The Arabian prince and the British reporter set the world to rights over afternoon tea
On Tuesday, the world’s designated richest Arab, Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal, spoke to British TV network ITV via John Irvine on reform, reading, travel and the crown jewels of his property collection. These, a few topics among other tea-time chit-chat, befitting the Arab heir and the international correspondent.
In this television broadcast interview, Saudi Arabia's favorite prodigal investor Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal, spilled the beans on everything from the region's convulsions of reform and progress to his own sleeping habits.
The Arabian globe-trotter held court on his political predictions and prescriptions for the Middle East, pronouncing bleak likelihoods alongside brighter bets for the war-torn and revolution-ravaged spots. His optimism for a region inclined, in his mind, not to resist pangs for change was tempered only by his reading of the bitter reality of some gnarled spots. Syria.
He forecasts Bashar Assad as hanging on by his teeth. According to ITV's rare report and the prince's premonition, the lesser Lion would not be abandoning his sinking ship, but instead living and letting live - the conflict, rather than his people, unfortunately - for many years to come.
He outlined his mistrust of Syria’s revolutionaries. Not quite blindly toeing the government line.
"Who are the insurgents?.. Are they extremists? Are they Al Qaeda based? Are they fanatics? Really, we don’t know who they are…”
That’s why foreigners are staying out, he concluded. He too has dropped connections in Syria. His friendship with Bashar al Assad is now dead in the water – he severed links with the social pariah a year ago. He may like to keep his international friends in high places, but he’s happy to part company with one on his way down.
He puts his trust elsewhere, seemingly where no Arab has gone before: on the US. The Saudi prince is banking his big bucks on President Obama shifting his gaze back to the Middle East for his second term. Perhaps Bin Talal has observed that when the US turns its back for a moment, all hell breaks loose. Even though all indicators suggest a foreign policy course otherwise bent, he maintains hope in the US’s helping hand being forthcoming.
As ITV’s Irvine broached such sundry topics with the oil billionaire, he gleaned an ambition to build the tallest building in the world, from his Jeddah-based vantage. Less towering in concrete but equally high-rise in stature, are some of his British 'kindoms': he part owns London's high-society hotel, The Savoy, and fully owns the George V.
Money talks, but as John Irvine seemed to deduce, this man of letters was as worldly as Arab Princes come. Sleeping a 4-hour a- night, Margaret Thatcher style regime, in the way of puritanical, ambitious types, rest comes only after the reading and prayers of the day are done. Not just a passive oil-baron or rich play-boy with hours to idle away, this all-expenses paid student of life monitors news wires and stock prices as a matter of daily bread. Even if his veritable diet is likely more fashionable than paltry dough.
Irvine asked him about what he still had left to do in life. “We have done nothing yet!” came his rejoinder. The royal we, or the world’s weight on his slender Saudi shoulders?
Greater East-West understanding was key to the future of mankind, he said, referring to the journey they were still embarked on since September 11.
The reporter and the royal compared notes on countries visited in the journey of life. The princely count at 161 countries trumped the humble hack's itinerary. Victory was Irvine’s on North Korea, however.
“I am planning to go. What did you think of it?..." he asked, seemingly curious to cross-check the information from Google. Not anything he learned from a quick web search, mind you, but the tips he'd been given by his old pal and Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt.
The Prince was not above talking politics closer to home and didn't mince his words on reform across the Middle East:
"I’d like all those Arab countries who did not have an instability or revolution to wake up and immediately to reform and change before this tide reaches them" When asked to clarify if he included his own Kingdom, he spared no Gulf state or oil Kingdom from the equation. "All countries – no country is immune. Everyone who thinks he is immune, as you say in English, ‘he is talking rubbish’”.
What do you make of the Prince's forecasts. Will Al-Waleed bin Talal's region be bearing out his good faith hopes for change? Or is he just another member of the elite removed from reality but caring to promoting the best of Arabia abroad on the side of his business spending sprees?
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