Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Royal Saudi/non-Saudi Marriages and Their Children Part II--Prince Bandar bin Sultan

By Chiara

A Freed Sudanese Slave
The mother of one Royal Saudi may well have looked like this woman, for she too was an emancipated Sudanese slave, a 16-year-old working as a servant in the home of Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, then in his 20's, when he took her as his concubine.

Prince Sultan ibn Abdul Aziz
Khizaran, the concubine, has also been described as a “dark-skinned worker” from the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula, specifically Asir Province. She was illiterate but later taught herself to read and write, according to these accounts.

Asir Province
Prince Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud
Their son, Prince Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud (b. Taif, 1949) was not officially recognized by his father for some time, and did not meet him until the age of 8. Still, even then, he lived with his mother and aunt; until, when he was 11, they went to live with his paternal grandmother Hassa Al-Sudairi years after the death of his paternal grandfather, King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud.

About Age 10
Age 15
Prince Bandar, from these relatively modest beginnings, became an international leader, politically and financially, most notably while ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the USA.

He has become known as Bandar Bush, for his close relationship with the Presidents Bush, father and son.

Yet he has also been known as the "Arabian Gatsby". He married Princess Haifa bint Faisal, the youngest daughter of Princess Effet and King Faisal, with whom he had 8 children, 4 sons, and 4 daughters.

Like the protagonist of "The Great Gatsby", he is a man who, through his energy and drive, rose from relatively modest beginnings to immense wealth and pleasurable living, including his luxury ranch in Colorado, Hala.

To fill in some relevant information for this post I have drawn excerpts from, and added photos to, a very interesting article, "The Prince: How the Saudi Ambassador became Washington's indispensable operator" by Elsa Walsh, in The New Yorker of March 24, 2003, which can be read in full here:
Bandar lives in two worlds, and the ease with which he moves between them has made him a natural intermediary. He is a member of the Saudi royal family-the son of the Defense Minister, Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, who is second in line to the Crown. He is widely regarded as pragmatic and non-ideological, and sensitive to the subtleties of complex and emotional issues. He is fond of American colloquialisms and American history, and he likes Big Macs served on silver platters. "I am more Alexander Hamilton ideals than Jeffersonian Democrat," he likes to say, referring to his conservative political leanings. He travels frequently on his private Airbus A-340; since December, he has travelled six times between Washington and Saudi Arabia, with stops in Pakistan, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Paris, and London, carrying messages between Bush and Crown Prince Abdullah, the de-facto Saudi ruler, and other heads of state. When I saw him last week, he had just returned from Riyadh; the first people he saw were Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney.
He has the ability to focus intimately on the person in front of him, laughing and trading gossip, and he speaks animatedly, his eyes and hands in constant motion. He has always known how to make friends with important people and with people who will someday be important. Nancy Reagan used him to relay messages to her husband's Cabinet; he played racquetball with Colin Powell in the seventies. (Powell lives nearby in McLean, and the two see each other frequently.) One of our interviews lasted for seven hours, until nearly midnight; afterward, Bandar went to the airport to leave for Saudi Arabia. I had not known that he was going until he stood up and put on a lambskin-lined full-length desert coat and joined the waiting motorcade. "A long time ago, when I was young and immature and aggressive, a Jewish car salesman in Alabama told me, 'Make your words soft and sweet-you never know when you have to eat them.' I never forgot it. That phrase has saved my rear end, my royal rear end, so many times."

Bandar's father is Prince Sultan, one of the seven sons of Abdul Aziz, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, and his favorite wife, Hassa bint Ahmed al-Sudairi, who is perhaps the most revered woman in Saudi history. Sultan, who was in his early twenties at the time of Bandar's birth, had already held the position of governor of Riyadh. But Bandar's mother, Khizaran, was a dark-skinned sixteen-year-old commoner from the Asir Province, one of the southernmost points in Saudi Arabia. She could not read or write; she later taught herself. Bandar, who sees her regularly, says that she was a concubine. He lived with his mother and his aunt, and had little contact with his father when he was very young. "It taught me patience, and a defense mechanism, if you want, to not expect anything," he told me. "And the way I rationalized it to myself was if I don't expect anything and I don't get anything, I don't get disappointed. So nobody can hurt my feelings."

Prince Bandar age 5
Under Sharia, the Islamic law that governs Saudi Arabia, all sons are born equal, even if they are illegitimate. But Bandar was eight years old before he entered his father's bedroom for the first time. "One day at school I heard from one of my brothers that Daddy was sick, and I didn't understand how sick or how serious it was," he told me. "But I was a little too proud to ask people or to show people I didn't know." Sultan heard of Bandar's concern and summoned him. When Bandar arrived, he pulled the young boy onto his bed. "It was like he gave me the whole world," Bandar told me.
Bandar's isolation from the family ended when he was eleven. Abdul Aziz had died several years earlier, and it was decided that Bandar and his mother should live with his grandmother Hassa, in the palace. "It was a practical decision, but it completely altered my life," Bandar told me. Each day at 5 a.m., Hassa would wake up her grandson for prayers. After prayers, she told him the history of the House of Saud. "She was not educated, but she had learned the Koran by heart," Bandar recalled. "She was a combination of Maggie Thatcher and Mother Teresa. She was very pious, yet very strong-willed." He worshipped her, and she returned the affection. "She was the most influential figure in my life," he said.

"Living with her opened up his eyes," a close friend of Bandar's told me. "Hassa taught him about life, about women, about politics, about what a great man his grandfather was. She made him feel special, and it was at that point that his relationship with his father began."
Even then, Bandar told me, his contact with his father was limited. "My memory of him as a child was that he was always working at his papers or talking on the telephone," Prince Khaled bin Sultan, Bandar's half brother, wrote in a memoir. An outsider like Bandar would have to try hard, to amuse, to be useful. When Bandar was thirteen, Sultan was named Defense Minister, and three years later Bandar, in a move surely intended to please his father, enrolled in the Royal Air Force College, at Cranwell, England, to train as a fighter pilot. (Bandar, then sixteen, had a doctor alter his birth certificate by a year in order to qualify.) But he also joined, he told me, because he'd always felt somewhat uncertain of the attention people showed him: "I didn't feel I did anything to earn it except by happenstance, circumstance. Just because my father is a prince, I became a prince. I never worked a day in my life to be one. Compare that with my feeling when I got commissioned a second lieutenant. I was so proud"
Even then, expectations for Bandar were not high. "He wasn't sent to Eton," a close Saudi friend said. "He was not given great opportunity. He was sent to military school. You do not send someone to military school to get a great opportunity." (Bandar has sent some of his sons to Eton.)

Bandar excelled at flying. "Really the only thing I wanted to do in my life was fly an airplane and be ready when called upon to be a warrior," he told me. At Cranwell, he began to develop the swashbuckling personality that some Westerners have found so appealing. Walking into a local pub one day, a lonely Bandar found a group of classmates drinking yard-long flasks of beer. He asked to join them, and although alcohol was banned in Saudi Arabia, Bandar stayed through the night.

When Bandar returned to Saudi Arabia three years later, he was determined to show that he was more than Sultan's son. "When I am fifty feet upside down and I don't crash, it has nothing to do with my dad or my granddad or anybody. It is me and I am good," he said. He became the Saudi Air Force's chief acrobatics artist. Turki told me about a day when Sultan was sitting with King Faisal, Turki's father, and King Hussein of Jordan reviewing a Saudi military parade. Bandar was flying acrobatic maneuvers, and at one point his plane appeared to shoot straight up, showering a spray of exhaust over everyone. Faisal, who did not know the identity of the pilot, was not pleased. "Bandar wanted to do it because the two kings were there, and probably he wanted to show King Hussein, who was himself a pilot, what Saudi pilots can do," Turki told me.

Flying also gave Bandar an opportunity to differentiate himself from the other young princes, who tended to favor the good life. The distinction paid off with Haifa, the youngest daughter of King Faisal, who was educated in Saudi Arabia and Switzerland. The first time Haifa saw Bandar, she said, "I had a feeling I would marry this man." She was sixteen. Although they were cousins, they hadn't grown up together, and four years passed before they met again. "It was not a prearranged marriage," she said with emphasis. Queen Iffat, Haifa's mother, had been a friend of Bandar's grandmother, and she, too, liked Bandar. He and Haifa were married in 1972, and they have eight children.

"He was only a major, but something about his presence sucked up all the authority in the room," Colin Powell wrote of the first time he met Bandar, in 1978, in a briefing room in Saudi Arabia. A year later, Bandar enrolled in a master's program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, in Washington. Powell, then military assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, was naturally drawn to Bandar, and the two began playing racquetball at the Pentagon Officers Athletic Club. In Powell's memoir, "My American Journey," he wrote:

I remember Prince Bandar coming out of the POAC after our first game. He had a gym bag slung over his shoulder. He flicked it off with a shrug, and an aide materialized out of the woodwork and caught it. The prince extended his hand into empty space, and pulled it back with a Coke can in it. It is good to be a prince, I thought. In the years to follow, we would often work together, and the vast social gulf between us began to shrink until the familiarity between the kid from the South Bronx and the prince from a royal palace approached the outrageous and the profane.

Bandar slept late on the morning of September 11th. He was walking across his bedroom when he glanced at one of the ten television screens he kept on and saw fire coming out of one of the World Trade Center towers. "The first thing that came to my mind was that I'm going next week to the U.N. I am going to change my hotel and I am going to go to one of those hotels where you can live on the third or second floor," he recalled. "King Hussein of Jordan, bless his soul, used to tell me, 'Bandar, take my advice. Always stay on the first floor.' I said, 'Why, Majesty?' and he said, 'This fire. Or somebody starts shooting you. You jump out the window you break a leg, but if you are forty feet . . .' “Then he saw the second plane coming. "I had the same feeling I had when Rabin was assassinated," he said. "I almost had a heart attack. And the first thing that came to my mind was 'I hope it's not an Arab, because it would be war.' And I had the same feeling here. 'I hope they are not Arabs.' “When Tenet called the next night to tell him that fifteen of the nineteen hijackers appeared to have been Saudi nationals, Bandar recalled, "I felt the whole world collapse over my shoulders."

As the day wore on, Bandar watched the coverage. At one point, he saw Palestinian youths celebrating in the street. "I thought, My God, the whole impression this nation is going to have of us, the whole world, will be formed in the next two or three days.'' He saw a congressman warning, "We will remember those people."
Two days after the attacks, the President asked Bandar to come to the White House. Bush embraced him and escorted him to the Truman balcony. Bandar had a drink and the two men smoked cigars. Bandar was in a daze, still hoping that the news of Saudi participation would turn out to be a mistake. Al Qaeda operatives, after all, had travelled on false passports in the past, and so far the only identity that appeared certain was that of Mohammed Atta, the ringleader, who was an Egyptian. Until then, Bush had seemed to Bandar to be in his father's shadow; he took more of his personality from his mother-he shot from the hip. But this day there was no bluster. At one point, Bush told Bandar that if any Al Qaeda operatives were captured, "if we can't get them to cooperate, we'll hand them over to you." The clear implication was that the Saudis could do whatever they wanted to elicit information from suspects.
A few days later, Bandar helped arrange to get bin Laden family members out of the United States, a move that was made under the supervision of the F.B.I. but caused public consternation.

On September 18th, Condoleezza Rice called Bandar to tell him that the President wanted to see him at the White House. Cheney and Rice were there when Bandar arrived; Bush's two dogs nudged people's legs, and Bush joked that he wanted to see a friendly face before his next meeting with Jacques Chirac, the President of France, who had been critical of him. ("Let him wait," Bush instructed at one point during the two-hour meeting, when an aide announced that Chirac had arrived.) Bandar advised Bush to be careful about his rhetoric; it was fine to put the fear of God in people but not to use words like "crusade," as he had two days earlier. Bush had visited a mosque the day before, taking off his shoes, and Saudi television had broadcast replays of the visit all day long.

On September 21st, Bandar returned to the White House, this time to meet with Bush and the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al Faisal. Saud, Princeton-educated and a bit stuffy, pledged Saudi support, but he warned Bush that the fight could take time. In the long term, Bush needed to do something about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Use this opportunity to do something great," Saud said. As Bandar recalled the conversation, "We said, 'Let's keep our eye on the ball on this, let's not let anybody distract us.' “He added, "It is always dangerous to leave the Middle East to our own, because we can manage to find something wrong that could blow everything up."

The Saudis were worried about terrorist strikes in their own country, but they wanted their American allies to trust them. In one important move, the Saudis began to give the Pakistanis their daily oil allotment-almost two hundred thousand barrels-at no charge, as an incentive to cooperate with the Americans; they have continued to do so. As law-enforcement and intelligence agents travelled between Riyadh and C.I.A. headquarters, in Langley, Virginia, the Saudis let the C.I.A. know about telephone calls that they'd intercepted between key Al Qaeda operatives congratulating each other after September 11th, and about calls from bin Laden family members who had gone into hiding. The help was big and small, in Bandar's view. They passed along another offer of help from Libya's Qaddafi; they helped to trace a pre-9/11 phone conversation, between someone in Afghanistan and someone in Saudi Arabia, that eventually led to the arrest of thirty-five Al Qaeda suspects in Saudi Arabia.

CIA Headquarters, Langley, USA Saudi Government Foreign Office, Riyadh KSA

Further reading from the BBC

Your thoughts?
To what extent did Prince Bandar’s early life experiences affect his ambition and his ability to relate to others?
Was it ultimately an advantage to him to be of mixed social, racial and cultural heritage?
What about non-Royal mixed Arab and African Saudis? How well do they fare?
Is it harder for Saudis to marry non-Arab, African, non-Saudis than to marry Westerners?
What is the impact on this question of familial, societal, or government approval?
Do you know of any mixed race Arab/African Saudis, or Arab/non-Western Saudis?
How well integrated into Saudi society do they feel?

Coming next...A Saudi-Lebanese Prince


Chiara said...

Puça said...
Calm seas never make skillful sailors…
One is the result of life experiences and struggles, so I really think his achievements are due to his early life experiences and of course, to his hard work and seems also intelligence, emotional i. too.
August 31, 2009 9:29 PM

Chiara said...

Puça--Gracias! Thank you for your comment and that excellent saying which should be remembered by us all during difficult times. I agree, he seems to have both a high IQ and EQ, and to have put his early life experiences and knowledge of rejection based on birth/race to use in facilitating collaborative approaches. Although he his Bandar Bush, he has also been Bandar Carter, Bandar Reagan, and Bandar Clinton, in other words Saudi's emissary to the sitting US President.

Perhaps Saudi readers have a different perspective on or knowledge about this. I hope they come to enlighten us!
August 31, 2009 10:09 PM

Chiara said...

Puça said...
Being friend of so many presidents is not just a matter of country friendship but also great personal skills. Some of our presidents although countries are "friendly" can't stand each other, just for the picture, and that affects later the country's relations. Fot some of the post comments, he seems very human too. I did not know about him before this post. I'll pay more attention.
August 31, 2009 10:39 PM

Chiara said...

Puça said...
Being friend of so many presidents is not just a matter of country friendship but also great personal skills. Some of our presidents although countries are "friendly" can't stand each other, just for the picture, and that affects later the country's relations. Fot some of the post comments, he seems very human too. I did not know about him before this post. I'll pay more attention.
August 31, 2009 10:39 PM


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