New ambassador on the quads


On a "listening tour" of America, new Saudi ambassador Prince Turki Al-Faisal on Friday visited campus, giving a lecture and answering questions as a guest of the Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies. "I spent 30 years of my life in the intelligence business, without speaking to anybody," the 60-year-old told his Breasted Hall audience of students, staff, and faculty, "so you can imagine how grateful I am to be able to talk to you all today." In his first 100 days as Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, following the 22-year term of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Al-Faisal has traveled to Texas, Arizona, California, Washington State, Michigan, Kansas, Georgia, and Illinois—with more trips to come this summer. The Americans he's met, said Al-Faisal, who studied at Georgetown University in the 1960s, have been "open and curious" about Saudi Arabian people and culture.

Although "right now government relations between our families are very strong," he said, last November the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing called "Saudi Arabia: Friend or Foe in the War on Terror?" "I felt that was an insult," Al-Faisal said. For 60 years "we have always seen ourselves as friends of the United States." After the hearing he spoke with committee chair Arlen Specter about the committee's concerns.

After a few more observations Al-Faisal answered questions. On his country's attempts to create jobs for the poor, he said, the recent economic boom and reforms, along with education investments, have helped. Literacy, meanwhile, has increased from 7 percent 50 years ago to 85 percent today. Women in particular have made strides, he said, and today more women graduate from universities than men.

On whether his country sponsors terrorism, Al-Faisal detailed his own attempts, as head of intelligence, to detain Osama bin Laden and called Saudi Arabia a "victim of that terrorism even before the U.S." When asked his views of America's efforts to bring democracy to the Middle East, he responded, "In our view reform and political development should be driven by the wishes of the people themselves." Imposing a system, he said, only creates a backlash.

Photo: Prince Turki Al-Faisal speaks at the OI.

Photo by Dan Dry.

April 24, 2006