A Royal Visit on Campus

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal brings message of cross-cultural friendship during visit to USF campus.



By Vickie Chachere

USF.edu News Manager


TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 28, 2010) – Known as one of Saudi Arabia’s most effective emissaries of education and international cooperation, Prince Turki al-Faisal spent Thursday at the University of South Florida in a rare royal visit that carried with it a spirit of global integration and cooperation.

Prince Turki - an American-educated former ambassador to the U.S. who is now considered a leading candidate to be the Kingdom’s foreign minister - delivered a morning lecture to students and faculty at the Marshall Student Center touching on the Kingdom’s history and the on-going challenges of terrorism, religious extremism and U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Ever the diplomat, Prince Turki reiterated the historic and strategic importance of U.S.-Saudi ties but did not shy away from commenting on the on-going differences between the two nations over the issues of Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other matters in the Middle East.

Asked by a student how Saudi Arabia could justify such a close relationship with the U.S. given conflicting outlooks on Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan, the Prince relied on a loose translation of an old Arab saying to explain the basis for the long-held alliance.

 “If you want to be friends with them, you tell them what you think is the truth,” Prince Turki said.

USF Provost Ralph Wilcox appreciated the Prince’s candor in a discussion on sensitive international topics – the hosting of which is central to the mission of a globally-engaged university.

“What is a great university if it is not able to wrestle with the challenging questions of our time,” Wilcox said.

Hundreds of Saudi students from around Florida - lead by more than 200 undergraduate, graduate and INTO-USF students – turned out for the royal visit, entertaining Prince Turki in an afternoon presentation of Arabic poetry, dance and a video sharing their experiences at USF.

Farraj al-Rashidi, president of USF’s Saudi Student Association, likened the event to a huge family reunion as Prince Turki eagerly shook students’ hands and posed for pictures.

“It’s like family here today with all these students,” al-Rashidi said, noting Prince Turki’s considerable star-power among students. “We are very, very happy to receive our prince.”

More than 350 people turned out for a 45-minute lecture from Prince Turki on the political history of Saudi Arabia, which emerged in its modern form under the leadership of Prince Turki’s grandfather, King Abdul Aziz Al Saud.

Prince Turki, 65, is the nephew of Saudi Arabia’s current King Abdullah and is the son of the late King Faisal ibn Abdul Assiz al-Saud, who reigned over Saudi Arabia from 1964 to 1975.

He told the audience that the modern Saudi state has been at constant odds with extremists, who have used religion to mask their own political ambitions.

That fight continues on today against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on America, Saudi Arabia launched a dedicated campaign to apprehend radical elements, prevent the teaching and communication of extremist views and a program to rehabilitate those indoctrinated with extreme views who have not committed crimes through a counseling and religious education program.

Prince Turki – who led Saudi Arabia General Intelligence Directorate until just 10 days before the Sept. 11th attacks and has a long and complicated history with bin Laden - called the efforts necessary for Saudi Arabia to “remove the seeds of terrorism from its soil to prevent both the export and import of violence.”

“The process of cleansing our country of extremists has never tired since the first few days after Sept. 11,” Prince Turki said. “Nor will it ever.”

Bin Laden’s first enemy is the not the United States, the Prince said, but Saudi Arabia. He called al-Qaida a cult led by bin Laden, who has cloaked his political ambitions in religion.

“While you in the United States have definitely fell victim to his crimes, you can rest assured that bin Laden’s first enemy is not America or western civilization – just read his literature,” Prince Turki said. “His sworn enemy is Saudi Arabia. He views the Kingdom as the main stumbling block to his political ambitions.”

Saudi leaders continue to pursue an effort of modernizing the country in the face of rigid ideologies, by encouraging more open discussion among Saudi citizens, modernizing universities to allow men and women to study side by side and engaging other nations, cultures and religions to seek common ground. He described a series of public conversations on difficult issues of religion and equality which occur across the country and are televised.

 “It is a very Saudi way of soul-searching and engaging in participatory discussions,” he said.

Prince Turki’s visit comes amid growing ties between USF and modern universities in Saudi Arabia through joint research projects. USF scientists in the areas of marine research, robotics and chemistry are collaborating with Saudi researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal and King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah.

USF Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation Karen Holbrook is a member of the international advisory council for KAUST, a unique post-graduate university which opened last year. It was created by King Abdullah with a $10 billion endowment to keep it free of government interference, more than 65 percent of its students are foreigners and it is lead by an international faculty and administration.

The scientists are working together in a series of projects involving new energy-efficient materials, the development of new technologies and robotics to aid people with disabilities and the shared challenges in marine science around climate change, ocean acidification and oil spills.

Prince Turki called the country’s support for expanding higher education opportunities and sending tens of thousands of Saudi students abroad for their education a remarkable achievement that allows “the Kingdom to open its intellectual horizons to the world, but it also stands as strong statement against those nihilistic and xenophobic forces that seek to destroy the Kingdom in the name of radical extremism.”

Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.

Photo credit: Aimee Blodgett/USF News.