Sam Husseini asked a tough question of a member of the Saudi royal family at a National Press Club event–which got him into some trouble with folks at the Press Club. (Good news–his suspension has been lifted.)
Part of what motivated Husseini to question Turki al-Faisal was the fact that a representative of such a repressive regime would have the nerve to give a talk about Arab democracy. Elite journalists, on the other hand, don’t spend much time worrying about this. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius filed his Sunday column (11/27/11) from Riyadh, where he was speaking about, what else, Arab democracy with another member of the Saudi ruling family, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.
Ignatius’ point was that “elders who have been through countless springs and winters” can see things with “consequent clarity.” He went on:
There are some wise, older voices left, and they deserve a hearing. So listen for a moment to Prince Saud al-Faisal, the 71-year-old Saudi foreign minister. He’s had that post since 1975 and is the world’s longest-serving foreign minister.
I met Saud at his palace here a week ago, and it was a poignant visit: The prince has Parkinson’s disease, and his hands and voice tremble slightly. Though his body is frail, his Princeton-educated intellect remains sharp: This was the most interesting of our many conversations over the years.
What was so interesting about Saud’s words? It’s not clear. He says that Arab “governing bodies” assume “that they can go on neglecting the will of the people,” which he apparently thinks is unwise–though he also seems to think that Saudi Arabia’s family-based dictatorship is not doing this.
Husseini asked about the Saudi regime’s efforts to inhibit pro-democracy Arab Spring movements in Egypt and Bahrain. Ignatius, on other hand, dwelt on the positive:
I think Saud captured the most positive factor I have seen in my travels this year. The Arab people are writing their own narrative for once. They are not victims of domestic dictators or foreign powers.
Ignatius also reports back that “Saud has the regal ways of a Bedouin prince, tall and thin, with an ascetic face that masks the spark in his eyes.” Now that’s journalism!