Farewell to an ally of Spain and a friend

The death of former Ministry of Foreign Affairs Saud al-Faisal has gone almost unnoticed by public opinion due to the hyperinflation of news and the crises affecting the international community. The demise of the Saudi Minister, world’s diplomacy doyen for several decades, requires however a much-deserved tribute to the tremendous work he carried out during his 40 years as Arabian head of diplomacy.

Saud al-Faisal’s charisma and diplomatic ability cannot be denied. The history of the Middle East could not be understood without referring to his vision and the work done by this brilliant politician able to balance intelligence and savoir faire, tradition and modernity. It did not come easy for him to make his way through the winding paths of Middle East diplomacy and build up as one of the solid values of the foreign policy of his country and the whole Arab world. Saud al-Faisal achieved it. His piercing and sharp look managed first to catch one’s attention and then convince with solid and strikingly original arguments. It was a “privilege” to listen to his interventions at international conferences. What was most surprising were his improvised interventions, when he got into the dialectic play of international negotiation. He knew thoroughly the Arab mindset and also the Western one, particularly Anglo-Saxon, since he was a student at Princeton. Many times I admiringly saw him expose the contradictions and double standards of Western policy in the Middle East.

His carriage and elegance were inevitably felt at conference rooms and noticed by most of the delegations. His presence gave off a special autoritas setting him apart from among the heads of delegation.

In the whole world, including Spain, his loss is greatly felt. The best tribute to his figure would be furthering his legacy. I had the chance to take part in some of the pages written all though his extensive career. I held many encounters and meetings with him over the last 25 years. I remember meetings at Riad or Jeddah, when he decided to drive the car from the airport to the Ministry, or when he greeted me at the Waldorf Astoria dressed in Western clothes, with striking elegance and easiness.

Many were the diplomatic battles he fought and won, but his greatest contribution might be the Taif Agreements (the city where he was born), as well as the Arab Peace Initiative presented in Beirut in 2002. This was a renewed proposal based on King Fahd’s initiative at the Arab League Summit at Fez, called “Fahd Plan”, pursuing a solution for the Palestinian conflict. This might have been one of his unfulfilled dreams, but his last proposal and the efforts he made during his later years may well set the foundations for a final solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His leadership in the Arab world was unparalleled and his resolute will to strengthen Arab unity and provide a better future for it did not prevent him from always being straightforward and sincere: he denounced Bashar al-Assad’s or Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki’s leadership. I remember as if it were only yesterday Saud al-Faisal’s words a few days after the fall of Baghdad, warning me on the dangers and challenges of supporting new sectarian leaderships in Iraq unable to restore stability and security to old Mesopotamia.

When he stepped down as the head of the Saudi diplomacy two months ago, I understood that my friend Saud wanted to say farewell to his mission in the world. It should not strike us that his demise comes at the end of a stage, beginning more than 40 years ago. His country was lead through that stage and, in spite of a nomad and forgotten history, it became one of the major players in the international order. Prince Saud al-Faisal greatly contributed to that Herculean task.

It is a paradox that two myths of the recent history of Fenix-Arabia have passed away in the same week: the Saudi diplomat and the movie actor Omar Sharif, who masterly played Ali Idn El Harish, one of the leaders of the Arab revolt, in Lawrence of Arabia. This Arab revolt that has joined the collective imagination has lost two of its major references.

Spain is in great debt to Saud al-Faisal. His appointment as Minister came upon Spain’s passage to democracy and Marcelino Oreja was his first colleague. All Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministers have had many chances to strengthen our bonds with him and his country. His friendship with King Juan Carlos I was a plus that boosted the work of the Spanish diplomacy. He always kept a close eye on the Spanish Arabist vocation, that is why I invited him to take part in the opening of Casa Árabe. This institution could organize in his honour a conference in tribute to his friendship to and collaboration with our country.

Farewell to Prince Saud al-Faisal, farewell to a politician committed to the international community, farewell to an ally of Spain and a friend.