The Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom, Prince Turki Al Faisal embarked on a five-day tour of Wales, accompanied with his wife, Princess Nouf bint Fahd, and delegation from the Kingdom, retracing the footsteps his father, the late King Faisal. Asharq Al Awsat met the Prince during his tour and conducted an extensive interview, in which it sought to find out more about his personality that at times, has been overshadowed by politics.
As usual, the Prince was candid and spontaneous in his answers, especially with regard to which traits he might have inherited from his father, King Faisal. The Prince also spoke about the golden rule he follows in diplomacy which his father taught him. He also revealed details of his personal life and his relationship with his grandson, in addition to discussing the difference between his old role as Head of the Saudi Intelligence and his present position as the Representative of the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, in London.
What follows is the interview conducted with Prince Turki Al Faisal.
Q: Is it true that by visiting Wales, Prince Turki Al Faisal, you are
following in your father”s footsteps, the late current visit to Wales is a return to the past of your father, King Faisal?
A: Yes, definitely! The late King Faisal, when he was still Prince, visited the United Kingdom in 1919 on behalf of his father, King Abdul Aziz, and represented him at the peace conference convened at the end of the Great War. At the time, Britain was the major power in the East and the West coasts of the Arabian Peninsula. On his trip, King Faisal visited Wales, both the Cardiff area and the Snowdonia reserve with its high peaks. He also visited other important Welsh areas such as the Caernarfon Castle, the symbol of the English conquest and the setting for the Investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales.
I wanted to visit Wales to meet some of the inhabitants of the region and get to know it better. I was generously welcomed and kindly received everywhere I went. As the ambassador to Britain, I believe it is important I meet the Kingdom”s citizens, and not just those from the capital as, in many cases, the capital is not representative of the rest of the country. In this visit to Wales, I am able to join practical considerations to memories from the past.
Q: Was the visit of the late King Faisal to Britain his first high level official trip during which he met the British King?
A: Yes! King Faisal visited London and met with the British cabinet when he was only thirteen years of age; it was his first official duty. He later told us how, two years prior, he has participated in a battle with his father, the late King Abdul Aziz. He was only eleven at the time! It seems that young men, at the time, carried large responsibilities from a very young age.
Q: You follow King Faisal in you visit to Wales and in your position as an ambassador of Saudi Arabia. You”ve also embarked on a diplomatic career, like your late father. Do you conform to the methods and rules King Faisal followed in his diplomatic career? Have you adapted his ways to suit the needs of the present age?
A: My late father, King Faisal, was a very skilled diplomat. From his first visit to the United Kingdom, he familiarized himself with contemporary diplomacy, not just the Arab and Islamic ways of conducting ambassadorial affairs. Of course, he learnt a lot from his father, the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz, who according to his son, excelled in matters of state. My late father, King Faisal, always told how hr learned from King Abdul Aziz how to communicate with others, whether Saudis or foreigners.
King Faisal, I remember, used to also distinguish between those who regarded diplomacy as a profession where silence, secrecy, maneuvering, and working behind people”s backs dominated, and the King”s own diplomatic career, reaching his goals and ambitions by always being sincere and truthful. He never lied, deceived anyone, or spoke behind their back, or resorted to dirty tricks. Instead, he was candid with everyone and successfully achieved his aims by being sincere. I believe my late father King Faisal”s behavior is a lesson to all of us, not just in the fields of diplomacy and politics, because sincerity will always win.
Q: Beyond the world of politics, your father, the late King Faisal was known for his linguistic and literary talents, when, for example, the King and the Syrian poet Omar Abu Risha would meet in a social gathering and compose poetry as the evening progressed. Did you inherit any of your father”s talents in this field?
A: Unfortunately not! My siblings are much better at poetry and literature than myself. As you might know, Prince Abdullah Al Fisal and Khaled Al Faisal recite poetry and are both highly creative. Perhaps they”ve taken my share of poetic ability from our late father.
Q: You do read a lot of poetry, don”t you? We”ve heard you quote from
Shakespeare on a few public occasions.
A: (Laughing), I consider reading to be one of the most enjoyable ways to entertain myself. I love to read and don”t restrict myself to a specific genre; I try as much as possible to read about any topic.
Q: This applies to reading in Arabic and in English?
A: Yes, I read in both languages.
Q: We”ve been discussing your diplomatic career. Your former position might have had a diplomatic aspect to it but it is very different from your current job. Can you tell us more about any difference you”ve encountered?
A: To be fair, both lines of work are dramatically different. My work in the intelligence field was covert and restricted to a few men: my superiors in the Kingdom itself, King Fahd, the Crown Prince Abdullah, Prince Sultan and foreign representatives. On the other hand, my work back then was limited to noting facts, reporting them, and making suggestions. I wasn”t responsible for taking actions or for dealing with the public.
As a diplomat, I work under the opposite conditions, almost in the
wilderness; all the work becomes public and available for scrutiny. In my new position, the duties increase because, not only do I have to be held accountable to my superiors, but also, in light of modern communications, the entire world!
I bear a large responsibility because I have to be careful to speak the truth, follow my bosses” instructions and, finally, deliver my message in a comprehensible manner to citizens in the host country. This wasn”t the case in my former line of work.
Q: Is your current work more demanding than your past job in the
A: Some aspects of my former post are still present in the new position as a diplomat. He who works in Intelligence learns to be open with his superiors and himself to avoid any chances of self-deception and to base his opinion on facts. He also learns ways to convey information to the chain of command with the last possible amount of word and time. This type of work demands a total focus on the information and ways to deliver it without outside
interference that might influence your superiors. It is your responsibility to convey the intelligence information in speech or writing to assist your supervisors in making decisions that are free from emotions or any bias. I believe I use a lot of what I”ve learned from Intelligence Services in my current diplomatic work.
Q: A short while ago in our discussion, you mentioned it is necessary for diplomats to communicate and get acquainted with people in the host country. The British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia recently described to Asharq Al Awsat his efforts to improve relations with the Kingdom”s citizens, adding that he asked his hosts to call him "Abu Henri". How are you planning on getting to know the British public better?
A: (Laughing), I”d like to start off by saying that I think the Ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles is one of the most successful UK ambassadors to have worked in Saudi Arabia. He has done a great service to both countries which goes beyond the short time he”s spent in the Kingdom.
On a personal level, like other Saudis, I have nee raised on the value of modesty and the avoidance of selfishness and pride in our relationships with others. In addition, we were told that as a believer you should always feel secure because your confidence is built on your faith. Therefore, the relationship between anyone raised in Saudi Arabia and anyone else, no matter from which country, is always characterized by two traits: modesty and faith in God which builds self-confidence. I find it is easier to deal with other people if these two characteristic s are present. This why, I thank God; I have not faced any negative reactions from the British people. On the contrary, they have been warm and welcoming hosts.
Q: How do you spend your free time in London?
A: To be honest, I don”t have much free time. In the two years and few months that I”ve spent in London so far, leisure time has been rather limited. I am always one call, even on official holidays and weekends, and always seem to find ways to be busy. As I”ve mentioned before, I do love reading. Just like many others, I”ve been hit by the television bug and have become addicted to all sorts of programs, from the news to entertainment shows. If I”m not reading or watching television, I like to walk around London.
Q: The internet must occupy some of your time. Is it true that your grandson taught you how to use the worldwide web in one evening?
A: (Laughing), I wish I could claim that I know about the Internet. In fact, it”s still a mysterious creation. If I need to access information, I ask my sons and daughters. As the Ambassador, I”m grateful that I can always rely on someone to help at the office.
Q: Can you tell us more about your grandson? Is sounds as if you have an
informal relationship with him?
A: I think this informality is a characteristic of the grandfather-grandson relationship. My grandson is four years old and he”s recently enrolled in a school in London. I always call him "Sultan al bayt" (sovereign of the house) because he rules with absolute freedom. He control everyone; me, his grandmother, and his mother. (Laughing), I am always asked my by sons and daughters why I allow him such autonomy but not them when they were of a similar age. My answer is that when they will have grandchildren of their own, they will do the same!