It is my distinct pleasure to introduce a friend, a colleague, an acquaintance, but also someone who I have admired from afar. I had the great privilege and pleasure to meet his late father, peace be upon him, in 1966. In introducing him, we think in terms of lots of individuals in this room, regarding themselves as bridges for understanding, bridges to another culture, bridges from another culture to here, but it is seldom that we have someone who is at both ends of the bridge and in himself, the bridge.
Prince Turki was born on the day after Valentine’s Day in 1945. That was not just any day. This was the day after the historic meeting between Prince Turki’s grandfather and America’s then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And they met in the Great Bitter Lake in the Suez Canal. The USS Quincy and the USS Murphy still have survivors who recall that historic event. We have several individuals here who are related to the late Colonel William Eddy, who was the translator for the exchanges between President Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz. And King Abdulaziz of course was pushing and conveying his country’s and people’s interests, especially in terms of matters of justice related to Palestine, and noting that this enormous, human, unprecedented atrocity that had been inflicted upon Jews in Europe, that that wrong to be rightly reversed for justice to be obtained, should be obtained where the crime was committed, not elsewhere, at the expense of someone else, and other people, who had nothing whatsoever, with the crime. And whereas President Roosevelt was trying to push the case of those in support of the Zionist project got nowhere. Subsequently he said, I have learned more from that man in five minutes than I have learned in an entire life of studying this issue, having been Governor of New York and Secretary of the Navy. So it is from this stock that this individual comes and has been enmeshed in these and related issues that are at once strategic, economic, political, commercial, defense, people to people, and also laden with justice and notions of elemental equity.
Prince Turki received much of his undergraduate preparatory education in his homeland in Saudi Arabia and in preparatory work at Lawrenceville Academy in New Jersey and also pursued studies at Georgetown University.
He became the Kingdom’s Director General of Foreign Intelligence in 1975 and remained in that position until resigning and shortly thereafter becoming Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the Court of Saint James and Great Britain, and from there to becoming Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States. He’s returned to the Kingdom and has been succeeded by Adel Ahmed Al-Jubeir who we will see at this conference, and has taken over the chairmanship of the King Faisal Foundation for Islamic Studies and Research. And for those of you who are unaware of this foundation it was established and endowed in the memory and in the life and in the example of his father who was an outsized influence on the generation that is comprised of his peers and those who came after. It is in that capacity that he is still pursuing the strategic objectives of his country that go beyond national issues, go beyond bilateral issues, go beyond regional issues, and indeed include global issues.
Please join me in welcoming His Royal Highness Prince Turki Al-Faisal.
Ladies and gentlemen.
Peace be upon you. I asked Dr. Anthony if I may celebrate the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s birthday with you; being the gracious host that he is, he agreed. After all the laudatory words he used for me, I will refrain likewise to him. But thank you all who made this day.
According to the Gregorian calendar, this year marks the eightieth anniversary of the birth of the third Saudi state. The first Saudi state succeeded in unifying all of the Arabian Peninsula and lasted from 1743 to 1818, when the Ottoman armies led by Muhammad Ali, the Ottoman governor of Egypt, and his son, Ibrahim Pasha crushed it and literally razed its capital, al Dir’iyyah, to the ground.
It began as a Unitarian reform movement that stressed the oneness of God and the purity of Islamic practices from the idolatrous practices that had accrued over the centuries, like the veneration of individual imams, the worship of inanimate subjects, like trees and even rocks. It also came with the intent at unification of the disparate tribes and city-states that dotted the Arabian Peninsula at that time.
The second state, whose capital became Riyadh, emerged in 1822 and fell in 1890 because of divisions within the Al Saud leadership.
The present state, which carries the same reformist ideals of the first Saudi state, is the work of the late King AbdulAziz and a few stalwart brothers, cousins and friends, numbering exactly sixty men. In January 1902, on a cold desert night, twenty of them breached the wall of Riyadh and, at dawn, surprised the enemy governor of the city and his garrison by rushing them as they emerged from the Masmak fortress in the middle of the town.
With the taking of Riyadh, AbdulAziz and his companions began the adventure of what is, today, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is a thrilling narrative of ambitious beginnings, incessant obstacles, amazing triumphs, and all the ups and downs of living in a world where the scourges of scarcity, the phobias of prejudice, and, far too often, the desperation of violence win the day. The sixty heroes of this auspicious beginning have all passed into history.
Imagine the setting: a barren desert on a large peninsula streaked by strong winds and scorching heat. Raiding tribes on camels pass in the night, never staying in one place too long, their swords glinting against the fires. It is a place of conflict, of thieves, of honor, of survival against all odds. There are towns scattered across the arid waste, but there is little love between them. Commerce, yes, but allegiance, barely. Surrounding this savage setting is an area of intense conflict. Nations come and go. International powers vie for control. War, espionage, and sectarian strife are the norm. There is little stability to be found.
It is into this setting that the Saudi state enters the picture. The year is 1932. Though the Saudi state began in existence 1902, the year 1932 is a pivotal year in its life, because it is in this year that it comes of age and discards its separate identities of the Sultanate of Nejd and its Dependencies and the Kingdom of the Hijaz to become the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. During the next twenty-one years, the Kingdom begins the constitutional and institutional evolution into nascent nation state.
With the death of the founder King AbdulAziz in 1953, the Kingdom enters the turbulent years of Arab nationalism and then socialism. The Soviet Union takes advantage of the Arab-Israeli conflict to spread its ideology and influence and succeeds with varying degrees from North Africa to the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Gulf. Revolution, mostly devised and executed by military officers, spreads like fire in many Arab countries. The call for revolt rebounds wherever nationalist fervor or political ambition grew.
The Kingdom, however, remains steadfast in its political direction: using the growing oil revenues to expand its economic base and provide its citizens with a better standard of living, seeking Arab unity in the face of Israeli expansion and Western allies to combat communism. With the debacles of 1948 and 1967, and with the growing confidence of maintaining stability and economic growth, the Kingdom began, in 1972, to talk about purchasing shares in ARAMCO, the oil company that was then owned entirely by four American oil companies. The vogue in other countries was to nationalize foreign owned enterprises, but the Kingdom chose not to abrogate previous contractual agreements but to enter into partnership with the foreign owners. On the heels of these talks came the 1973 Ramadan War, which thrust the Kingdom to the fore in international diplomacy. The oil embargo complimented the initial victories of Arab armies in breaching the much vaunted as impregnable Israeli Bar Lev Line on the Suez Canal and positions on the Israeli occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
Saudi Arabia literally became the Makkah for heads of state from all over the world seeking favor and soliciting economic support. These were heady times for Saudis and although wealth is a wonderful thing where there are jewels, there usually are thieves, and beggars, and charlatans, and religious charities, and envy, and financiers, and all the many complexities that come with abundance.
We were riding high but our adventure was to be buffeted by storms. The Lebanese civil war erupted in 1975. The Iranian revolution brought a stridently provocative leadership that declared it will spread its brand of theocratic zealotry to all Muslim countries. The attack on the Holy Mosque in Makkah followed. The Camp David accords, while bringing peace between Egypt and Israel, they also brought disunity among Arab states. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was unleashed; and the Iran-Iraq war erupted. The Israelis invaded Lebanon, killing more than fifty thousand civilians, Lebanese and Palestinians. There was bloodshed and mayhem while the Saudi state navigated these turbulent seas with extreme care and adroit diplomacy.
Having succeeded in unifying most of the Arabian Peninsula, and facing all of these conflicts around it, the Kingdom strove to put flesh on the skeleton of this unity. Economic development exemplified the Saudi state’s efforts to override tribal and regional identity and forge a national identity and become fully modern. From 1932 onwards, cities, schools, factories, refineries, shipping ports, airports, highways, charitable organizations, telecommunications networks, housing, stadiums, monuments, hospitals, shopping malls, security services, an army, an air force, a navy, a diplomatic corps, a stock market, etc., had to be built from scratch – all the stuff that makes one a member of the coveted “first world.”
But how do you build a modern state when you have to maintain your identity, the ideals of your faith, and the commitment to your heritage? The land on which the Saudi state was born was the birthplace of a global religion called Islam. Its prophet was born there. Its holiest sites are there. Its people pilgrimage there every year. It is the center of the Muslim world, a beacon of righteousness and devotion, a holy and sacred place that must hold itself above the fray of the mundane world and exist in the difficult position of religious role model.
At the beginning, there was high illiteracy, very few roads, and a serious lack of technology. There was also another problem. Many of the people simply didn’t want to become modern. They liked their old ways, and mistrusted the new. They didn’t see a need for all that new-fangled business. They were quite happy riding camels and raiding each other. So, when the state shouted, “But you need hospitals so you can heal your sick! And you need schools so you can educate your children! And you need infrastructure so you can bring goods to market!” They shot back, “We like our life as it is.”
And in many ways, this obstacle of the people not wanting to become modern is linked very closely to the obstacle that faces the ambition to maintain the land as the beacon of Islam. There are many around who frankly state that they see so-called modernity as completely antithetical to Islam. With modernity come things like women being educated, foreigners walking on the holy soil, and technologies that are not only sinful in their view, but they bring forbidden thoughts and images into the minds of the believers. In essence, there is a great deal of division about exactly how the Kingdom should relate to the role of caregiver to this holy land, and that division is a major obstacle that must be overcome.
The challenge that the Kingdom faces today is the perennial one of how to reconcile the seemingly contradictory forces for reform and development with the traditional status quo beneficiaries seeing all innovation as a threat to identity and well-being. After all, the Kingdom has carried the banner of Islam since its inception. The Kingdom’s devotion to its role as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques is well attested. The expansions of the holy sites has allowed for the increase in the number of pilgrims where today, Thursday, on this date, on the Mount of Arafat, the pinnacle of the Haj, more than three million Muslims are standing shoulder to shoulder, praying together, and asking God’s forgiveness for the sins they have committed. More than thirty thousand of them are from this country.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s leading donor to Islamic charities, and it is looked up to from all corners of the Muslim world as a source of development, moral guidance, and inspiration. Further, because the land is so holy to so many people, the Kingdom’s commitment to Islam cannot be overstated nor underestimated. Muslims come from all over the world. And their relations with non-Muslims must remain balanced and friendly. The King Abdullah Center for Inter Religions and Inter Cultural Dialogue has been established in Vienna in order to serve that purpose.
In 1992, and coming out of the stunningly shocking Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia embarked on a forward looking reform plan that aimed at building on top of the already established base of the Unitarian and unification reforms begun under the first Saudi state and clearly adhered to and proclaimed by the present state. The Basic Law of governance was reaffirmed as being based on the Holy Quran and the Sunnah practices of the Prophet Muhammad, prayers and peace are on him. The independence of the judiciary was declared; the reestablishment of the Shura Consultative Council was announced, as well as the designation of the line of succession to the post of King.
Subsequent reforms have included the opening up of all job opportunities to women, including membership in the Consultative Council and enfranchisement in the electoral system as voters and candidates for election; the overhauling of education, from teacher evaluation, to curricula, to ratios of teachers to students, to emphasizing science and math and job skills, to coeducation at the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology, and to the largest women’s university, the Princess Nourah bint AbdulRahman University.
The National Dialogue was instituted as a platform for citizens to debate issues ranging from women’s rights, to terrorism, to religious speech, to youth welfare, to unemployment, etcetera. The Dialogue, each year, moves from village to village, from town to town, until it reaches its highest levels in a designated city where the participants congregate to formulate their recommendations to the King.
With the growing revenues coming from oil sales, the Saudi state expanded its economic base by establishing what has become the largest stock market in the Middle East. Banking, manufacturing, services, tourism, agro-industry, all business activity, is now sold and bought as shares on the stock market. Government programs to encourage employment and incentivize training of young Saudis are well in hand; including unemployment benefits tied to enrollment in training. By the end of this year, the Saudi state will have a $600 billion economy making for the largest economy in the Middle East North Africa region. It is the world’s largest producer and exporter of petroleum, holds the world’s third largest foreign reserves base at about $750 billion, and is among the ten largest trading states in the world, consolidating its emerging pivotal standing within the G-20 grouping.
While the state-owned oil industry remains the bread and butter, over 60 companies, among them the large enterprises that make up the bulk of the Saudi economy in industry, agriculture and social services, are either totally or partially state-owned. The State has worked hard over the last few decades to diversify and open most sectors of the economy to the domestic private sector and foreign investors, so that around 45% of GDP comes from private investments. In fact, the long-term official objectives of the state over the last four decades have been to diversify the economy, reduce the Kingdom’s dependence on oil revenue, build up its infrastructure, maintain stable prices and promote sufficient economic growth to ensure the provision of satisfactory employment.
Another aspect of modernity is infrastructure. Massive infrastructure layouts have been made since the Kingdom came into the world, in hospitals, schools, railroads, ports, highways, airports, desalination plants, industrial cities, refineries and production facilities, and telecommunications. This diversification has come about as a result of the government fostering a business leadership which is largely autonomous, that frequently presses for an economic system characterized by transparency and lack of corruption, hence the anti-corruption commission which is empowered to investigate any complaints from the public about corrupt officials or institutions, with an independent judicial system giving effect to clearly defined regulations. In short, the government has a strong active presence in the economic sphere, yet its pattern over time shows varying economic efforts aimed at decentralizing, diversifying, modernizing, investing, and privatizing state corporations in order to achieve economic vitality and self-sustaining growth.
Given the warfare and strife that was common for the Arabian Peninsula and is, now, spread all over the neighborhood, the Kingdom has had the rather huge task of securing its society and borders. The Kingdom has built up a sophisticated internal security system centered on preserving peace inside its borders. This system is comprised of the Saudi Arabian National Guard, as well as various internal security services in the Ministry of Interior, such as the recently created Facilities Security Force meant to protect the Kingdom’s network of oil installations and other critical infrastructure.
The State has also been active in addressing external security concerns through strategic relations with other nations, collective security within the GCC, the management of regional relations through diplomacy, the pursuit of a regional balance of power, and the purchase and deployment of advanced military weaponry. So, if part of modernizing is being able to secure one’s society against internal and external threats, the Kingdom has achieved part of its ambition toward becoming modern.
I conclude, ladies and gentlemen, by asking the following question, and perhaps giving some answers: How has the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia done for its people?
My answer is that the Kingdom is still a work in progress. Have we achieved “first world” status? Not yet. But our rankings are rising higher every year on any scale. Are we, as Saudis satisfied with our lot? No. We always aim higher and want to be better. Have we slain our demons? Not all of them. We are still cleaning up after the horrendous crimes committed on September 11th, 2001. Are we reforming at a snail’s pace, as even some of our well-wishers claim? Those who don’t wish us well claim that our reforms are too quick and must be stopped.
Are we contributing to the welfare of humanity? We are, but we want to contribute more. Are we content in our relationship with this country? Yes and no. We are entrusting more than seventy thousand of our youngsters to your universities to show our confidence in your educational system.
We also differ with you on Palestine and wish that you would adopt the Abdullah Peace Initiative and that you are more evenhanded in promoting what is a declared policy of your government: a viable and contiguous Palestinian state. By this time, next year, I look forward to seeing the President of the Free State of Palestine delivering the keynote speech on this rostrum.
God bless you.
[John Duke Anthony] We want to thank Prince Turki for these enlightening, educational remarks and the specificity of detail of challenge and accomplishment that often go unreported in what passes as mass media, or conventional wisdom, or established thought, or informed opinion. This was a broad-brush stroke over a wide canvas touching on everything from domestic to external and ending on quite a challenging note in theme and aspiration.