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 A fatwa was pronounced against the constitution he had drafted as being un-Islamic, and his passport was revoked in 1961.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.
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
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