people. And I think this is where, as I was saying in my talk to you, the king has concentrated on expanding this kind of relationship to bring us closer.

MS. WALES: Let me take you to the Palestinian territories and ask you, since the elections there and Hamas’ victory, should the United States and others be providing economic assistance to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority? Do we have a stake in their success?

PRINCE TURKI: When Hamas was elected as the leading party in the Palestinian parliament, King Abdullah was on a state visit to Pakistan. And when his state visit was ending, he and President Musharraf put out a joint statement in which they called on the Palestinian leadership – Hamas – to do the following: to adhere to all of the commitments of the Palestinian authority; namely, in the Abdullah peace plan which envisions a two-state solution and which was passed in the Arab League in the year 2002 and all of the Arab countries committed themselves to it, including the Palestinian Authority at the time. And it calls for Israeli withdrawal from Arab territories, including Jerusalem, in return for full Arab recognition of Israel, including normalization of ties. That’s one aspect.

And the other one they called on Hamas and all the Palestinian authorities to adhere to is the road map, which is also a two-state solution in the area. So this is the public and private position of Saudi Arabia on the issue of where Hamas should go from there.

Now, the Palestinian people chose Hamas through what was recognized by all observers as free and clean elections, and therefore we think that the Palestinian people should not be punished for exercising this right and this process that they have chosen for themselves. And, therefore, we think that the Palestinian people should continue to receive whatever aid and support can be gotten through to them.

What we have been doing in Saudi Arabia, even before the election of Hamas, is that all of our aid going to the Palestinian Authority has been going through international organizations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations Fund for Palestine, the Arab League Fund for Palestine, and we will continue to do that. And we don’t think that it is fair to punish the Palestinian people for exercising what is duly recognized as a principal right that they have chosen for themselves.

MS. WALES: Can you comment on President Bush’s emphasis on democracy promotion, and in particular, give us a sense of whether this could potentially have a destabilizing effect in the kingdom, in the region more generally. And specifically we had one questioner who asked, what would be the outcome were there a democratic election today in the Kingdom?

PRINCE TURKI: I can tell you that that question was posed to our foreign minister. I think it was just either before or just after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. And his answer at the time was that we are more than happy to be bombarded with Jeffersonian democracy instead of SCUD missiles.

So receiving ideas and ideals and advice from our friends has always been a hallmark of our relationship not just with the United States, but with other countries. And we welcome the fact that a friend like the United States and like President Bush will give us advice on how to pursue our lives and our future and so on. But we think reform – not just in Saudi Arabia, in any country – should emanate from within. And your country definitely did that when it was achieving its independence and so on.

Just before I became ambassador here, I had read a book called 1776. I don’t know if any of you have read it. And in it it describes how the British tried to force on Americans at the time taxes and other actions that literally drove the American people to seek independence from British rule because it was coming from London rather than coming from within the then colonies. And so whatever reform, whether it is in America or in Saudi Arabia or in Egypt or in India, if it doesn’t come from within it’s not going to be lasting, nor is it going to be effective.

And democracy is a means. It’s not an aim. The aim is the welfare of the people in general. And you can choose your way among so many – a myriad of practices of democratic life that you have. There is the American example, there is the British example, there is a French example. The world is full of democratic systems and democratic formulae for each people to choose from, and we will choose on our way.

Last year we had our municipal elections in which municipal councils, half of whose members were elected in popular elections. And the next (time ?) it’s probably going to be the provincial councils will be elected, and eventually the national council, which is – (inaudible) – will be elected. But it has to come from within Saudi Arabia and it has to come within the pace of the Saudi society and the Saudi citizens – how they see their benefits coming from these electrical processes.

MS. WALES: There are several questions on Islamist – on extremism and terrorism. And one questioner notes that the victims of many of the terrorist attacks, certainly in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh and Egypt and certainly in Iraq, are Muslims themselves, and the questioner wonders if this is an intentional effort to target moderate Muslims and to radicalize them or whether this is simply acting out in one’s neighborhood.

PRINCE TURKI: Al Qaeda and its offshoots are operating like a cult. And what they do is when they recruit the young people – of course as we all know how cults operate. The first thing they do is they cut the ties of this individual from his immediate family. And once they achieve that, then they cut his ties from the society, and so on. And they promote a cult ideology which is their interpretation of Islam, which is truly a perversion of the higher ideals of this religion that more than a billion people practice on a daily basis, and which is one of the fastest-growing religions in the world today.

And by perverting the ideals of this religion, this cult has targeted, as correctly said in the question, many more Muslims than non-Muslims. Their aim is to, in their view, cleanse, if you like, the Muslim world of all of the sins that are practiced by Muslims like me and like my colleagues here or whoever adheres to the Muslim faith. And for them, it’s an issue of it’s us or them, and it’s an issue of black and white. They’re either black or white and the other side is either black or white.

And their view of non-Muslims also extends from that definition: that the non-Muslims have tainted Muslims badly and hence they must be fought in what they call a jihad.

Now, those who know Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic Shari’a and Islamic thinking – and I am not one of them; I’m just a student of that whole subject – will tell you that Jihad is mostly a struggle against oneself or a struggle within oneself to better oneself, and that meeting – or taking up arms, whether it’s a sword in the old days or a rifle or an airplane, should never be done except in self- defense.

So these people, just on that slight definition of what jihad is, have gone contrary to all of the accepted norms within the Muslim world of what jihad is, because they definitely carry arms against people who have done them no harm, who have not attacked them, who have not even said anything bad about them. And they definitely chose to give themselves license that is not theirs to kill innocent people, whether they be Muslims or not Muslims. And for us Muslims, of course, this is a great challenge that we do not allow these type of individuals and their thinking to become the superseding interpretation of Islam.

And hence, particularly in Saudi Arabia, a public awareness program is – has been in practice for many years now to make aware to the public there what the aims of these terrorists are and what the dangers are of these terrorists. And the targeting of Saudi Arabia by these terrorists is a clear indication that they consider us the enemy, and hence, they operate against us either within the kingdom or outside.

MS. WALES: One questioner asks why religious leaders are not speaking out against terrorism. I happen to know that they are, so I will change this question to, why is it having so little positive effect?

PRINCE TURKI: Well, two things. The questioner’s question is legitimate because I hear it everywhere, and not just in your country. When I was ambassador in the UK and speaking to such audiences, I also received the same question. I have seen that assertion in newspaper editorials, among television commentators, and sometimes even among official reports – that Muslim religious leaders have kept quiet or have ignored or have – simply did not respond to the challenge of standing up and condemning and opposing these ideas.

That is not true. Unfortunately, reporting on what our religious leaders say does not make it to the news media. Perhaps part of the fault is ours because we have not been as active in promoting this connection with the media, but I think it’s also partly the fault of the news media themselves. And I’ll give you an example on this. In 1998, soon after the suicide bombers began to exercise that horrible action in Israel, a citizen in the kingdom asked the highest authority in the kingdom, the mufti of Saudi Arabia, his view of suicide bombing in Israel. And the mufti’s view, expressed in public and published in our newspapers and recited on our radio and in our television, was that suicide bombing is wrong, period, for whatever reason.

We didn’t hear that reflected either in the Washington Post or the New York Times or any of the major news media in the West. But if you look and see someone who is not even of a religious authority but – and I’ll give you an example. There was a man in London called Abu Hamza. I don’t know if any of you have heard of him or not. He took over a mosque in London and began to preach a very extreme opinion of Islam and so on. He was not a religious leader in any way. He was not within the range of being a religious scholar or anything like that. Yet almost on a weekly basis in London his picture is on the front page of major newspapers in London, because he happened to have a very – I don’t know how to describe it. His physique was different. He had one arm cut off and he had a hook, and he was one- eyed, and he had this huge beard. And he just looked like someone who could be a caricature out of a Hollywood movie.

And everything he said on a weekly basis in London was plastered all over the newspapers in England, but not the score of other imam leaders in London and other places in England who were saying the exact opposite of what he was saying. So the media I think also was at fault in promoting and giving prominence to such people and such ideas. But as I said, we have to fault ourselves, too, that we were not more vigorous in contacting and exposing what our leaderships have said about these issues.

MS. WALES: Your mention of the media brings me to questions about public diplomacy. Several of the questioners asked, should we be, and have you been advising the Bush administration to invest in Arabic study in promoting learning of Arabic languages? Should we be doing a better job of getting our point of view on Al-Jazeera? We don’t have enough Arabic speakers. What sorts of steps should we be taking in order to advance public diplomacy in the Islamic world?

PRINCE TURKI: I think it’s a two-way street. Traveling around your country and listening to your questions and seeing where your concerns are, definitely there is a thirst for knowledge among American public about our part of the world. And inasmuch as there are stereotypes in your minds about us, also in our part of the world there are stereotypes about you. And we have to go over these and cross these stereotypes and break them down. And public diplomacy definitely is the only way to do that – people meeting face to face and sitting down and discussing issues.

But I also think not just public diplomacy but political and diplomatic activity on issues like Palestine, like Iraq, like Kashmir, like all of – Chechnya, like all of the issues that have – alive and a matter of conflict and, if you like, a hotbed of violence and killing and so on, have to be dealt with, not simply merely kept on a back burner.

And this is where public diplomacy can succeed is if there is reference, for example, as to America’s contribution, let’s say, to peace in the Middle East, whether it is in Palestine or Iraq. Or if American politicians when somebody – I reversed what we heard earlier about Muslim leadership not standing up to extremism in our part of the world. You have your extremists, too. There are those in your society who have stood up and described, for example, our Prophet in the most denigrating way on television and in radio and papers and so on, and not many American public officials stood up against them. That has to be reflected as well in our part of the world.

So it’s a two-way street. We can’t say that simply coming here as Saudis and meeting with you and telling you what we are like is ever going to be a resolution for the problems that America has in our part of the world. No. Americans have to come to our part of the world and do the same thing and talk and discuss and engage and simply show that they are human, as we’re trying to show that we are human to you.

MS. WALES: We have a series of questions about economic development. And of course, as you recall, there was the Arab development report that came out a few years ago. Several of the questions ask what is being done in the kingdom to elevate the status of women. And other questioners ask whether young people, given that you face the youth bulge, feel that their governments throughout the regions are able to meet their needs, what they value most; not just employment, but also a sense of self-respect?

PRINCE TURKI: Well, I will try to recount to you what the kingdom particularly has been doing about the role of women in Saudi society. In 1962, Saudi Arabia was just beginning its development at the time, and the schooling for boys was widespread in the kingdom, but there were no schools for girls. That’s government schools. And a decision was taken by the government to open government schools at that time. And when was the decision was taken, many Saudi men objected. They thought that this was an intrusion upon their family values and their intrinsic rights as the leaders of a household, and many of them thought that educating women would lead to all sorts of sinful activity and corruption and things like that.

So they came in a delegation to meet with then King Faisal and asked him to close the schools for girls. But he told them, look, if you don’t want to send your girls to school, don’t, but there are many people like you who would like to see their daughters going to school, so I’m going to open the schools for them, and you don’t have to send your daughters to them. And actually there were demonstrations and civil strife in very many cities in Saudi Arabia at the time, and the police had to intervene to protect the girls’ school buses that were taking them to the schools because many of these citizens were, you know, trying to prevent the girls from going to school.

Within one year, the same delegation that came to ask for the closure of the schools came back to ask for opening more schools because their daughters wanted to be like the neighbor’s daughter who was going to school. So peer pressure became an instrument for reform in the kingdom. And since then, the story of education for women in Saudi Arabia has simply been a story of growth and progress.
      
And I was saying earlier to Ms. Wales I think that today more university graduates in Saudi Arabia are women than are men. And the grades of the women graduates far exceed those of the men. And this has led to a social revolution, because 20 years ago the leader of a Saudi household, generally a man who’s grown up with traditions and history and background to think that not only is he the lord and master in the house, but he is responsible for the well-being of every member of his household, including the women members of the household. So if his daughter or his wife or his sister wanted to go out and find a job and get an income, he would have felt ashamed that he was incapable of providing her with the means of a good life and so on.

But that has changed. Today the most prized woman in Saudi Arabia is the woman with a job. Her parents encourage her to go and get a job because she can relieve some of the economic pressures on them when she has her income, and her siblings look up to her and want to do the same like her, and equally importantly, the young men in the neighborhood seek her for a wife because she can bring in income to a household. And that has come about not with any government decree or with any religious fatwa. It came because of the changing role within the society.

And today in Saudi Arabia I think there are more than 40,000 businesses owned by women. And in the stock market – I don’t know what the numbers are – we have about 3 million people who are dabbling in the stock market nowadays. I think one-third or maybe slightly more than that are women. And they do it as men do: on their computers, and so on. And all of the university disciplines have been opened for women, from engineering and science and technology all the way to economics and law and accounting and all of that. All of the job opportunities have been opened for women and now you see more and more women working in banks, in stores, in family businesses and everywhere. So this is what is happening in Saudi Arabia.

What was the other part of the question?

MS. WALES: Whether young men –

PRINCE TURKI: Yes.

MS. WALES: – feel that their governments are able to provide to meet their needs.

PRINCE TURKI: Well, I hope so. And I think having gone through a period of teenage difficulties – that’s one way of putting it – I think all of us as young people have at one time or another either felt alienated or distant from those in an older generation, particularly our parents. And many of us when we were at that age rebelled against authority and against parental discipline and so on. And this is true of Saudi kids as well.

But the programs for Saudi kids are similar to what I told you before, about the scholarship program for study in the United States and in other countries as well. The opportunities are there. In the kingdom, as I said, schooling is free from kindergarten all the way to university. Not only is it free, but when you go to university you’re even paid a stipend of nearly $200 a month to every student who joins a Saudi university.

So it’s a pretty convenient and lucrative option to take up. And that is true for women as well. They also get paid the same amount. And so I think most of the youth in the kingdom are participating in this great challenge and great development that we are going through in Saudi Arabia.

MS. WALES: I have to ask you a question about oil.

PRINCE TURKI: Of course.

MS. WALES: And that is, were you surprised when the president of the United States in his state of the union address announced that we were addicted to oil and that we would reduce our dependence on Middle East oil, number one? And what is the practical effect when only 17 percent of that addition is fed by Middle East oil?

PRINCE TURKI: You tell me. Definitely we’ve had talks with the administration since the president’s statement, and what we have heard from them is that the president is still committed to the agreement that he reached with King Abdullah last April on a joint energy policy.

And that energy policy was the following: that the Kingdom would expand production of oil in the kingdom over the next three years by investing $50 billion in that expansion. We’re going to go up from 11 million barrels per day production to 12.5 million barrels per day by 2009, and also are increasing our refining capacity.

Already we have contracted for the building of two new refineries in the kingdom that will refine 800,000 barrels per day, both refineries. And we’re also investing in refineries outside the kingdom, whether in China or Korea or perhaps even India. We already have investments in refineries in the United States in Louisiana and Texas, and those refineries also are being expanded.

So the other part of the energy program that we – the king agreed with your president is to increase the amount of money going into research into making fossil fuels more ecologically friendly. And we think there’s still a great deal of research that can be done in that field that has not yet been done. So more money is going into that, hopefully from your government and our government, to make whether it is gasoline or home heating fuels, et cetera, burn better than they do now.

So that’s the policy that the king agreed with the president on, and the king received reassurances from the president that the president is still committed to that policy.

MS. WALES: Please join me in thanking His Royal Highness Prince Turki al-Faisal.

PRINCE TURKI: Jane, before leaving, I would like to leave a memento with you from the Saudi embassy for your council, so I have it here.

MS. WALES: Well, your tolerance for putting up with this many questions – I think this is very generous.

 PRINCE TURKI: For you.

MS. WALES: Thank you so much.

PRINCE TURKI: Thank you.

MS. WALES: Thank you.

 

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