Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Royal Saudi/non-Saudi Marriages and Their Children Part III-- Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal

By Chiara

Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal is a controversial Royal Saudi at the best of times, and more so lately as speculation in the media and the blogosphere wonders whether recent conservative efforts against media and cultural events are based in a struggle not only between liberals and conservatives, but between half-brothers and different factions of the Al Saud family seeking greater authority within KSA. An admirable progressive, internationalist, and feminist to some, Prince Al-Waleed is a noxious Western influence to others.

Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud is also one of the Royals with the most mixed heritage. His mother, Princess Mona El-Solh, is a Lebanese Sunni Muslim, the daughter of Riad El-Solh and Fayza Al-Jabiri, making him half Lebanese. His father, Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud is the son of the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, and an Armenian* mother, Munaiyir, a concubine of the King’s who became a favourite wife, and the mother of both Talal (1932) and his younger brother Nawaf (1933).

Since Armenians are Christian, as their struggles with Turkey have made well-known, Munaiyir was, at least by inheritance, an Armenian Orthodox Christian. The Armenian-Turkish conflict of the early part of the 20th Century, which culminated in the Armenian genocide of 1915 (an accusation Turkey denies to this day claiming there was no genocide, only war with losses on both sides) resulting in a people displaced to a number of Arab territories (contemporary borders were not yet set and tribal areas shifted).

Although not sharing language, culture or religion, Arabs and Armenians shared a desire to put an end to the Ottoman Empire, the motive for the Great Arab Revolt of 1916-1918.

In the complexities of Saudi succession patterns, following the first criterion of seniority as sons or grandsons of Abdul Aziz Al-Saud as the primary factor, are the prestige of the mother and her family (tribe), and the importance of full- as opposed to half-brothers. Having an Armenian concubine-made-wife as a mother has all but precluded Princes Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, his brother Nawwaf, and their sons from the most powerful positions in KSA, and certainly from being the Crown Prince.

Add in that Prince Talal “The Red Prince” was seen as a leftist liberal reformer for a constitutional monarchy, democracy and human rights. A fatwa was pronounced against the constitution he had drafted as being un-Islamic, and his passport was revoked in 1961. He managed to go to Egypt where he declared himself a socialist, and was under the tutelage of Gamal Abdul Nasser. He was only allowed back into Saudi, in 1964, once he agreed to desist in his criticisms of the Kingdom, and now resides there as a wealthy businessman and well-known philanthropist. Yet Prince Talal began in 2007 to push to create a reformist, liberalizing political party in the KSA, an absolute monarchy where political parties are illegal.

*Although listed in numerous places as Armenian, and thus Christian, an astute reader, Khalid, pointed out in a comment, that it is more likely that the 2 concubines turned wives of King Abdul Aziz Al Saud--the mothers of some of his children including Prince Talal--were sharkassiya, members of another ethnic Caucasian (from the Caucasus) group, a Muslim one--the Cherkes or Al Sharkas (Circassian). The Al-Sharkas were also caught between the Russians and Ottomans in their quest for imperial supremacy over the region. Whereas Armenians, especially women and children, were sometimes captured and assimilated into Turkish families, the sharkassiya not only suffered death and displacement (especially to neighbouring Arab lands), they were also enslaved. This increases the likelihood that Prince Talal’s mother Munaiyir was Sharkasi, not Armenian, but does not alter the problem of maternal prestige as part of the challenge to Prince Talal’s political aspirations. Yet it is still a part only, overshadowed by his own political actions.

Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal has the further KSA political power challenge of being the son of a Lebanese woman, and the grandson of Riad El-Sohl, a progressive, and the 1st Prime Minister of Lebanon (1943-45; 1946-51) after it achieved full independence from the French Mandate in 1943. Riad El-Sohl, known himself for being a reformer, had been instrumental in achieving independence for Lebanon, and in uniting its diverse factions, ethnic and religious. Several months after leaving office in February 1951 he was assassinated in Amman, Jordan by a Syrian National Party member.

Although his one son died as an infant, the 5 El-Sohl daughters are known for their activism, liberalism, and feminism, or at least for their international marriages:

Mona, Lamia, Leila, Bahija Solh et le prince
Al-Walid arrivant à la place Riad Solh.

Aliya (1935-2007) continued her father’s political and social work for Lebanon; Princess Lamia married Prince Hisham of Morocco, the brother of King Hassan II, and uncle of the current King Mohamed VI;

Princess Mona married Prince Talal Al Saud and became the mother not only of Prince Al-Waleed, but of Princess Reem Al Saud; Mrs Leila Sohl Hamadeh, was appointed by Omar Karami’s government as Lebanon’s first female minister, the Minister of Industry in 2004, but now works for Prince Al-Waleed’s philanthropic foundation;

Mrs Bahija Solh Assad is married to Saeed Al Assad, former Lebanese Ambassador to Switzerland, and a former member of the Lebanese Parliament.

Little wonder then that Prince Al-Waleed, who holds Lebanese citizenship because of his mother, has sought political power in that country, backing Maronite-Christian President Émile Jamil Lahoud (according to the Lebanese National Pact the Lebanese President is Maronite-Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the House, a Shiite Muslim).

Still, Prince Al-Waleed maintains a vast global financial empire, through the Kingdom Holding Company, and a pan-Arab media one.

With Cisco executive

Hotel Villa Rotana Dubai

With Michael Jackson

He has a remarkable record as an international philanthropist, focusing on education of the West and East about each other, but extending to scientific enterprises, and disaster relief. He has funded: cultural events and institutions;

AP--Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud, center, shows the medal of Great Patron of the French Culture Ministry, he received from French Culture Minister Christine Albanel, right, as the Prince's wife, Princess Amira, looks on, during a ceremony at the Louvre museum in Paris, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2007. The Prince is the Louvre's first international patron and sole individual contributor for the achievement of new rooms dedicated to the Islamic arts.

medical research;

Weill Medical College of Cornell University, home of HRH Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud Institute for Computational Biomedicine (ICB) (Genomics, Cell Biology, Mathematical Modelling)

university departments of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies in the United States and Europe;

At Georgetown University

Cambridge University

University of Edinburgh

and a centre of American Studies at the American University of Cairo.

Students at the American Studies Center of the American University of Cairo

This American Studies Center at the American University of Cairo was funded with the 10 billion USD he offered then mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani for the rebuilding of the city after 9/11.

Giuliani rejected his offer on the grounds that Prince Al-Waleed had suggested that the attacks should encourage the US to “re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stand toward the Palestinian cause”. Many in the West only became aware of the Prince after this particular controversy.

However, Prince Al-Waleed is a greater figure of controversy now in KSA. His recent foray into KSA politics seems to have triggered a conservative backlash. As the owner of the online network Al-Nahar, the television network LBC (Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation) and Rotana Records, Al-Waleed has been in the news and on blog sites as the possible reason that various cultural cancellations have occurred, notably the last minute cancellation of the Jeddah Film Festival, and the closure of the LBC offices in Saudi Arabia, after the description of his sex exploits by Jeddan “Majen” on an LBC programme.

With his paternal and maternal heritage of reformist political leaders, the feminist examples of his maternal aunts, and his own feminist hiring practices, this 1/2 Lebanese, ¼ Saudi, ¼ Armenian, Royal Saudi businessman, media mogul, and now political player, is creating an ever greater stir in Saudi circles.

In your opinion, how has his international, pan-Arab, Abrahamic family heritage contributed to the views and choices in life of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud?

Any other thoughts or comments?

Coming soon…an American Princess


Chiara said...

desertmonsoon said...
Is his own wife Saudi? and if so is she a Royal herself? What is a concubine compared to a wife? and how does that work under Islam?
September 1, 2009 10:44 PM

Chiara said...

Puça said...
Very impressive personality and background. I did knew about him, but more for the news we have here, the extravagant ones, as he bought a new airplane, how is it going to fe furnished... And I see that he's not only just another billionaire but also concerned on people's well being.

The question is, if royal saudies are so mixed, and have no problems with that, why is not allowed for the rest to do so? Strange contradiction!

And by the way, he resembles a lot D. M-y, only that he's darker than him and of course is not rich neither a prince :o)
September 2, 2009 12:23 AM

Chiara said...

Desert Monsoon--Thank you for your comment, and insightful questions.

Prince Al-Waleed has been married thrice. The first time to a distant cousin, Princess Dalal bint Saud bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, thus a Royal , who is the mother of his children, Prince Khalid and Princess Reem. After they divorced, he married Princess Eman bint Naser bin Abdullah al Sudairi, of the powerful Sudairi tribe, and clan within the Royal children of King Abdul Aziz Al Saud (the Sudairi 7, all sons of the prominent Hassa bint Ahmad al-Sudairi). They too divorced, but have no children together. His current wife is Princess Ameera bint Aidan al Taweel, a member of the well-known Nejdi Otaibah tribe, with whom he also has no children.

More is forthcoming about Prince Al-Waleed’s wives and children in upcoming posts.

Concubines were women who were not full legal wives, by definition, and often were taken in war, thus prisoners, or born into slavery, thus without the rights and considerations of free women. At the founding of Islam slavery and concubines were common. As these women did not have civil status as free women, and thus marriage with them was not an issue. In other words, the 4 Islamically legal marriages of polygyny in Islam are to free women only (and also do not include misyaar or muta’a marriages, neither of which is a full legal marriage, in the sense that in misyaar marriages women give up the right to maintenance during and after the marriage, and in muta’a marriages there is a time limit to the marriage.

King Abdul Aziz never had more than 4 Islamically fully legal wives at a time, but did have a great number of wives (20+) over time, and one other Armenian concubine, made wife, Shahida, who was the mother of 4 of his sons, also precluded from higher office due to their maternal lineage.

As slavery no longer exists (abolished 1962 in Saudi Arabia), neither does concubinage--at least not formally.

Others are welcome to correct me on this, or share further thoughts, knowledge, impressions, and comments!
September 2, 2009 12:28 AM

Chiara said...

Abu Abdullah said...
@chiara: Thanks for the clarifying the points about slavery.

You can also check this link with specific information about Islam and Women Slaves.
September 2, 2009 11:08 AM

Chiara said...

Puça--thank you for your comment, which inexpicably appeared before, instead of after, my first one to Desert Monsoon. The commenting jinn obviously likes you better!!! LOL :)

I had the same impression of Prince Al-Waleed as you did--rich and frivolous, when not involved in political scandals, although I thought Giuliani was being a pompous political fool pandering to the right wing by refusing his money. Giuliani's actions and comments were part of the squandering of international goodwill post-9/11 which the US seemed to do so well.

Learning more about Prince Al-Waleed has been a revelation of a man who has earned a great deal of money by his own financial talent and efforts, and made sincere choices about hiring women, and promoting education of East and West about each other at university centres.

Doing so this way reaches the undergraduates who will leave with a more balanced impression of the world, and carry that into education of children and students through school teaching, or into their business dealings, professional practices, further research, etc., and into their voting practices. It also of course fosters further scholarship of the people who write the books, give the expert interviews etc.

You asked an essential question, that is part of this series, and its prime inspiration. Why is it becoming more difficult for Saudis to marry non-Saudis when the Royal family itself is so mixed? As in most Royal families, and by historical tradition, many of the marriages have been for political reasons, including the one that wed the Al Saud to the Al Wahab (there have been many other Saud-Wahab marriages since that first one in 1744).

One could argue that intermarriage of commoners serves the same ideal of harmony among tribes or nations, and should be encouraged.

Good to have a mental picture of "D. M-y"! And do you look like Ameera bint Aidan Al-Talweel? When you are not a redhead? LOL :)
September 2, 2009 12:35 PM

Chiara said...

Abu Abdullah-- thank you for your comment and the excellent reference!

It explains in detail that Islam had strict codes for slavery and concubinage which involved rights and obligations within that status, just as marriage was codified. Exclusivity of sexual rights, and only with slaves one owned (not servants or other people's slaves), begun only after the 1st menses to ensure lineage; maintenance for the concubine and children; mahrem relations (inability to marry) with the concubine's family members with the same restrictions as for free wives; loss of sexual privileges if the slave/prisoner of war (prisoners were part of the booty of war and distributed according to Islamic law) was sold, or gifted, except for the new owner are some.

It also makes clear the Islamic incentive to free slaves as a good deed, and how Islamic laws were used to abolish slavery, essentially by restricting it out of existence. This expands on my previous reading on slavery in Arab/Muslim cultures which made clear that there was an aboltion movement in the Arab Muslim world beginning in the 19th century analogous to the Western abolitionist movements; as well as showing that Arab Muslims were part of the slave trade, and that the abolition of slavery in the GCC was a mid 20th century accomplishment.

Thanks again, and I hope you will continue to share your knowledge and references here and on other posts.

Also, if you would like to share your marriage story in a post to inspire others send me an email at chiaraazlinquestion AT
September 2, 2009 12:50 PM

Chiara said...

Puça said...
hahahah no I don't look as her, I wish! I shall send you a pic so you'll see!

Si, that's the contradiciton. Today the world is a mixture, and that helps us to understand each other, exchange students, interracial marriages, different nationalities...
September 3, 2009 12:14 AM

Chiara said...

ellen557 said...
I don't mind Prince Waleed ^_^ Oh my gosh, I'd die if he were king, seriously. I could just see all the marriages being approved (ok well maybe they'd only take like 6 months to be approved instead of a lifetime!), women having more freedom and there being more religious tolerance in terms of government policies.
No idea why, he just feels like a good guy to me. He cracks me up though, lol, something about his mustache maybe?

But erm anyway haha... yes I would say that someone having a mix of different cultures would make them more sensitive. It also sort of cancels out the "I'm Saudi and I'm better than you" because he's not 100% Saudi, you know? I think it must've given him a sense of humility, almost, because in KSA your nationality is the basis for a lot of privileges.
September 4, 2009 11:30 AM

Chiara said...

Puça--Thank you for the picture. You are bellissima! Much more attractive and natural than Princess Ameera! And smart too! You capture what seems to me part of the essence of the problem with KSA making intermarriage a bureaucratic nightmare.

Ellen--Does M know about this?! LOL :)
Prince Al-Waleed is very impressive by his philosphy and its applications. I agree that if he had more power in KSA he would be pushing for more reform of women's status and a more international, cosmopolitan approach to many issues. This is probably why there seems to be such a campaign against him as he as sought to be more involved in Saudi politics. It is also hard to imagine he would put blocks to mixed marriages. You raise the important issue of his nationality and even citizenship. Presumably he has received permission to hold dual citizenship in keeping with his dual nationality (as is allowed for in rare circumstances under Saudi law), and values his Lebanese one as highly as his Saudi one. That is, in my opinion, a tribute to his embracing all his cultural and international identities, as well as probably offering business and social advantages. Indeed, if one were to label by nation, he seems in his attitudes and behaviours to favour the Lebanese blend of culture and religion. Thanks for the comment.

The American Princess is in preparation...she is an American Princess in waiting LOL :) She will be coming shortly, but I do think Prince Al-waleed deserves our full attention!

If someone would like to comment more on the current cultural-political tangles he seems to have suffered (cancellation of the Jeddah film festival; scapegoating of Majed who appeared on a LBC program; closure of LBC offices in Saudi, etc) I would be interested. Also, any other thoughts or comments on his cultural blending and attitudes which are no doubt progressive and liberal, his business practices, anything else that strikes you about him or his place in this series of Royal mixed marriages, or even his mustache!
September 4, 2009 3:14 PM

Chiara said...

Anonymous said...
Very interesting posts. As a Saudi myself, I learnt a great deal from these post. I'd like to share some details though, Talal bn Abdul Aziz's mother is not Armenian. She is "Sharkasiya" and "Al-Sharkas" are mostly Muslims BTW. Hence, prince Talal mother is not Christian. Having a "sharkasi" mother is not the reason for precluding prince Talal from the most powerful positions in KSA. and certainly that is not the reason for precluding him from being the Crown Prince. Prince Talal went to Egypt and had a zeal for Jamal Abdulnaser policy. As a result of this, King Faisal at that time issued an order that prince Talal shall not engage in any gov position at the kingdom. And BTW, this preclusion wasn't only for prince Talal; there are other sons of King Abdul Aziz who never engaged in any position at the gov -- being Misha'al bn Abdul Aziz one of them.

Yup, al Walid has a duel nationality, and speaks the Lebanese accent perfectly too :)

Keep up the good posts

September 6, 2009 12:53 AM

Chiara said...

Anonymous said...
I think his current wife is soooooo hot and sophisticated........
September 7, 2009 1:06 PM

Chiara said...

Khalid--thank you very much for your thoughtful and informative comment.

My response was delayed as I plumbed the depths of the Circassian/Armenian, Russian/Ottoman histories, conflicts, and diasporas. The depths are bottomless! Therefore, trusting your high intelligence, excellent research skills, and reliable sources, I have put together the new knowledge you prompted and that of your comment to amend the post accordingly.

Indeed it is most likely that the 2 concubines, made wives and mothers, of King Abdul Aziz Al Saud, were more likely Circassian, specifically Cherkes or sharkasi and Muslim, given that during the Russian/Ottoman conflict this Caucasian Muslim people was enslaved, and also displaced throughout the neighbouring Arab countries. While the Armenians were also displaced, and women and children taken and assimilated into Turkish homes (My Grandmother by Fethiye Cetin is an excellent recounting of the memoir of one girl taken and assimilated, or almost assimilated), this oft cited origin for the 2 concubine-wives is the less likely of the two.

Also, as you stated the coup de grâce for any kingly aspirations of Prince Talal, would have been his own political progressiveness and foreign alliances. Maternal and maternal tribal prestige are latent factors, however. It seems that, like his son Prince Talal, he is more recently making forays into Saudi politics. And as you also point out, the political actions of others have precluded them from high position or kingly aspirations; or resulted in being de-throned as related in the upcoming Royal Saudi/non-Saudi Marriages and Their Children post.

I understand that Prince Al-Waleed sounds particularly Lebanese when “angry”. :)

Thank you again, for your comment; and I hope you will add your wisdom, knowledge, and humour to other posts here, new and old.
September 11, 2009 4:56 AM

Chiara said...

Chiara said...
Anonymous--Thank you for your "appreciation" of Princess Ameera! LOL :)
September 11, 2009 5:27 AM


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