Following is an interview with Saudi businessman Prince Waleed bin Talal, which aired on Rotana Khalijiyya TV on April 2, 2013.
Prince Waleed bin Talal: I don't refer to it as "the Arab Spring," but rather as "the so-called Arab Spring." I call it "the Arab destruction."
Interviewer: Could you explain that?
Prince Waleed bin Talal: The countries that underwent revolutions – Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia – are experiencing hard times and have no security whatsoever. The situation there is volatile. I do not think that we can yet determine what will happen in these countries.
Interviewer: Your highness, could you explain what you meant by "Arab destruction," so that the Arab peoples in those countries can understand?
Prince Waleed bin Talal: Yes, let me give you four examples of significant revolutions in world history. The first example is the French Revolution of 1789. That is when it began, but according to some historians, it ended only in 1815, when the Napoleonic rule came to an end. The second revolution took place in 1917 in France [sic] – the Bolshevik, Communist, and Marxist revolution. It did not end until after the rule of Lenin, and millions of Russians were slaughtered in it. The third revolution took place in China in 1949, when Mao Zedong got rid of Chiang Kai-shek, went to Formosa and established modern-day Taiwan. That, too, did not end until after the end of the cultural revolution. The fourth is the Iranian revolution – which has not ended to this day. Starting a revolution is not that difficult, but it is never easy to end it.
Let's talk about Morocco. King Mohammed VI is a close friend of mine. I met him about a year ago when I inaugurated the Four Seasons Hotel there. We had a private meeting, and we discussed all these things.
I congratulated him on the qualitative change he had brought about in Morocco – it is neither an absolute monarchy nor a constitutional monarchy, but something in-between. He has delegated many authorities to the prime minister. They have an elected prime minister now.
What has happened in Morocco today? First there were demonstrations against the monarchy and against the king. Now they are against [PM] Benkirane and his government. I am not against Benkirane's government. It was elected by the people, and I respect what is decided by ballot in any country. But Morocco should serve as an example, which I hope the Arab kings, emirs, and presidents will follow. It was a very important achievement.
Each country should consider the demands of its people. These demands may vary from one country to another, but some are shared by all: The people want liberty, freedom of thought, they want to participate in government, they want their voices to be heard, they want an improvement in their quality of life, and they want security and stability. All the Arab peoples share these things.
Interviewer: This holds for everybody.
Prince Waleed bin Talal: That's right. If any ruler thinks he is immune, he is making a grave mistake. Nobody is immune.
Who ever would have thought that there would be a revolution in Egypt? President Hosni Mubarak was convinced he would remain in power just 24 hours before he was ousted. Mu'ammar Qadhafi gave a speech 24 hours before he was toppled, and he was sure he would remain in power. The same holds true for Tunisia. Nobody ever thought there would be revolutions. Whoever thinks that this flame will not reach his country is mistaken.
Interviewer: You have significant holdings in Twitter. If the Saudi government asked you to curb the freedom of the Twitter bird, would you do so? Is this even possible? Some people are concerned about this, and have questioned your motives for investing in Twitter.
Prince Waleed bin Talal: I recently read that the Saudi broadcasting authority had designs not only on Twitter, but on the other social networks…
Interviewer: Skype, Whatsapp, and so on…
Prince Waleed bin Talal: This is a losing battle. Waging war on the open media and freedom of thought is a losing battle. I advise the broadcasting authorities in Saudi Arabia and in all Arab countries not to engage in these losing battles.
In our age of high-speed Internet, the [media] will serve as a vehicle for the inevitable victory of freedom of speech and thought. I am categorically against this.
Everything we do is based on Islamic law. True, men and women work together in the Kingdom Holding Company, but in the case of most of the company's employees – especially the women – their husbands, fathers, and brothers are aware of this, and even gave their explicit approval to the company.
We should follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad, who said: "Women are the sisters of men." I have researched this issue. I have read a six-volume book on this.
Interviewer: You read it in its entirety?
Prince Waleed bin Talal: All 2,000 pages. It says that the Prophet Muhammad treated women as completely equal to men.
I do not forbid the wearing of the hijab. If a woman wants to wear it, that's her right, and if she doesn't, that's her right too. She answers to Allah, and we should not be involved.
The issue of women driving is a done deal. I'm considering it from the social and economic perspective. I met with Kito, a director in McKinsey, a well-known consulting company. I asked him a question in passing, and I was astounded by his answer. I asked him: If Saudi Arabia allowed women to drive cars, what would be the economic and social implications? He estimated that up to one million [foreign] drivers would leave Saudi Arabia. Many Saudi families would prefer not to have a driver, not just because he is a stranger imposed upon the family, but because this is an economic burden.
The decision to allow women into the Saudi Shura Council is very important. But in my own humble opinion, in order for it to become a truly historic decision, two articles must be added: first, that there must be elections, even if only partial ones, and more importantly, there must be delegation of authorities.
We read in yesterday's or today's newspapers that Shura council members were demanding ministerial authorities, and that is their right. They asked to review the estate budget, and that is within their rights. In my view, as long as the Shura Council members have no authorities, they will continue to lack any significant power.
In every society, there must be an executive branch, a legislative branch – in our case, the Shura Council – and a judiciary branch. They must be completely independent and must have power.
Considering King Abdallah's astute reformist approach, I believe that delegation of authorities is bound to come.
The revolutions for freedom, justice, and equality were legitimate. I support the demands of these peoples. But the problem was the decisions made by the new, post-revolution political leaders.
Interviewer: you are saying that the problem lies in the outcome.
Prince Waleed bin Talal: That's right, the outcome was negative, but the revolutions were waged for just causes, supported by all the Arabs.
Interviewer: So they started out as a spring, and ended as an autumn.
Prince Waleed bin Talal: They claimed to be a spring, and they ended in devastation, because the policies of the new leaderships have not been tested, and they do not reflect the aspirations of the peoples.
Interviewer: Why has a revolution not broken out to this day in Saudi Arabia?
Prince Waleed bin Talal: some people might think that this is an awkward question, but it is really very simple. Let me give you the answer. I was asked the same question by an American journalist, and I gave him ten answers, but I will give you only four or five.
First of all, Saudi Arabia is a stable country, Allah be praised. Ever since its establishment by Muhammad bin Saud over 250 years ago, it has been a stable country. Secondly, it is true that we are not a constitutional monarchy, but we are a legitimate monarchy. In addition, the economic situation in Saudi Arabia is not that bad, even if it is not great. But the most important reason is that when the revolutions broke out in the three Arab states…
Interviewer: it was not the Egyptians' economic situation that drove them to revolt…
Prince Waleed bin Talal: I am talking about the economic situation in Saudi Arabia in general – that of the state and that of the people. It is not as bad as it was in the countries that underwent revolutions. But the most important reason is that when a revolution breaks out, it is directed against a king, a president, or an emir who oppressed his people and is abhorred by them.
King Abdallah, in contrast, is loved. How can a revolution break out in a country in which the king is loved?
Saudi Arabia is not a constitutional monarchy. Nobody disputes that. But it is a legitimate monarchy because it emerged from the Saudi people. Who conquered Riyadh in 1902? King Abd Al-Aziz and his partners from among the Saudi citizens. King Abd Al-Aziz arose from within the people. This is what it means to be a legitimate monarchy.
Interviewer: Have the Muslim Brotherhood [MB] entered Saudi Arabia?
Prince Waleed bin Talal: Of course. There is an MB smell in Saudi Arabia. No doubt about it.
Interviewer: Your Highness, you have recently been accused of supporting the MB.
Prince Waleed bin Talal: God forbid. Brother, we do not want Morsi in this country. We have a good king, who is loved by the people. We do not want anyone else to think he is our guide. Indeed, several Saudi sheiks reek of Muslim Brotherhood. This is known to all. I won't mention names, but this is clear.
Interviewer: How should Saudi Arabia deal with this smell?
Prince Waleed bin Talal: In my opinion, it is very easy to get rid of this smell. We should meet more of the people's demands, to avoid giving the [MB] the opportunity to take advantage of the poverty, the housing problems, or the cost of living.
The Egyptian-Iranian ties are an issue of sovereignty, in which I, a private citizen, will not intervene. But there is no doubt that Iran's relations with its Arab neighbors are bad, and that it has evil intentions. It intervenes blatantly in the affairs of Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, as well as in Mauritania and Morocco. I heard this myself from the Moroccan king and the Mauritanian president. They condemned this intervention.
Iran has destructive, not merely expansionist, designs.
Interviewer: Regardless of the question of sovereignty, do you regard this rapprochement of Iran towards Egypt as something that has destructive purposes?
Prince Waleed bin Talal: I do not trust Iran, but I trust Egypt, regardless of who rules it.