Confronting Tremendous Challenges: Prince Turki al-Faisal

Published: September 27, 2012

Share Article

Related Experts

Editor’s Note:

Last week Prince Turki Al Faisal provided a tour d’horizon to viewers of the Charlie Rose Show on over 200 U.S. public television network stations. In the half-hour interview with the distinguished journalist the former ambassador to the United States and to the UK, provided insights and perspective to a wide range of issues: what is happening in Syria and what to do about it; the impact of the Arab Spring in Saudi Arabia; the issues of poverty, youth and women’s empowerment in the Kingdom; US-Saudi relations; inter-faith frictions; and the challenges from Iran. Links to Charlie Rose’s interview last year and to SUSRIS interviews with Prince Turki, and many other articles about him, are provided below. Today we share for your consideration the transcript of the interview along with links to the video recording.


Prince Turki Al Faisal
The Charlie Rose Show
September 21, 2012

[Charlie Rose] Prince Turki Al Faisal is here, he served as the head of intelligence for Saudi Arabia from 1977 to 2001. He is a former Saudi Ambassador to the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.

In recent days all eyes have been on the Middle East as fighting continues in Syria and tensions escalate over Iran’s nuclear program. We also have watched violent attacks on US embassies in Arab countries. Saudi Arabia is a leading player in the region that is experiencing an uncertain future. I’m pleased to have Prince Turki Al-Faisal back on this program, welcome.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here and a privilege.

[Charlie Rose] Thank you, let me talk about Syria, what worries you about Syria?

[Prince Turki al Faisal] May I take this opportunity first to tell you Charlie the Kingdom’s 80th birthday will take place four days from now, according to the Gregorian calendar. According to the Hijri calendar it’s going to be 82 years old. And throughout these eighty-some years that we have had our Kingdom, everybody keeps talking about an uncertain future for the Kingdom. ‘Alhamdulillah’ [Praise to God], but because of the sagacity of the people of Saudi Arabia and the goodwill of the leadership and the government, we have survived pretty well so far.

Click here for video.

We have many problems to face including Syria, many challenges internally among the young people and how to go about the courses of development, not just economically but socially and politically, and the role of women, etcetera. All of these are tremendous challenges that are being debated within the Kingdom and not coming from the outside. There is a bubbling atmosphere of debate in the Kingdom, in the press, in the people’s homes, in the universities and all of the fields where people get together. And there is a very strong ‘National Dialogue’ that has been instituted by King Abdullah. This is its 10th year now. It sets certain topics to be debated during one year from a certain date and it moves from village to village, and from town to town where people get together to debate that topic and things that have been debated in the past ten years included the role of women, the role of extremism, etcetera. So there is a lot of discussion in the Kingdom about our future.

[Charlie Rose] The protests, but first Syria, where is that and what do you worry about?

Click for larger view.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] The worry about Syria of course is that there is so much killing going on. The bloodshed and the destruction are on a catastrophic scale. I’ve seen pictures, I’m sure you have, of neighborhoods and towns and villages destroyed and bodies mutilated. That reminds one of the huge conflicts that took place in Europe in the 20th century, the First World War and the Second World War and other conflicts that took place in other places as well. And I think all Saudis from the top down would like to see the killing end, hopefully sooner rather than later. Now how do you go about that?

[Charlie Rose] It’s also Syrians killing Syrians.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] It’s awful.

[Charlie Rose] But other people coming in to see if they can stake out a place for whatever happens, most people assume President Assad is going. No one seems to suggest or think he can hold out.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] The longer the struggle goes on the more impact of extremists will be felt. And that’s why it’s a great pity that the world community did not come in from the very beginning and do something about Syria that would have curtailed the bloodshed.

[Charlie Rose] What would you have done? What would your government have done?

[Prince Turki al Faisal] My government was calling from the very first for supplying the opposition with the necessary defensive needs to meet the lethal armaments that the government was using against them.

[Charlie Rose] You did some of that though.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Well, I’m not privy to that, but I read the papers as you do, and there may be. But it needs more than just Saudi Arabia. I think the whole world community should have put their hands together and provided the means to balance the equation between, as I said the lethal means available to the government versus the very meager and lightly armed civilian population that is opposing them.

[Charlie Rose] Do you ever think, was it ever possible to have some kind of negotiated agreement, if in fact the Russians were participating and some others were part of the…

[Prince Turki al Faisal] All those permutations were tried during the past year and a half.

[Charlie Rose] Most recently with Kofi Annan

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Kofi Annan, and now with Lakhdar Brahimi. And of course we all wish him luck.

[Charlie Rose] But is it too late?

[Prince Turki al Faisal] It doesn’t look like there is any potential for negotiation now. Both sides have pretty much been entrenched into positions of refusing to concede to the other. As you know the Arab League when it started, when this issue started, the Arab League was pretty much in the lead to find a negotiated settlement. First by sending observers that were present in some of the areas there. They didn’t last very long because of the different issues involved, including the government reluctance to allow them free movement and so on. And then the Arab League came up with a plan that was similar to the plan that was implemented in Yemen where the president would leave and an accepted successor would be in place for an interim period during which peace would reign and the development of other institutional structures, etcetera, take place.

[Charlie Rose] When the Arab Spring came to Tunisia, I’m sure people in Libya didn’t think it could come here and then it did. Clearly people in Egypt didn’t think it could come there and have the consequences it had there. Clearly people in Syria didn’t think it could come there. I mean leadership. Why should Saudi Arabia be immune to this?

[Prince Turki al Faisal] I think Saudi Arabia over the past 80 years has been going through an Arab Spring. When you look at the Kingdom when I was born in it for example, 1945, there were no schools in Saudi Arabia. There were no roads. Disease and poverty were the rule rather than the exception. Since then, the government and the people hand-in-hand developed a very viable and very dynamic population and country that is aspiring, hopefully, to better things in the future. And when you go to the Kingdom today, you see a very strong economic and social composition to the development of the Kingdom. So that’s the spring that Saudi Arabia is going through.

[Charlie Rose] Tom Friedman was just here, as you know, he’s a friend of yours. And he said that the whole revolution and rebellion has been about justice and dignity, more so than freedom. Justice and dignity. Dignity has no gender identification. Why has it taken so long for women to achieve the kind of place that they should have in society in your country?

[Prince Turki al Faisal] I would dare say Charlie that it took a shorter time to do that in the Kingdom than in your country.

[Charlie Rose] Well, yes.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] And so these are the two elements that Mr. Friedman talked about – dignity and justice – most Saudi citizens feel that they have. No one’s homes are ransacked in the Kingdom for whatever reason. No one’s families are taken to task because one of them turns out to be a bad apple as has happened in other countries. The opportunity to acquire material and social prestige is available to all citizens. We don’t live in a paradise but I think if you look at the majority of the people in the Kingdom, you will find that they have a sense of dignity.

[Charlie Rose] It’s a very rich country that has a significant amount of poverty too.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Again, that’s not unique to the Kingdom. The poverty of course is unacceptable, and the Kingdom is working to alleviate that poverty. There are social programs that have been implemented over the past 20 years or so to meet that challenge that we have.

Click here for video.

Education, for example, has exploded in the Kingdom for both men and women. Job opportunities are there. The Kingdom has more than eight million foreign workers. Now, for the life of me, I can’t understand how we can have unemployed Saudis. The schools, although for a period of time they were not producing the skilled and well-qualified people to take on jobs, now they are. We have more than 150,000 Saudis studying abroad acquiring all the skills that are available, whether in the United States, in Japan, in China, in Australia, in Europe, etcetera. In America alone we have more than 70,000 students both male and female. And they’re all as I said acquiring skills to go back to employ them.

[Charlie Rose] When you look at demographics of your country more than 60 percent of the population is what, under the age of 20, 25..

[Prince Turki al Faisal] ..25, about that..

[Charlie Rose] An extraordinary number of young people. And we also know that part of what’s happening on the streets is a cry out for dignity for some control over their lives. I mean isn’t that a powder keg?

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Well, you could describe it as a powder keg. I would describe it as a challenge. As a challenge that needs more work, definitely, not just on the part of government but even on the part of these young people themselves, and the social structure that provides the jobs to these eight million foreign workers and yet does not have the ability to absorb the few hundred thousand Saudis who are now out of work.

This is a squaring of the circle that needs to be done. And as I said, the government has instituted programs already. I just saw a statement by our Minister of Labor that over the past year alone, some 230,000 new job applicants have been hired throughout the economy in Saudi Arabia. Now that’s a first step. It needs to be expanded because I’m sure in ten years, that figure will have to be perhaps multiplied by ten in order to meet the growing number of young people coming on the work force.

But it is things like that the government is aware of and is working with international organizations like the United Nations, for example, to try to find solutions for. We hire advisors from the IMF and the World Bank to look at things like that and from governments as well. The U.S. Government helps Saudi Arabia.

[Charlie Rose] It was said that your government was very upset over the way President Mubarak came to an end. And you were unhappy with the United States. Because you thought that because of the relationship that existed between Mubarak and the United States, the United States should have done that differently. Is that a fair statement?

[Prince Turki al Faisal] I think probably fair.. ..Fair statement.

[Charlie Rose] Did you then change your attitude about the United States? Did you look at the United States differently after that?

[Prince Turki al Faisal] The United States and Saudi Arabia have had a strategic relationship since it was established between the late President Roosevelt and the late King Abdulaziz in 1945. And we’ve had our ups and downs over that period. Since 1945, we’ve agreed on many things but we’ve chosen to disagree on other things. But we always come back together.

Now I think on the issue of President Mubarak or what is happening in the Arab world, whether it is in Libya, Tunisia, or Egypt, I think we have to look to the future, rather than how things were dealt with when these things took place. The United States has made declarations and has offered advice and the availability of expertise to all these countries to take advantage of. The Kingdom equally has offered these countries, those that are needy like Egypt and Tunisia, for example, and Yemen of course, economic aid in the billions of dollars. So we’re thinking of the future rather than recriminating about what happened a couple of years ago.

[Charlie Rose] Speaking of Syria, suppose the president of Syria said, look I understand. I see where it’s wrong and some terrible things are happening and I want to get out. I realize that my days are numbered and I want to go to Saudi Arabia to live out the remaining years of my life. What would your government say if it meant the killing stopped?

[Prince Turki al Faisal] I can’t speak for my government.

[Charlie Rose] But you know your government because it’s your family.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] But let me give you historic background on that. Because of the presence of the two holy mosques in Saudi Arabia, Mecca and Medina, the Arabian Peninsula historically, and since Saudi Arabia was established where these two cities exists, has been a sanctuary for people coming from all over the world.

[Charlie Rose] And Africa included.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Not just Africa – Africa, Asia, Europe, wherever you want. And past history shows that these sanctuary-seeking people have come and been accepted in the Kingdom. Now whether Mr. Assad particularly will be accepted or not, I can’t say.

[Charlie Rose] But you seem like you’re not closing the door.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] I don’t think I can, nor do I think that any leadership of Saudi Arabia can simply say that Mecca and Medina are closed to whoever wants to come there. It’s against all accepted norms and practices since time in memoriam.

[Charlie Rose] Tell me what’s going on inside of Islam today. Sunni. Shia.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] A lot. A lot is going on. King Abdullah called for an Islamic summit conference last Ramadan. And all of the Islamic leaders practically came including the leaders of Iran and Egypt and so on. And his main proposal at that conference was that we, as Muslims, have to get over this issue of Sunni verses Shia. It is taking too much cost on us. And therefore we must come together.

And the conferees agreed with him, so the resolution that came out of that conference was for the establishment of a center for inter-sectarian dialogue in Riyadh, which will bring together the various sects of Islam under one roof and hopefully emphasize what we have in common and, as much as possible, eliminate whatever differences we have. That’s what’s happening on the official government level and leadership level.

Now in Syria, in Iraq, in Bahrain and other places in the Muslim world, these sectarian differences unfortunately cost lives. There are Sunni mosques that are attacked by Shia, and Shia mosques that are attacked by Sunni, and how do you get over that is through efforts as was proposed by King Abdullah. The leadership has to show where it stands on these things and if there are within societies bigots and zealots who would prefer to do otherwise, then they could be taken to task in the courts.

[Charlie Rose] You now see people in the streets of a number of Arab countries as I mentioned in the introduction screaming against the United States because of somebody that, obviously the United States would condemn what he did but has a great principle freedom of expression. And you would think that the leadership within the Muslim world would then say “no, this is not the act of a government. This is an act of an individual.”

[Prince Turki al Faisal] I can’t speak for other governments, but my government has said that. My government has come out with a strong statement after the cabinet meeting last Monday in which it condemned the movie that came out.

[Charlie Rose] Yeah, sure

[Prince Turki al Faisal] But it also condemned the violence.

[Charlie Rose] And the death of an American Ambassador and three other Americans.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Of course, and that said that this was totally unacceptable. The Mufti of Saudi Arabia came out with an equal statement about the issue and if you look at the Saudi press, you will find whole articles about the inviolability of diplomatic life and representation throughout the world.

But the problem here is that either a double standard or a misrepresentation that what happened in Libya for example, against the American Ambassador, which was a tragic loss, is representative of the Muslim world. Most Libyans, as I read in American newspapers, have condemned what happened there

[Charlie Rose] Including the leadership.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Well of course. And leaderships in countries like Saudi Arabia and other places have also condemned the violence that was used. And as I said in the press in the Arab world and particularly in Saudi Arabia, many expressions of opposition to that kind of conflict.

[Charlie Rose] So what do we need to do?

[Prince Turki al Faisal] I think we need people like you and others who have this kind of forum to engage more not with officials but with people who don’t hold official positions. I think universities have a great deal to do in the curricula and in the teaching of tolerance. As I said King Abdullah now is establishing an inter-Muslim dialogue center in Riyadh. Two years ago he established another interfaith dialogue center in Vienna with the agreement and the support of European countries. And the Vatican played an important role in supporting that establishment of the center in Vienna. More such centers are needed and more such engagement between the average people, rather than the official is needed.

[Charlie Rose] How about in the mosque?

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Oh absolutely, you come to Saudi Arabia.

[Charlie Rose] Or in the church.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Or, anywhere. I think schools are equally important.

[Charlie Rose] Or in the synagogue.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] In the synagogues and the Sikh temples and Hindu temples and so on. We need to have people who can stand up and say no this is unacceptable. And fortunately I think more and more people are saying that.

[Charlie Rose] But you know, you know, in the history of Saudi Arabia there have been serious accusations of what was being taught in Wahhabi schools that led to people who were susceptible to being influenced to go on terrorist attacks. And they would try to go back to where all of that came from.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] What?

[Charlie Rose] And it came from.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Those accusations were laid out against the Kingdom and the Kingdom particularly after September 11, and the Kingdom through its Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education looked into this issue. When I was ambassador in Washington for example, there is a Saudi school in Virginia that was teaching Saudi curriculum. And such accusations were made against the curriculum there.

And I brought in all the books that were taught in that school to the embassy and had a committee go through all of the texts there and we found alarming examples of bigoted text and others, and we took them out, completely. And having done that, we then relayed that issue to the proper authorities in the Kingdom and they went through the same process there. And took out these texts from Saudi curriculum but that is not enough in my view.

It is not so much the text, although it has an influence, but who teaches the text as well. If you have a bad teacher who comes to teach six, seven, eight, nine year olds at that stage, bigotry and hatred, then you have to change the teacher as well, and not only the words that are written in the books. So all of our teaching staff and all of our mosque preachers have gone through very extensive evaluations by committees of the government to make sure that they don’t participate in such advocacy of bigotry or hatred.

[Charlie Rose] Iran.. and gaining a nuclear capacity. Suppose they did? What would your government do?

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Let me go a step beyond that question and say that in October or November this year, there is going to be a conference held in Helsinki coming out of the view conference of the Non Proliferation Treaty that took place in New York in 2010 that will look into the establishment of a zone-free weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. All the members of the NPT are agreed to this conference.

[Charlie Rose] Israel is not a member.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Israel is not a member nor has it publically said whether it will or will not agree to any decisions of this conference. But i think it behooves the five permanent members of the Security Council to come to us in the Middle East and say we as the five permanent members of the Security Council, and the recognized nuclear powers as well, we want to establish a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. And here’s what we want to do elsewhere: we want to guarantee that the countries that join this zone will have a nuclear security umbrella so that no one can threaten them.

[Charlie Rose] Coming from?

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Coming from anywhere.

[Charlie Rose] No, who will provide that?

[Prince Turki al Faisal] The five permanent members of the Security Council. They have to guarantee that.

[Charlie Rose] You have to have Russia and China.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] All of them.

[Charlie Rose] The United States, France and Britain and whoever else might come, the UK

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Whoever wants to offer.

[Charlie Rose] Whoever might come in the future of the Security Council.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] And the other guarantee they have to offer is, as five permanent members of the Security Council, that they will take whatever measures including military measures against anybody within this zone who aims to initiate or establish or invent or develop a weapon of mass destruction.

[Charlie Rose] I hear you out on that. Tell me what you think would happen if in fact Israel believing that a zone had been crossed and that a capability and capacity was at hand, they [Iran] had enough enriched uranium, and were close to having delivery capabilities, had to act. What would happen in the region?

[Prince Turki al Faisal] This is without the zone?

[Charlie Rose] Yes.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Now?

[Charlie Rose] Yes.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] I think it would be catastrophic.

[Charlie Rose] For everybody.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] For everybody. Including Israel. Including the United States. Inevitably, the United States will be drawn in as Israel’s protector and ally and partner and whatever you want to call it. The retaliation from Iran will be universal. It will not stick to Israeli targets. It would include American targets because nobody in Iran will believe that Israel did this without agreement from the United States. Whatever protests Mr. Obama will..

[Charlie Rose] Do you believe that? That Israel would not do it without a green light from the United States.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] I believe Mr. Netanyahu will do anything to further his aims, whether America agrees or doesn’t agree. You know I remember the days, Charlie, when the United States was the one that would say, for example to us in the Middle East, yes or no on the issues. In 1973 if you recall with me when Mr. Kissinger was having talks on this disengagement with Golda Meir and she was obstinate. She wouldn’t have agreed to withdraw a few kilometers from the Suez Canal or from the Golan heights, what happened? Her government fell. And a very bright young air force officer who was then military attaché in Washington, Yitzhak Rabin, very quickly and very precipitously moved from Washington to Tel Aviv and became prime minister and signed the agreement with the United States for the disengagement on.. ..the Suez Canal.

[Charlie Rose] And then actually .. government he came back .. and was assassinated by..

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Mr. Kissinger actually was the one who maneuvered that change in Israel. The way I see it now, it’s Mr. Netanyahu that is maneuvering to change government in the United States.

[Charlie Rose] You think so?

[Prince Turki al Faisal] I don’t know.

[Charlie Rose] It’s always so good to have you here.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Thank you.

[Charlie Rose] I thank you very much. You’re going to be at Georgetown sometime in the fall teaching.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Yes sir.

[Charlie Rose] What are you going to teach?

[Prince Turki al Faisal] I teach about Saudi Arabia basically. And they ask me, the professors bring me to their classes and talk about the Kingdom.

[Charlie Rose] Thank you.

[Prince Turki al Faisal] Thank you.

Transcript by

About Prince Turki Al Faisal

Chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies

Prince Turki is one of the founders of the King Faisal Foundation. He served as the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States of America from September 13, 2005 until February 2, 2007. He also serves as a member of the Boards of Trustees of the International Crisis Group and the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies and is co-chair of the C100 Group, which has been affiliated with the World Economic Forum since 2003. Prince Turki was appointed an Advisor in the Royal Court in 1973. From 1977 to 2001, he served as Director General of the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), the Kingdom’s main foreign intelligence service. In 2002, he was appointed Ambassador to the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland by then Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd bin Abdulaziz.

Born on February 15, 1945 in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, Prince Turki began his schooling at the Taif Model Elementary and Intermediate School. In 1963, he graduated from the Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey and subsequently pursued undergraduate studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

The King Faisal International Prizes, awarded by the King Faisal Foundation, are presented to “dedicated men and women whose contributions make a positive difference.” These annual prizes, which are awarded in five fields of endeavor – Service to Islam, Islamic Studies, Arabic Language and Literature, Science, and Medicine – have been likened, for the Arab and Islamic worlds, as similar in stature to, and nearly as coveted as, the more renowned and longer established annual Nobel Prizes. The King Faisal International Prizes, in addition to being bestowed upon Arabs and Muslims, have been granted to outstanding achievers from virtually all corners of the world.

Articles and Interviews on SUSRIS about and with Prince Turki Al-Faisal