Prince Abdullah Bin Faisal Bin Turki Al-Saud

Article excerpt

You've probably seen him if you follow televised events from the Middle East. You may not have realized, however, that the unassuming but articulate and self-possessed Saudi "government official" explaining to English-speaking television audiences everything from the ecological effects of oil spills in the Gulf to the impact of Desert Shield/Desert Storm on day-to-day life in the desert kingdom is a grandson of its founder.

Prince Abdullah Bin Faisal Bin Turki Al-Saud has never been an official spokesman for his government. In fact, his training is as an engineer. At present he is chairman of the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu, responsible for administering all logistical services to the Kingdom's two showplace industrial cities, Jubail with 50,000 inhabitants and Yanbu with 30,000.

The former, near Saudi Arabia's Gulf oil fields, and the latter, 1,500 miles to the west where the trans-Arabian pipeline reaches the Red Sea, are the sites of major petrochemical industries the world's largest oil-producing country has developed to utilize the surplus energy and by-products of its oil refining operations.

The writer long ago discovered why the man whose organization arranges logistical support for these gigantic enterprises producing such products as chemical fertilizers and plastics so often serves as one of the world's windows into his homeland. In 1985, while making a film about the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the writer was escorted by the press attache of the US Embassy in Riyadh to Royal Commission headquarters to make arrangements for an American camera crew to visit Jubail.

In conversation after the formalities were completed, the prince, whose mother is a full sister to Saudi Arabia's ruler, King Fahd, and who is an extremely gregarious and hospitable man, explained the uniqueness of his vast but sparsely populated country. Since the seventh century AD, it has been the spiritual center of Islam, which, with Christianity, is one of the world's two largest religions. Currently Islam also is the world's (and America's) fastest-growing religion, and Saudi Arabia hosts up to 2 million foreign pilgrims to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina annually.

Saudi Arabia now also finds itself at the center of the global economy. It is the source of more than a third of worldwide OPEC petroleum production, and it has the world's largest proven petroleum reserves.

Its relationship to the United States also is unique, the prince explained. From the moment his grandfather, King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, chose American geologists and engineers to find, extract and market his country's oil, Saudi Arabia has preferred the United States for everything from the education of its children to consumer goods and, most recently, its military defenses. After listening to him speak, I not only took my camera crew to Jubail, I also took it to Riyadh and did an interview with Prince Abdullah that became a centerpiece of the Saudi portion of the film.

For a subsequent film about Saudi Arabia, I asked him to describe the formative role of his remarkable maternal grandfather in the unification of the Arabian peninsula. In a five-hour series of films about his country made a decade ago by producer Jo Franklin Trout, he played a similar explanatory role, even demonstrating on camera how to adjust the keffiyah, the Arab headdress worn by all Saudis. More recently, as literally hundreds of journalists from all over the world arrived to report on the Gulf war, Prince Abdullah made a point of introducing them to other Saudis at almost daily breakfasts, lunches or dinners in Jubail, or at bedouin-style barbeques at his "camp" in the desert east of Riyadh.

He played a leading role himself in that war. It was his Royal Commission that kept the vast oil slick released into the Gulf by the fighting in Kuwait from fouling the Kingdom's largest water desalination plants on the Gulf shores at Jubail.

Prince Abdullah Bin Faisal Bin Turki Al-Saud was born in the Saudi summer capital of Taif in 1951 into a family directly descended from Saud Bin Faisal, whose rule, along with that of his brother Abdullah, marked the end of the second Saudi state after an invasion of Ottoman Turks and their Egyptian vassals early in the 19th century. …