Saudi Prince Calls Arab Americans Role Models for Arab World
Says Arab achievements in United States can be repeated in Arab World
H. Delano Roosevelt and Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud hug during ADC's annual convention in Washington. (Photo courtesy ADC)
By Ralph Dannheisser
Washington File Special Correspondent
Washington -- A member of the Saudi royal family, billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud, has told Arab Americans they are role models for the Arab world.
"You have proven that Arabs can be successful, and not only that, to be ahead of other ethnic groups," the businessman-philanthropist said, ticking off statistics from the latest U.S. census that showed Arab Americans exceeding the U.S. average in such areas as percentage of college degrees and of professional and managerial positions, median family income and home ownership.
"We can look at you here in the United States and see our role model," Alwaleed declared. "If you can do it in the United States, we should be able to do it in the Arab world."
Alwaleed served as keynote speaker at the 25th anniversary gala held during the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) annual convention here May 27-29.
He called for a transfer of "power and knowledge from here to there" that would bring the Arab countries reforms in government, law, finance and education. Above all, he said, "We have to mention the notion of civil society . civil society in the Arab region is very primitive."
Alwaleed detailed some of the serious problems he sees in Arab society.
"Many of the so-called institutions of higher learning are in reality no more than adult day care centers," high unemployment rates pose a threat to stability and women are "marginalized," he said.
Despite all these problems, he said, "there is, of course, nothing in Islam or Arab culture that predisposes us to permanent failure. My purpose is to affirm that we have the capability to escape from our current malaise."
But, Alwaleed stressed, making the needed changes will require the help and support of the West, including the United States -- and especially of Arab Americans who can be instrumental in building bridges between the two societies.
"Our relations with the American people cannot be allowed to fluctuate in tandem with the rise and fall of the price of oil," he said.
Much of Alwaleed's talk focused on the same two issues that dominated the three-day convention: the U.S. public's perception of Arabs and Muslims, and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
He decried what he saw as the destructive impact of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on the U.S. public's attitude toward Arabs, including Arab Americans.
Saudi Arabia, has been "the primary target of this onslaught," although the terrorists who came from there do not in any way represent the bulk of the Saudi people, he said. But Alwaleed said he is pleased that "a moderation of attitudes can now be discerned."
"What unites us is infinitely greater than those elements that divide us," he said.
On the Palestinian issue, however, Alwaleed complained that "the United States has not been fair and objective with the Palestinian cause."
Arabs, and more specifically Arab Americans, cannot rest until a state of Palestine has been established, the prince said. "Let us hope that a resolution to the Palestinian issue will soon be found and that a Palestinian state will emerge before long," he declared.
Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud speaks at ADC's annual convention. (Photo courtesy ADC)
Alwaleed received ADC's Global Achievement Award, citing him for "success in the global business community and outstanding humanitarian and philanthropic work for those in need throughout the world."
The citation said that Alwaleed -- not a member of the government -- has been a strong supporter of causes including women's rights and empowerment.
ADC quickly got its own indication of his philanthropic bent, especially toward Arab causes.
Former U.S. Senator James Abourezk, ADC's Arab-American founder, had told the gathering that $700,000 had been raised toward purchasing a $3.3 million headquarters building in Washington.
Hearing this, Alwaleed threw an unexpected line into the opening part of his speech: "James, you'll get the $2.6 million next week," he said to sustained audience applause.
The ADC is a civil rights organization committed to defending the rights of people of Arab descent and promoting their cultural heritage. Since its founding in 1980, it has become the nation's largest Arab-American civil rights organization.
The 2005 convention drew more than 1,000 participants from around the country.
Among those on the dais for the silver anniversary gala were the ambassadors of Kuwait, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the League of Arab States, and other high-ranking diplomats from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Libya.
Abourezk read a congratulatory letter from former President Jimmy Carter and former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu read one from former President George H.W. Bush, whom he had served as White House chief of staff.
Also participating was H. Delano Roosevelt, grandson of the late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was a 1945 meeting aboard the USS Quincy between the president and King Abdul Aziz, Alwaleed's grandfather and founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, that launched the close relationship between the two nations.
H. Delano Roosevelt pledged to work with Alwaleed toward "a greater understanding between grassroots Americans" and Saudis.
Adapting his grandfather's famous words to the post-September 11 situation of fear and mistrust, Roosevelt said, "If there was ever a time where we needed to reinvigorate the concept of 'freedom from fear,' now is the time."
The issue of Palestine surfaced frequently during the conference, once in a talk by former Senator George McGovern, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972.
McGovern deemed United Nations Resolution 242 to offer "still the most logical and fair-minded solution of the so-called Arab-Israeli conflict."
The U.N. resolution, adopted by the Security Council in November 1967, calls on all parties to work toward "a just and lasting peace in the Middle East." It contemplates withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied earlier that year, coupled with the Arab parties' recognition of Israel's "right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force."