Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Summer Curse

Jihad el Khazen Al Hayat 08/08/05/

Although King Fahd was sick and hospitalized, the announcement of his decease was a shock to every Arab citizen, who knew and loved him like we did, and to every Saudi citizen who enjoyed the security, peace, and prosperity under his rule.

This is the summer shock, which is preceded by so many shocks, to the point that I grew to believe that there is connection between Al Saud and summer. In the summer of 1999, Prince Faysal Ben Fahd passed away and in summer 2001, Prince Fahd Ben Salman was deceased. It was followed, the next summer, by the demise of his brother Prince Ahmad Ben Salman. Today, we suffer the loss of Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz in the same month that witnessed the loss of his eldest son six years ago.

I thought of telling King Fahd: Please give my greetings to Faysal Ben Fahd. When I had heard the news about the decease of Ahmed Bin Salman, I thought of telling him: greet Fahd Bin Salman for me.

I am not writing about princes today, but rather about friends, with whom I shared years of true friendship, which extended to their fathers, brothers, and cousins.

I wrote once about a week I spent keeping close to “Prince” Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz in Paris in 1979. I remember that during that week, the Crown Prince at the time gathered Arab personalities and reporters one night and talked to us about current Arab and international issues. I was then the editor in chief of “Al Sharq Al Awsat”. Thus, I exerted myself and sent news about the talk of the Crown Prince. We postponed the publishing of the newspaper, and then we sent the issues with a special messenger to be able to present them to the “Prince” the next morning in Paris. Hours passed and a hostile servant came to me and said: “The Prince wants you.” I concluded that I had made a mistake because the Crown Prince would not call for me to congratulate me on my accurate reporting of his talk. I took the stairs from the hall (we were in the house of his Highness Prince Sultan, current Crown Prince) to the upper floor and found a number of young men there. I was confused where to go, and then I asked: “Where is Prince Fahd?” Fahd Bin Salman responded to me: “I am here. What do you say we have lunch together today?”

I told him that I thought that the Crown Prince called for me because of a mistake I did in reporting his talk, and I urged him to specify next time which Prince Fahd is calling for me.

The main issues discussed over lunch was for instance the relation between members of the family, the reason why the rule always passes on from one king to the other in a swift manner and by mutual agreement, despite the anticipation of the Kingdom’s enemies each time that there will be conflicts and crisis.

I agreed once with Fahd Bin Salam and Ahmad Bin Salman on meeting for dinner in London. I arrived to the house of Prince Ahmed, which was originally owned by Prince Fahd, and we waited for the arrival of the eldest brother. Ahmed told me that he made reservations for us in an Indian restaurant. I urged him to change the reservations because I was not fond of spicy food and disliked all kinds of peppers. However, he insisted on the Indian restaurant, and said that I will like it despite my constant complaints. Prince Fahd arrived late but he didn’t step down from his car. He just asked us, while we were on the front porch, where the restaurant was. Prince Ahmed replied that it was an Indian restaurant. So, Fahd responded that he doesn’t like this restaurant and suggested that we follow him. We went to an Italian restaurant, and Ahmed didn’t complain or even make a comment because his elder brother made the choice and the decision is his.

This kind of relationship and this kind of great respect are the cause of the unity and coherence within the ruling family. It is the reason for their agreement on the most trivial matters and the most important too. There is no doubt that conflicts took place and will take place, but the unity of the family has always overweighed them.

Following the passing away of King Fahd, I talked over the phone with TV and radio stations and newspapers. I was surprised that the radio of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in Arabic asked me about the “conflicts” between King Abdullah and his Crown Prince Sultan. I asserted to the broadcaster that I personally knew the King and his Crown Prince on an ongoing basis for years and I was not aware of any conflict between them.

I do not accuse the BBC, as it enjoys great credibility, but despite that and despite the expertise of its employees, it believes that there are conflicts and inquires about them. Of course, there is always divergence in opinions because people do not make up one man, but divergence doesn’t mean conflict. There is a clear difference between the two that is overlooked by Israel’s advocates, who lie every single time, and when their lies were confirmed, they did not back away but moved to a new lie.
I will go back to their lies once we overcome the summer shock, while today I remain with King Fahd and Princes Faysal Bin Fahd, Fahd Bin Salman, and Ahmed Bin Salman. Mercy Upon Them All.

I had written, following the decease of Fahd Bin Salman, about how he recounted to me the passing away of his cousin Faysal. He held his hand in the ambulance that transported his body to the hospital and said: Don’t leave us, Faysal. After each farewell, I prayed that we wouldn’t be left alone, but this is God’s will.

I used to talk with Faysal Bin Fahd about sports and youth, with Fahd Bin Salman about politics and business, and with Ahmed Bin Salman about his purebred horses, since he was the best owner of horses among his Arab peers, and probably around the world. His horse “Leer Van” won many first class races, and “Oath” won the famed British Derby. There was also the miraculous win of two races by “Triple Crown” in the United States two years in a row.

Each of the three men had his own interests, and the common denominator between all of us was the American policy, as they had studied, as well as I did, in the United States. I lived there and followed its policy in practice and in pastime and we used to exchange information and ideas.

Today, King Fahd joined them; I go back to memory lane and ask each one of them to greet others for me.

The Best Successor to the Best Predecessor

Jihad El Khazen Al-Hayat 08/08/05/

Two images for King Fahd, Mercy Upon his Soul, are engraved in my memory: the first is in Paris in 1979 as I briefed him on the news and listened to his comments when the division in the Arab world was at its hype after the Camp David agreements. The second time was when I watched him in his military Jeep besides Prince Khaled bin Sultan parading the Saudi forces after the occupation of Kuwait.

The first image combined the political and personal aspects in him; that weekend we accompanied him to the airport, he was wearing a white suit since he was heading to Germany for an official visit. The second image highlighted the leadership side of the King as he took the right decision with vigor and determination until Kuwait was liberated.

As he rests in peace, there is no one better qualified than Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz to pursue the same path and there is no one better than Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz to assist him.

King Abdullah is known to be a reformist to the extent that the term reformist has become analogous to his name in the West. I know him to be the enemy of corruption and the corrupt, even his opponents admit this fact. It must be said that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is in dire need of reform and fight against corruption.

Perhaps King Abdullah’s mission will be easier now as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has the best economy since decades and the price of oil is almost 60 dollars a barrel, and might increase more. This strength will grant the government the ability to implement more plans that would benefit the average citizen.

The matter is no secret; I hope that priorities would include:

-The diversification of income sources so the Saudi economy would not only be oil focused.

-The modernization of education and curricula to catch up with the current age, yet, this is the task of experts who know about this more than I do.

-Double the efforts to empower the Saudi woman through education or work. While I acknowledge that the rights of the Saudi woman are not complete, I note that the Saudi (and Gulf) woman’s situation has greatly advanced in recent years. I also add that the Saudi society is very conservative and that the freedoms granted to women should reflect the Saudi society not any other.

-I hope for more solidarity between the leadership of Egypt and Saudi Arabia along with Syria, Morocco and Algeria and all other Arab countries, since the lesson of contemporary politics is that Arab countries either rise together or fall separately.

Surely there are changes that reflect the thoughts, concerns and priorities of a particular official in addition to the firm bases of Saudi Arabia, which are known in the Arab and Islamic worlds. Those pillars, which have become a part of the Saudi entity, will be strengthened by King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan.

We do not need a crystal bowl to read that the new Saudi term would work for more Islamic solidarity, since that is the rationale behind the country’s existence, or that it would support the Palestinians and try to prevent the collapse of Iraq.

The King and his Crown Prince’s experiences in ruling for decades and Prince Abdullah’s administration of the country’s affairs since the sickness of King Fahd, Mercy Upon his Soul, will definitely facilitate their mission. Furthermore, the King has close ties and is trusted by the world’s leaders and there is a personal friendship with President George Bush, as we saw them holding hands months earlier in the President’s ranch at Crawford, Texas.

The image of the Crown Prince at the time angered Israel’s supporters and the enemies of Arabs and Muslims everywhere. A lot has been written and commented, which only leads us to be warned of any attempt to affect the relation between Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Although I am sure that the relation that has been established by King Abdul Aziz and President Roosevelt during World War II, and later fortified by every King and President since then, will remain strong to the benefit of both countries. Its grand test was the terrorism of 9/11 and the relation endured and passed the test.

The Saudi-American relation gained further importance after the mad terrorism which hit the world including the Middle East. The cooperation between the two countries is the cornerstone of all international efforts to fight terrorism. If Saudi Arabia, as the birthplace of Islam, can succeed in defeating the terrorists’ ideology as propagated by an ignorant minority, then the United States would be capable of defeating terrorism militarily.

One day I was in the Crown Prince’s office as he was receiving the victims of the Al Mahia bombings, I heard him utter firm and clear words against the terrorists and their ideology. No one is more capable than King Abdullah in confronting the terrorists since he is a man of honesty, faith and courage.

I expect King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan to adopt a new methodology while continuing to work in the same scope on the internal, Arab and international levels.

While I expect for internal reforms from education to the economy and basic services to be carried out easily, I think that the battle with terrorism will be a fierce and long one but I am sure it will end with the terrorists defeated because the other alternative is unacceptable and impossible.

All of us wish the new King and Crown Prince success and I personally expect them to be successful; they are the most qualified to take over after King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz.

“The Most Intelligent of his Generation” Rests in Peace…The Kingdom is in Safe Hands

Jihad el Khazen Al-Hayat 04/08/05/

If I had to choose one quality of King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz amongst all the ideas rushing through my head, I would say he was the most intelligent young man of his generation. King Fahd, Mercy Upon his Soul, was always a pioneer, whether regarding modern education, the security of his country and the region, administration of oil issues or Arab initiatives. He had foresight about how to lead the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia into safety.

Fahd bin Abdul Aziz achieved countless accomplishments throughout his years in public service. I have my own impressions about a man I have known and followed for three decades or so.

I met him first in Riyadh in 1974; about a year before the death of King Faisal. I thought he was so modest that one forgets he is a prince but so dignified that one cannot see but a real prince.

It was clear that he was dealing with the oil file at a time when the oil prices were four times more expensive than the usual price. I heard his opinions at the time and what he said became the basis of an interview I made with US Secretary of the Treasury at the time, William Simon; which was published by Al Hayat and “The Daily Star” (I was the editor-in-chief of the latter).

The best that the American minister hoped was for the oil prices to remain within the limits of 15 dollars a barrel, however, the prices soared again in 1979-1980. After Fahd bin Abdul Aziz took over the reins following his brother Khaled in 1983, the oil prices decreased to an all time low and King Fahd dealt with the oil prices file with wisdom. Now as he rests in peace oil prices have increased to a record high.

Once more, I talk about my personal impressions about the work of Fahd bin Abdul Aziz. I will go beyond the official registered history, which will be recorded, once again, with the passing away of the King.

Fahd bin Abdul Aziz’s role in modernizing his country’s educational system is known. I will only add a remark about the King’s interest in educating Saudi women; he had visited Washington in the eighties when I used to live there. One day he received Saudi and Arab women, while we were there, and he praised my colleague, Naila Ibrahim Al Suwail, head of the Saudi press agency in Washington. King Fahd welcomed haer and praised her work in the agency, stressing that he wanted all Saudi girls to learn and work and assuring that he will be at their side to meet all their needs.

After a few hours, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman, the Bahraini Prime Minister, told me in his office in Manama that had it not been for King Fahd’s wisdom and fast action, it would have been the end for all of us. Sheikh Khalifa was talking about the King’s move before ally and friendly countries, asking for assistance after the occupation of Kuwait.

Before and after, King Fahd was the architect of many Arab, Palestinian and Lebanese initiatives. In Lebanon specifically, the Taef accord brought peace back to Lebanon. In Palestine, had the Palestinians accepted the Fez initiative, they would have obtained more than what they demand today, with no hope of getting.

The week that I spent in following up the work of the “Crown Price” during an official visit to France during the summer of 1979 is the source of my impressions on the King, as a person and a statesman.

Relations with Egypt were passing through one of their worst periods, following Camp David accord and its outcome. I was assigned to present to the Prince a summary of the Arab and world press in the morning while he was residing in the house of his brother, Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, who is the current Crown Prince. I remember telling the King one morning that President Anwar Sadat attacked Saudi Arabia in a speech given in el Zaqaziq. The King commented on what he heard, then took back his anger and said: “a summer cloud”.

The next day I found myself forced to tell him that President Sadat attacked the Saudi policy again in a speech at Kfar Al Zayyat. Once again he did not respond with any criticism but spoke of the political and economic aid that his country has offered Egypt in recent years, especially following the 1973 War.

King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz modest way of speaking reminds me of something I heard from my dear friend, Issa Sabbagh, a Palestinian-American diplomat who used to translate to US presidents and ministers since the days of Richard Nixon. Issa Sabbagh told me once that US politicians and journalists used to inform King Faysal about President Jamal Abdul Nasser’s criticisms or attacks on Saudi Arabia. King Faysal used to respond each time: President Jamal Abdul Nasser is my brother.

I have known the kings of Saudi Arabia since King Faysal, Mercy Upon his Soul. Each king is different from the other, yet they are all very polite, receive their guests well and display the authentic Arab hospitality.

When King Fahd got sick lately, I read numerous articles and analysis about the succession and the princes’ positions, as about their agreements and differences.

I always believed that matters in Saudi Arabia are already determined since the King will be Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and the Crown Prince will be Sultan bin Abdul Aziz. This is what really happened.

I understand that opponent journalists, among supporters of Israel, would write wishfully and not factually, however, I wish some Arabs would refrain from being carried away and follow them. Power in Saudi Arabia has been passed on by way of death, assassination and natural death once again. Every time the ruling family chooses a new King and Crown prince, immediately after the late king’s death.

Abdullah and Sultan are the best to take over and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is in safe hands, which have been trained to rule for a very long time. They are bestowed with the required intelligence, wisdom and experience to safeguard and protect the country and people.