A Rebel Prince’s Vision for Reform: Saudi’s Long-held Ideals Gaining an Audience with Royal Family (Anthony Shadid, 5/14/06, Washington Post)
[Prince] Talal is many things: for 50 years, the most liberal figure in a family that remains the most conservative and traditional of the Persian Gulf’s monarchies and tribal dynasties; a philanthropist who brings a ruthlessness to business that he once saved for politics; a glimmer of light for the kingdom’s liberals, many of whom acknowledge that change here will probably only come under the auspices of religion and its modernization, not through the secular talk of civil society and individual rights.
Perhaps most compelling, though, is that Talal takes a debate about democratic reform in the Arab world, defined lately by the Bush administration, and illustrates a broader, more enduring context, one that speaks to experience rather than promise. His calls for change are little different than in the 1950s and ’60s, when he was dismissed as a communist sympathizer; he remains a critic of U.S. policy, citing Iraq’s trauma as the latest example. To Talal, the battle itself is not new, only the players. And in his words are a sense of vindication for ideas he believes are no less crucial today.
“The world has changed, not me,” he said. “History has proved the rightness of what I was talking about.”
“Some of the members of the family were against those ideas,” he added. “Now they’re talking about them.”
These days, Talal advocates a constitution that would bind an absolute monarchy by law, “a social contract between the ruler and those who are ruled.” The parliament, now an appointed, relatively toothless body known as the Consultative Council, would be at least partially elected, with the right to oversee the budget, monitor the government and question ministers, he said.
Women? “Right now, we have more than 2 million female students,” he said, shaking his head. “When they graduate, where are they going to go? Either you close the schools and leave them to illiteracy or you grant them an opportunity to work.”
He laughed. “Can you imagine, can anyone imagine, that women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia?” he said.
His list went on: Progress is impeded by “the opposition of religious extremists.” The religious establishment, long the allies of his family, should stand aside as the country forges a division of power — judicial, executive and legislative. Along the way, the kingdom, he said, must determine the mechanism of passing the monarchy from the aging sons of the country’s founder to their grandsons before simmering rivalries between the branches of the House of Saud flare into the open.
“The goal remains the same,” he said, “the participation of people in forming opinions and making decisions.”
The same words, a different era: “Now we’re freed from the notion of the Red Prince, the name the Americans gave me.”
A constitutional monarchy is the ideal form of government.