Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- Saudi Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz received Asharq Al-Awsat at his Jeddah palace on the Red Sea coast, where he was already preparing to leave for Mecca to be at the head of the official delegation that will receive The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz. The Saudi leadership takes care to view at close quarters the progress of the hajj season and to ensure proper services for the guests of God’s Inviolable House.
Sitting in his private office, the Saudi crown prince discussed numerous issues of current interest including Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran. When discussing each of these issues, he asserted that the Saudi king and the rest of the country’s leadership are concerned about maintaining the Arab and Islamic world’s unity and to guarantee its security and its citizens’ wellbeing. He emphasized the need to prevent any meddling in the Arab world’s internal affairs and enshrine respect for the legal process, to which all parties should take recourse.
The crown prince stressed that the region cannot tolerate any wars or military interventions and voiced hope that dialogue will become the prevailing method of settling disputes.
When the talk turned to Gulf issues and domestic affairs, Prince Sultan was clear about the need to organize the Gulf region’s affairs for the good of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) citizens and the region’s stability.
Discussing domestic affairs, the crown prince affirmed that the Saudi citizens’ welfare is King Abdullah’s major preoccupation.
The interview lasted long and touched on many subjects. His smile never left his face throughout the meeting. During our talk, he underlined the media’s importance. He also spoke long about judicial and court affairs and the “strategy of balanced development,” about which he had much to say. He also discussed education, security, and the “strategy of combating unemployment.” The interview touched on the subject of privatizing the Saudi Airlines and also the diversification of the sources of the Saudi armed forces’ arms purchases.
The Following is the full text of the interview:
Q) Your Highness, the Crown Prince. The US administration is making numerous proposals about a “reassessment” of its Iraq operation, specifically in its security and military aspects. President Bush has mentioned a new strategy and referred to the ideas mentioned in the Baker-Hamilton report on ways of solving the Iraqi crisis and facilitating the departure of US forces. What is your position on the issue of partition and federalism in Iraq?
(A) It pains us to see the bloodshed and loss of life in Iraq and the destruction that has affected everything and ruined the lives of many men and women. The events in Iraq constitute a major human tragedy in which the wheel of destruction does not stop and where no laws, conventions, logic, or humanitarian considerations are respected. These scenes, which have been repeated for over three years now, have caused us a lot of pain here in Saudi Arabia and indeed in the entire Arab, Islamic world.
Saudi Arabia’s policy vis-à-vis what is happening in fraternal Iraq proceeds from our sense of Arab responsibility and Islamic duty to preserve the Iraqi people’s lives and their country’s territorial integrity. We have consistently warned against the calls to partition Iraq and we continue to do so now. These calls are occasionally made under the pretext of safeguarding the various sects’ rights, the minorities’ freedoms, and other allegations motivated by the wish to fragment the country and exploit ethnic and sectarian divisions.
This partition mentality is not new to the region. Every now and then it sticks out its head and has one single motive, namely, to put pressure on the Arab, Islamic nation and try to bargain with it over its legitimate rights and historical responsibilities. Here in Saudi Arabia we are seeking, through the custodian of the two holy mosques’ repeated appeals to the Iraqi brothers, to urge them to use their minds and end their infighting, which might lead to partition, God forbid. The kingdom is making continuous efforts through the GCC, the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the United Nations to assert its sincere wish to put an end to the Iraqi crisis.
(Q) Your highness, what ways of emerging from the Iraqi crisis do you see?
(A) Adding to what I said in my previous answer, several factors have contributed to the deterioration of the security and political situation in Iraq. We urge some neighboring countries to cooperate in a way that will really serve the interests of Iraq and its people. Good intentions and a sincere effort to stop all forms of backing to the various sects and streams in Iraq would be the first step in the right direction. It is not right to use Iraq as a bargaining chip to achieve political objectives. Furthermore the coalition forces should take another look at the reasons for their presence in that country and the strategy of their continued stay. We need to ask this question: What have these forces achieved since they entered Iraq? Has the strategy according to which these forces operate achieved any positive result? Are there any alternative strategies that one could think of in light of the deteriorating situation in Iraq?
On another side the political establishments in Iraq should begin a comprehensive national dialogue under a national umbrella that will include all the Iraqi forces and institutions. They should talk frankly and lay everything open on the table to find a way to build a future for Iraq, ensure its people’s prosperity, and lay the foundations of a new Iraq on the basis of the common factors that bring all segments of the population together. They should put the interests of ordinary Iraqis before any sectarian, partisan, or ethnic considerations.
To ensure that these efforts succeed in emerging from the current impasse, I call on the media inside and outside Iraq to side by the Iraqi citizens and avoid exaggeration, sensationalism, and the dispersal of ranks. The way in which the media cover the events is the target of terrorist organizations and cells. This causes the media to become part of the cycle of violence and a party to the crisis.
(Q) Your Highness, some observers have criticized Saudi Arabia for being tardy in throwing its weight behind solving the Iraqi crisis, especially as the kingdom possesses political influence on the Arab, Islamic, and international scenes. What is your opinion?
(A) The Saudi stance has been clear right from the start. It asserted the need to maintain Iraq’s security, stability, and independence, the preservation of its population’s unity, and its territorial integrity. On more than one occasion the kingdom warned against the dangers of foreign meddling in Iraq’s domestic affairs. Hence on the grounds that the kingdom opposes foreign intervention, it will not interfere in Iraq’s affairs and will leave it to its own inhabitants to find ways of extricating themselves from the crisis in which they live. The kingdom welcomes every effort that is made towards this end. We hosted more than one meeting to promote the unification of Iraqi ranks, the most recent of which was the meeting in holy Mecca in Ramadan, which produced the Mecca Declaration. This strengthens the chances of dialogue among the various Iraqi factions and can bring their positions closer together.
Additionally the custodian of the two holy mosques met with the representatives of the various parties that sought to carry out reconciliation in Iraq. His attitude expressed the Saudi leadership’s position and its wish to save Iraq from the consequences of the crushing crisis through which it is passing. We pray to God to preserve Iraq and its people and stop the calamitous cycle of destruction, manipulation, and chaos that sap the Iraqi people’s energies and squander their resources.
(Q) Your Highness, Saudi Arabia has given generous aid to the Lebanese people and government after the recent war. Nevertheless, its positive attitudes were met by apparently non-positive reactions from some Lebanese parties on the grounds that the kingdom cautioned at the beginning of that war against any “miscalculated adventures.” Do you think that the Saudi warning was in its place?
(A) Saudi-Lebanese relations are longstanding and cannot be affected by the stances of grudge-bearing people who cast doubts on our positions. Ever since Lebanon gained its independence the kingdom has consistently adopted a stance of brotherhood and friendship to fraternal Lebanon in all circumstances and at all times. The kingdom’s backing and aid to Lebanon continued throughout out the civil war that swept through that country. Its efforts were crowned by halting the Lebanese bloodshed at Al-Taif accord, which produced an agreement that has since constituted a pivotal political term of reference to all the Lebanese.
However, we fear that some events in Lebanon will constitute dangerous turning points that will threaten its security and its political and economic stability. This is what the custodian of the two holy mosques feared when he stressed the need for unity and recourse to the same political term of reference in Lebanon. Lebanon has received all forms of backing and aid from the kingdom during the sinful Israeli attack on it that included killings, destruction, an organized demolition of its infrastructure, and an intentional displacement of its citizens. The kingdom led the international efforts to rebuild Lebanon by extending political and economic assistance, both on the popular and official levels, to enable Lebanon to emerge from the circumstance in which it found itself.
We hope that all the Lebanese parties will sincerely unite their efforts to surmount the current crisis and restore their country’s stability and economic growth and enable its noble people to play their desired economic, cultural, and political role on the Arab and international scenes.
I seize this opportunity to call on our Lebanese brothers to exercise self-restraint, conduct a sober dialogue, and allow wisdom to prevail over emotion, unite their ranks, and take recourse only to their legitimate constitutional establishments.
(Q) Your Highness, regarding Saudi-Syrian relations, an observer might best describe them, if you will allow me to say so, as “lukewarm,” particularly in the wake of the Syrian president’s recent remarks. What is your comment on this observation? What advice does Saudi Arabia have to give Syria especially as the deadline for the international tribunal that will examine Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri’s assassination draws near and in light of the escalating accusations to Syria that it meddles in Lebanon’s internal affairs and also in Iraq’s affairs?
(A) Relations between the Saudi and Syrian people and governments are strong and historical. Syria is a fraternal Arab country. The recent successive crises in the Arab region make it necessary for us all to stand together and unite our views to spare the region further problems and wars. What some media call “Lukewarm” is merely a reflection of some news analyses that are based on unsound foundations. These analyses divide the Arab countries into different alliances and axes. We, in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and also other Arabs oppose the policy of forming different axes. We constantly seek to bolster the unity of Arab ranks in order to regain the legitimate Arab rights.
(Q) Your Highness, what is your assessment of Saudi Arabia’s current relationship with Iran in light of the developments pertaining to Iran’s nuclear program and its effects on the Gulf region, especially as your highness’s stance consistently calls for a region free of all weapons of mass destruction. We are keeping in mind the “Jabir summit’s” declaration that established the GCC countries’ right to acquire expertise in the sphere of using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
(A) The Saudi position is very clear on this issue. We constantly call for keeping the Middle East free from all weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. We know that Israel possesses a nuclear arsenal. The international community should take action to rid the region of this arsenal and protect it from nuclear weapons in the context of a comprehensive plan for lasting peace by which all countries can join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Regarding Iran’s nuclear file, we are always in favor of solving disputes by peaceful methods and we urge respect for international legitimacy in this regard. Regarding what you mentioned about the “Jabir summit’s” declaration, this issue is still under study. The aim is to produce a collective nuclear technology program among the GCC countries for peaceful uses. We will observe all international standards and regulations in this respect.
(Q) Your Highness, do you agree that the GCC needs reassessment in light of the current regional and international changes and to fulfill the wishes of the Gulf region’s inhabitants?
(A) Our ability to continue collective Gulf action for more than 25 years in the face of all the regional and international developments that have occurred is the best demonstration of the GCC’s importance and its success in achieving its beneficial aims. The GCC countries have demonstrated their interest in continuing the policy of cooperation and developing their collective action. May God be praised, we have attained an advanced stage of coordination and cooperation in various spheres. What we hope to achieve in the near future, God willing, is to complete the system of integration among the member countries’ institutions and allow the citizens to participate in cooperative programs so that they can feel their effect on their daily lives.
(Q) Crown Prince, what are your impressions regarding the 27 th GCC summit, the Jabir summit, which was recently held in Riyadh and the results that the Gulf leaders achieved.
(A) As I pointed out in an earlier answer, the GCC has survived, has become stronger, and has forged closer ties among the Gulf region’s leaders and populations. During the Sheikh Jabir al-Ahmad al-Sabah’s summit, may he rest in peace, our collective work developed further towards our goal of economic integration in various areas including the customs union, the Gulf common market, and the currency union. We also succeeded in facilitating the movement of people and goods among the member countries and investment ventures. Put briefly, the summit attempted to entrench the concept of a GCC citizenship and treat the region’s citizens in exactly the same way.
The summit also paid due attention to other issues including the protection of the maritime environment against pollution, integrated health care among the member countries, the full development of education, and completing the unified civil procedures system. Here, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we are happy that the summit adopted the custodian of the two holy mosques’ proposal to develop the Peninsula Shield military force and increase its effectiveness. The necessary feasibility studies will be carried out soon for this purpose. All these are significant achievements and promising indications that collective Gulf action is proceeding well on the path of integration in all areas, God willing.
(Q) Speaking of GCC issues, how does Your Highness assess the cooperation between the GCC countries and the Republic of Yemen?
(A) Many positive developments have occurred in the areas of cooperation between the GCC countries and fraternal Yemen. Perhaps you remember that during the donor countries conference that was held under GCC sponsorship in London in the month of Shawwal the GCC countries succeeded in mobilizing support to meet fraternal Yemen’s needs and to strengthen partnership with it. Yemen was also admitted to several GCC institutions. This proves our interest in the major role that fraternal Yemen plays in the Arab region.
Q: Your Highness, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz recently ordered the establishment of the Allegiance Commission System. It came as a surprise to many observers because it introduced many new articles pertaining to the transfer of power in the country. What were the motives for the issuance of this new system? Why at this time?
A: As you indicated in your question, the order to establish the Allegiance Commission System came as a surprise to many observers of Saudi affairs. However, it was not a surprise to us within Saudi Arabia because we are aware of the King’s reformative thinking. We know that he works hard to ensure the security and stability of this country and to serve its citizens at all times.
Q: Your Highness, do you agree that this new system will lead Saudi Arabia to a more secure stage of constitutional stability? Are we on the verge of witnessing the enactment of other major laws soon, for example, turning the Shura Council into a partially or even fully elected body?
Q: In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia our constitution is the holy Quran and the Prophet’s Sunnah. The Quran consists of God’s own words to which we have always adhered and by the grace of which we never became divided and as a result we became brothers. The system of rule is based on this constitution. All these initiatives are part of the comprehensive process of reform that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah, pursues in all spheres of public life. The wheel of reform that he put in motion (may God preserve him), is still turning and advancing. Hence many of the ideas that the citizens carry in their minds or that the media circulate are among the ideas and subjects that he is trying to implement gradually and in accordance with specific timetables and in a way that does not clash with the firm principles of our society and religion but will rather serve the homeland and the interest of the citizens.
Q: You Highness, Saudi Arabia recently sought to diversify the sources of its weapons. Has this policy proven to be effective?
A: Diversifying the sources of our weapons is a policy that Saudi Arabia pursues. It is one of the strategies involved in building up and arming the Saudi armed forces. This strategy is based on three foundations. First: We do not wish to rely on one source to arm ourselves. Second: We always seek to acquire the most sophisticated weapons that are suitable for our armed forces. Third: We need to acquire certain technologies and adapt them for domestic uses. Purchasing weapons from different sources allows us to do that.
Q: How far has the process of privatizing the Saudi Airlines reached?
A: Thanks to God, the stages of the strategic project of privatizing the Saudi Airlines are proceeding in accordance with scientific principles in which several international consultant firms have taken part. Currently, work is taking place to complete specific stages of this project. The starting point is to restructure the entire company by turning the non-essential parts into separate units and separating them from the organization while the privatization process continues. We can then transform them into various companies and transfer the establishment into a holding company.
We have actually begun the process by announcing our plans to privatize the supply sector and we are trying to attract strategic partners and investors to form a new supply company. Efforts are underway to choose a suitable strategic partner. This will be completed in the next few months. God willing, we will complete the procedures needed to privatize the other sectors in 2007, including the sectors of ground services, freight, and technical services. In the context of the privatization effort, we will complete the process of equipping the Prince Sultan Aviation Academy until it becomes a global center for training pilots to fly all kinds of aircraft. The academy will also train maintenance technicians and engineers to cover the needs of the job market in the kingdom. This service will also be offered to other airlines.
Regarding the basic aviation unit, efforts are underway to complete its privatization by identifying the appropriate strategic goals that will ensure its continued development. It will be modernized and will become capable of training homegrown technical employees. The strategy includes programs that will be satisfactory to all passengers including citizens, residents, and visitors to this noble country.
The last stage of the privatization project is to make a percentage of the shares of all the related companies available on the market for citizens to buy. This will be done in the context of the state’s policy of establishing partnership between the citizens and government-owned companies.
Q: Your Highness, I am aware of your wish to maintain transparency in all subjects, regardless of the degree of their sensitivity. In this respect, allow me to raise the following subject. According to some sources, foreign investments in Saudi Arabia suffer from bureaucracy. What is your opinion on this matter and on the size of foreign investments in the country especially after Saudi Arabia’s accession to the World Trade Organization?
A: First of all, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques has given clear instructions to officials to deal with all subjects that affect the homeland and the welfare of the citizens in a transparent manner. We have clear instructions to deal transparently with foreign investors who need guarantees for their investments. The government has begun to facilitate procedures and eliminate bureaucratic hurdles in order to attract foreign investors to take part in the country’s development. The government’s strategy in this area is working well.
Perhaps one of the most important aims of the General Investment Authority is to reduce administrative procedures that limit foreign investments. The country’s economic departments in charge of overseeing investments constantly revise investment regulations to eliminate any new obstacles that stand in the way of foreign investors. Regarding the size of these investments, the group of major economic cities that King Abdullah recently inaugurated and other ventures are a true reflection of the magnitude of the expected investments.
Q: Your Highness, regarding the education sector, you recently spoke about the need to develop the curricula and benefit from the experiences of other countries. How far how these new steps reached?
Q: The achievements of the past few decades are proof of the great advance that the education sector has made. Currently we have approximately 6 million male and female students and more than 30,000 schools. We have over 20 state and private universities and hundreds of science colleges, practical science and technical schools, military academies, and vocational colleges in various parts of the kingdom. Introducing schools and colleges in every part of the kingdom has always been a pressing development project for all citizens to gain sufficient knowledge and training to participate in the country’s overall development process.
Building on these achievements, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques wishes to ensure that education is available to every citizen in every remote corner of the country. Current and future efforts will focus on the quality of education and on providing excellent curricula while benefiting from the experiences of other countries. More scholarships are being made available for Saudi students to study abroad.
To achieve these aims and to advance the quality of education, large amounts have been allocated in this year’s budget, as demonstrated by recently released budget figures. The focus of this year’s national dialogue will be means of developing education. We will use the recommendations made by a select group of Saudi specialists and experts to develop our curricula.
Q: Your Highness, Saudi Arabia has taken major steps in combating terrorism and the security services have attained significant achievements. According to some people, this security effort has not been accompanied by a proportionate ideological effort, meaning, in the cultural, educational, and media spheres. What is your opinion on this?
A: We are proud of what our security services have done so far in combating terrorism. We thank God that He has given our security forces success in detecting and pursuing terrorist cells that seek to create chaos, spread evil, terrorize peaceful citizens, and sabotage our national and civilized achievements. At the same time we know that terrorism is not merely a person who kills others or an explosive-laden vehicle. We know that terrorism consists of a misguided ideology that seeks to mislead others; it is a deviating culture and disturbed behavior. For this reason all educational, cultural, social, and media establishments should cooperate with the security services to combat this evil phenomenon and bury its behavioral manifestations.
The international community should make concerted efforts to implement the resolutions adopted by the Riyadh Counter Terrorism International Conference. It should help to establish the international center that King Abdullah called for in order to contain the global spread of this misguided ideology as we have done here within the kingdom.
I would like to commend the cooperation between the GCC countries in this respect and the resolutions that the Jabir Summit adopted. It formed a permanent antiterrorism committee. All these efforts will help to eradicate this misguided ideology, God willing.
Q: Your Highness, according to reports, a new judicial system will be instituted in Saudi Arabia soon that will take into account the expansion and development of Saudi society. This is especially important in view of the old demands made by some Shariaa scholars to “codify” Shariaa teachings. There is also the question of creating special courts. How far has the process of developing the country’s judiciary gone?
A: As you well know, the judicial sector has gained the state’s attention and sponsorship since the days of the founder King Abdulaziz, may he rest in peace. The Presidency of the Judiciary was established in 1355 Hijri (1936). The leaders of this blessed country have always sought to strengthen and develop the judicial system. It is also well known that the magnitude of the kingdom’s development in all spheres requires an enlightened review of all its existing laws in order to keep up with the new conditions and at the same time remain within the bounds of Islamic Shariah.
To continue the country’s focus on developing the judicial system and all related bodies, The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, may God preserve him, gave instructions to the Ministerial Committee for Administrative Organization, which I am honored to chair, to study ways of developing the judicial system.
Following a thorough examination of this sector and all its relevant bodies, including the judicial system and the grievances department, the committee submitted comprehensive recommendations to the King. He gave his approval to all the organizational arrangements pertaining to the courts and the settlement of disputes. God willing, we will soon complete the necessary procedures to implement these arrangements. We hope that they will realize the King’s hopes regarding the development of this vital sector.
I would like to emphasize that the principle of an independent judiciary is one of the basic principles that the country’s basic law of government established. The judiciary is independent and is controlled by nothing but the rule of Islamic Shariaa. Recourse to the courts to settle their differences is the right of all citizens and residents equally.
Q: Your highness, you spoke about your plans to fight unemployment in Saudi Arabia. Could you explain these plans? Does this mean that Saudi Arabia will reduce its dependence on foreign expertise and replace foreign workers with Saudi nationals?
A: Our policy to remedy the problem of unemployment operates on several fronts. First of all we will gradually reduce our use of foreign workers and confine them to those spheres where they are necessary for the development of society and its basic needs. Secondly, after qualifying and training Saudi citizens to work in certain sectors, we will direct Saudis to new jobs that were not available to Saudi youth beforehand. Thirdly, we will begin huge economic projects like the new economic, industrial, and financial cities that we are now inaugurating and other development projects in various parts of the kingdom. These huge projects will employ thousands of young Saudis and operate on the basis of a balanced development so that they will cover all the kingdom’s provinces. Every job seeker will find an employment opportunity in the region that he lives. We are optimistic that in the next five years unemployment will no longer be a problem, God willing.
Q: Your Highness, you referred several times to “a strategy of balanced development.” What do you mean by that?
A: The instructions that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques gave in this regard are clear. He said that development projects should cover all provinces. Economic growth and prosperity should reach all of the areas in the country. Development programs will reach every citizen throughout the kingdom. Everyone will benefit from the educational and health services and new suitable job opportunities. This is the strategy of balanced development that we constantly emphasize in light of the policy pursued by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah, may God preserve him.