A surprise spell of warm weather didn’t stop hundreds of students from leaving their sunny spots at the Sunken Garden for the Sadler Center on March 11 to hear His Royal Highness Prince Turki Al-Faisal of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia speak about his country’s views of the Middle East.
Students, faculty, staff and members of the Williamsburg community attended an open forum in the Commonwealth Auditorium to hear His Royal Highness discuss a variety of topics including international relations, politics, security, human rights and economics. Prince Turki’s visit to the university coincides with the Reves Center for International Studies’ 25th anniversary. The center promotes study abroad opportunities for students, catalyzes on-campus learning, teaching and research on global issues, and supports more than 600 international students and scholars.
The prince, a respected analyst and diplomat on Middle Eastern affairs, spoke of Saudi Arabia as a powerful cultural and economic force in the region, as the site of the birth of Islam and of the world’s largest oil production and export company. Prince Turki also noted there were particular challenges Saudi Arabia faces with several of its neighboring countries, but that above all, the nation seeks peace through diplomacy.
“This peace will only be achieved through cooperation that is built on trust, dialogue and engagement,” he said.
Prince Turki was joined on stage by Vice Provost for International Affairs and Director of the Reves Center for International Studies Stephen E. Hanson, who moderated the forum.
“Prince Turki Al-Faisal’s visit and open discussion with the William & Mary community was a remarkable opportunity to hear from one of the most influential leaders in the Middle East today,” he said. “This event is a testament to the university’s commitment to deep understanding of diverse cultures through sustained global engagement.”
Prince Turki discussed relations with countries within the region, from Iran to Egypt, and noted that the instability of the past few years, including civil unrest and violent uprisings, only disrupts the successful path to development that Saudi Arabia seeks for the region.
“There must be economic, political and social progress for the people and of the governments of the Middle East so that peace, not conflict, is clearly seen as the gateway to prosperity,” he said.
Conflict resolution wasn’t the only topic for the forum, though. Audience members submitted questions for the prince regarding various subjects from women’s rights in Saudi Arabia to the U.S. National Security Agency’s surveillance efforts.
“When I was in intelligence — which seems like ancient history — an axiom in intelligence communications was ‘You spy on everything and you expect everyone to spy on you,’” he said.
Regarding the President Barack Obama’s announced “pivot to Asia” and its impact on U.S.-Saudi relations, the prince acknowledged that his country, and the whole world, is pivoting to Asia, but that doesn’t mean current relations won’t be sustained between the U.S. and his nation.
The prince noted that many Saudi youth are interested in studying in the U.S., as he once did. Saudi students seek the human aspect of meeting and learning with Americans and to build strong relationships with them, he said.
Prince Turki described his own experience studying the United States, which began at age 13 in Lawrenceville, N.J. Within two weeks he was lonely and wrote a long letter home to his father, the late King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who responded with a letter of encouragement and urged him not to give up.
“‘You’re there to accomplish something,’” Prince Turki recalled his father writing. “‘So don’t stop in the middle.’”
Prince Turki concluded that someday the students sitting before him would be responsible for the further progress of civilization:
“(You’re) the future; whatever we will do will just open the door.”
Prince Turki was formerly the director of the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate from 1977 to 2001, was appointed ambassador to the Court of St. James in 2002, and served as ambassador to the U.S. from 2005-2007. He is chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh, and co-founder of the King Faisal Foundation. Additionally, the prince is co-chair of the C100 Group, which has been associated with the World Economic Forum for over a decade.