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from issue no. 05 - 2007

MEETINGS. An interview with the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia

Like a gleam of hope

Such is the view of the Arab peace initiative for the Holy Land and the resolution of the Palestinian tragedy. The friendship between Rome and Riyadh and the meeting of the different faiths in an interview given to our editor by Prince Saoud al-Faisal

Interview with Saoud al-Faisal by Giulio Andreotti

Prince Saoud al-Faisal, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia

Prince Saoud al-Faisal, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia

Let’s start from an objective fact: relations have always traditionally been good between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Italy. I, personally, have a particularly vivid memory of my visits, as guest of the Prince Sultan bin Abdel Aziz.
SAOUD AL-FAISAL: We, too, feel the same towards the Italian people. The excellent relations between our two countries are not of recent date but have deep historical roots, because in the Saudi Kingdom the Italian community is considered one of the most ancient European communities. That historical situation leads one to see that the level of collaboration between our two countries should be better than at present. On the political level there is comprehension and coordination between both countries, because of the geographical closeness of Italy to the Middle East and of Italian interest in the problems of that region and also because of Italy’s effective role in the context of the European Union. We also hope that economic and cultural relations will reach the same level in consideration of the great capacity for investment that characterizes our two countries. More effort is required to achieve these objectives. We believe that the recent visit of the Italian premier Romano Prodi to the Saudi kingdom was excellent and set these efforts on the right lines, in that it enabled discussion of all the aspects necessary for the development of bilateral relations and for stimulating the role of the private sector and of all the categories in civic society in the two countries, whereby to contribute to encouraging bilateral relations.
Does the exclusion from Saudi Arabia of all the other religions prevent the Kingdom from participating in the dialogue between Islam and Christianity, that is so important today? What is your view on that?
SAOUD AL-FAISAL: When the countries of the world set up places of worship on their own territory they do so to serve their own citizens of all religions, Christians, Muslims, Jews and believers of other confessions. Since Islam is the religion of all Saudi citizens then it’s obvious that mosques are the only places of worship in the Kingdom. Furthermore the Saudi Kingdom holds an important place in the hearts of Muslims since it is the cradle of Islam, it is like the Vatican for the Christian world. But this doesn’t mean it is impossible for foreigners of other religions to profess the own religious faith in the Kingdom because they are allowed to doso where they reside and in their urban agglomerations. As for the dialogue between Islam and Christianity: Islam is open to all the paradaisal religions, and our faith in the prophets, in Moses, Jesus and in all the messengers of God, is a fundamental condition for the justness of Islam and our faith in the prophet Muhammad, the last of the prophets of the paradaisal religions. Thus all the prophets and messengers enjoy the same respect and veneration that Muslims nurture toward Muhammad, as the Koran says in the sura of the family of ‘Imran, verse 84: «Say: “We believe in God and in what has been revealed to us and in what was revealed to Abraham and to Ismael and to Isaac and to Jacob and to the Tribes, and in what was given to Moses, and to Jesus and to the Prophets from their Lords without making any distinction between them, and to Him we all give ourselves”». We feel dismay and anger at the offences to the prophets, as has happened towards the prophet Muhammad. Our dialogue with the other religions rests on this vision and on these principles, and so if dialogue is to be fruitful, it needs first of all to be based on respect between religions, that must not include, with the excuse of the so-called freedom of expression, outrage to the prophets and to their followers.
Peace in the Middle East, the Palestinian refugee problem is one of the main consequences of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hence partial solutions are insufficient to deal with the question,there is need of a just and lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict
In the Vatican there was a lot of positive comment on the Pope’s audience with the then Prince and now King of Saudi Arabia…
SAOUD AL-FAISAL: The visit to the Vatican of Prince Sultan bin Abdel Aziz – the heir to the throne – was not the first visit by a Saudi leader because there was a visit to the Vatican by the Minister of Justice, at the head of a scientific delegation, 26 October 1974; there were also various meetings between scientists and theologians of the two parties in Paris and in Rome; as also the seminar of the scientific Council of the Churches in Geneva. On 22 March 1972 the Saudi capital hosted a European delegation of Christian lawmakers and thinkers that met with a Saudi delegation headed by the then Minister of Justice, shaykh Mohamed al-Harkan. The delegation also included shaykh Rashed bin Khanin and Omar bin Mutraq, of the Ministry of Justice, and shaykh Mohamed bin Jubeir, president of the High Commission of Justice, by shaykh Mohamed al-Mubaraq, director general of Religious Faculties, and by other scholars of the time. Such meetings reflect the tolerance of Islam and its openness to civic dialogue with other religions and cultures. Today we have more need than ever to continue on this path so as to confront and defeat the extremisms present everywhere.
The half million Palestinians living in refugees camps in Lebanon weigh heavily on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Can Saudi Arabia, already traditionally very alert to it, take specific steps to help them?
SAOUD AL-FAISAL: The Saudi Kingdom has never spared its efforts to help the Palestinians both at the humanitarian and political levels. But given the serious deprivation in which the Palestinians live, even the Palestinians of the hinterland, our efforts do not suffice. To alleviate the sufferings of the Palestinian people greater effort is needed from the Arab countries, the Europeans and the United States of America. It also needs to be considered that there is no halt to this humanitarian tragedy because the treaties on human rights are not respected. The Palestinian refugee problem is one of the main consequences of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hence partial solutions are insufficient to deal with the question, there is need of a just and lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. On that premise the Arab peace initiative is to be seen as a gleam of hope on the way to a solution of the main questions of this conflict – which is described as the longest-lasting in contemporary history – and that includes the problem of the refugees also.
Palestinians in the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon

Palestinians in the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon

Over the years many young Saudis have studied and graduated in Italy. Together we should devise a form of reunion of this useful group of former students…
SAOUD AL-FAISAL: This tradition is respected by Saudi students who graduate in the various universities of the world, in the American ones also, through the initiative of the universities in which they have gained their degrees. To apply this tradition to the Saudi students who have graduated in Italy can’t but help the efforts made by our two countries to develop and encourage cultural exchange and collaboration. Our ambitions go beyond seminars and meetings. In fact we want to increase the numbers of Saudi students in the Italian universities. Italy is the cradle of the thought from which all human civilizations, including the Muslim, have benefited. The civilization of Islam is the substance of the principles on which the culture of modern Saudi society rests. All this highlights the need to broaden the horizons of the exchange between our cultures.
Has Saudi Arabia made long-term programs for the “post-oil” period?
SAOUD AL-FAISAL: The Saudi Kingdom’s policy in this sector goes back to the inauguration of the five-year plans of development in 1970. The goals set are many: decreasing dependence on oil as main source of revenue and then broadening the economic base; diversifying development; encouraging home and foreign investment with the setting up of fitting conditions; instituting a superior council for the economy so as not to freeze the economic policy of the State; bringing all this together with the relevant departments of government, in the aim of strengthening not only political stability but the Saudi economy, developing the competitiveness of the economic system in the context of the Kingdom’s great resources and promise. There’s no doubt that the Saudi Kingdom’s membership of the World Trade Organization will constitute an underpinning for those aims, of which we are already beginning to gather the first fruits.

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