Who have never heard of a Saudi royal by the name of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal? If you're not familiar with his name, let me give you a brief introduction about him. Prince Alwaleed is the nephew of the current King of Saudi Arabia and the grandson of the founding King of Saudi Arabia. He was born to Prince Talal bin Abdul-Aziz and his Lebanese wife. Although the father has been trying to push for reform in his country (and even announced his plan to form a political party which is illegal in Saudi Arabia), Prince Alwaleed has stayed outside of Saudi political spotlight. He is a known entrepreneur and international investor, owning a large investment company, the Kingdom Holding Company, which he founded in 1979 and is headquartered in the tallest building in the whole Saudi Arabia, Kingdom Centre. He made large investments in companies like Citibank, AOL, Apple, and News Corp — to name a few. Because of this, he currently ranks 19 in the 2010 Forbes's World's Billionnaires, with his fortune worth US $19.4 billion.
In addition to his wealth and business career, the Prince is also known for charitable and philanthropic activities, and his blunt support in advancing the status of Saudi women and fighting their rights. He founded Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation and donated his money for a number of causes, including for Harvard University's Islamic Studies Program. In 2004, he hired the first Saudi female commercial pilot, Hanadi Zakariya Hindi (how ironic, really. She's able to navigate a plane in Saudi Arabia, but not drive a car).
To be honest, I've never been a fan of him. Or any Saudi royals, in this matter. But let me leave this to myself 😀 . Last year, I watched this video (below) featuring an interview with the Prince and an insight into his workplace and palace in Riyadh. I do admit that the Prince has been trying to make a different portray of Saudi women to the media — the positive ones: that Saudi women have freedom to work and so on. But he did that in a way that was totally unrealistic. True, he's an extremely open-minded, liberal, and modern person who wants to see some changes and improvements in his traditional society. But had he not been a member of the royal family, he wouldn't be able to do the thing that he had been doing.
Well, you can see in the video above how the women working for him have the freedom to not wear an abaya (the black cloak) or even a hijab/headscarf. The truth is that, this is totally unacceptable in the "real world". Women must not work in a mixed environment (except in the hospital — yes, how ironic, again!). They must be provided with a separate space (and entrance!) from the men and they need to be at least covered. That's the law and nobody can violate it, except — of course — the royal family. No one in Saudi Arabia is brave enough to speak out against them; and the result is that: they can do whatever they wish to! Speeding up on a busy road and causing chaos? No problem! Forcing a famous restaurant to be sold? That's familiar! Importing alcoholic beverages which are strictly prohibited in Saudi Arabia? A piece of cake! Those have become the public secrets. I read one of the comments submitted by a YouTube user which is quite interesting:
There is the Saudi Society and there are the Royals. Many of the Royals are secular, non-religious and liberal. They get away with a lot of things because of their power and wealth. But they are still prisoners of the Saudi Society. They cannot completely liberalize the country. They cannot flaunt their lifestyle and belief system too much. If they do, just like Iran, the religious power & the people will rise and take over.
The video above is part of a documentary titled "Saudi Solutions" which can be viewed in full version here. One thing that struck me was Prince Alwaleed's comments about the type of women he'd hire. He said that one the criteria was that the women need to be "presentable". He bluntly said, "I don't want her to be fat. I don't like fat people." What's that?!?! Apparently, it's known everywhere that women who work in his company need to have attractive looks and thin figure. I pity those women working for him.
While the Prince has been trying so hard to show to the world how women in his company can work side by side without the need to wear hijab (veil or headscarf), the majority of women in Saudi Arabia still find the idea of being in a mixed-environment intimidating. A government poll in 2006 showed that 86% women thought they shouldn't work in a mixed-environment and 86% thought that women shouldn't drive. I don't need to look too far for evidence — most of my female friends in Saudi Arabia didn't want the kind of radical change.
Saudi Arabia is having a small step towards change. But I don't expect women to drive anytime soon. I have lost hope about it long time ago. Perhaps it will happen, but not anytime soon. Perhaps it won't. My point is that, the only people who can enforce the change is their own people. If the majority of Saudis don't support what others expect them to be, radical change won't happen. The Saudi people are the driver of this change and no one else can stir it. I hope the best for them.
- New Rights, and Challenges, for Saudi Women by TIME magazine
- Prince Alwaleed–Saudi Oil Tycoon, Fox News Investor
- Prince Alwaleed bin Talal on Wikipedia