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Saudi Ambassador Speaks About World...s Oil Industry

By Curt Fischer

On Wednesday, MIT students and Cambridge community members questioned Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S., mainly focusing on Middle Eastern politics and the world oil industry.

Thursday’s Q&A session followed Turki’s lecture in a packed Bartos theater, hosted by Institute Professor John M. Deutch ’61. Deutch, who introduced Prince Turki, was Director of Central Intelligence from 1995 to 1996, and worked directly with Turki, who from 1977 to 2001 was head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate. In his introduction, Deutch said he “dramatically learned to respect the opinions and wisdom of Prince Turki.”

Perhaps the most widely anticipated subject the ambassador took up was oil. “We are at a time of economic expansion, and what enables this growth is oil,” he said. “Saudi Arabia will supply as much oil as the world demands,” he emphasized. However, he also recognized that “oil is a finite resource” and said that the kingdom’s “infinite resource was our people.”

To that end, Prince Turki said, Saudi Arabia had recently embarked on a number of educational initiatives. Now under construction is Faisal University, Saudi Arabia’s first “truly private non-profit university.” He also mentioned that recently the Saudi government began a large scholarship program to fund the college education of Saudi citizens in the U.S., noting that over 5,000 Saudis have applied for student visas in the U.S. in the past year. Of those, 192 will be coming to the Massachusetts area.

Prince Turki also emphasized Saudi Arabia’s commitment to following the conclusions of 3rd Extraordinary Summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference — a 56-nation diplomatic assembly of Islamic nations which confers on common issues facing its members — specifically, to fight terrorism, implement political and economic reforms, and to take back Islam from the “extremist element” which has “subverted our religion.”

Prince Turki entertained questions from the audience for nearly 20 minutes. Most came from MIT students interested in democratization in the Middle East, especially Iraq and Lebanon. Saudi Arabia had been directly involved in both Syria and Iraq’s nascent democratization.

In presenting Saudi Arabia’s own recent efforts towards democratization, Turki noted that in the kingdom’s next elections, women will enjoy suffrage for the first time. He used Alfred North Whitehead’s quote, that “the art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order.”

Prince Turki spoke at Harvard University on Wednesday and appeared on PBS’s Charlie Rose Show on Monday.