The Departed Was An Honorable Man Who Served His Country and His Nation Well |
Al Hayat - 18 June, 2012
Author: Jihad Al Khazen
I have not yet woken from the passing away of Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, and now, I am shocked by the death of Prince Nayef, his brother. I know that death is ineluctable, but I have the right to be saddened, to feel sorrow, and to recall some memories that are dear to my heart with the late Prince.
It is not about him being a Prince or Minister, but rather a personal relationship that lasted decades in which personal memories went hand in hand with public work. As I used to sit with Price Nayef (and before him Prince Sultan), I did not know where to draw the line between work, which for me is political news, and friendship, so that one would not overshadow the other.
In the mid-seventies, I was with Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, when he was the Emir of Riyadh, and I decided to seize the opportunity and ask him a number of political questions. He answered some and then told me that my questions are the jurisdiction of Prince Nayef, then-Minister of Interior, and so he arranged for me to meet him. That meeting proved to be the beginning of a friendship that is now concluding its fourth decade. When Al-Sharq Al-Awsat celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, he told me in front of a crowd: I came for you; for I was the newspaper’s first Editor.
In the beginning, I used to meet with the Interior Minister in his office during office hours. However, after he grew confident of the accuracy of how I handled news about him, he started allocating his last appointment in the night for me. More than once, I left his office in the famous building that looks like an inverted pyramid at 5 in the morning, because we would engage in personal conversations after political ones, until the time for Morning Prayer came at which point the Prince would go back to his home to pray and sleep.
Prince Nayef was no doubt a conservative. But I used to debate with him all issues without embarrassment, from women’s driving to capital punishment. When I insisted on women’s right to drive, he once told me laughing: Our men don’t know how to drive, and you want women to drive?
I once told him that I am against the death penalty except in cases where children are raped or murdered. He said that my problem was that I was thinking about the killer, while the Prince was thinking about the victim.
The real and most important skill of Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz was clearest in his work as the first security man in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the man never pursued a heavy-handed approach in confronting the terrorists, instead following a carrot and stick approach. His team thus managed to persuade dozens of potential terrorists of the error of their ways, who then went back to righteousness. The government would then rehabilitate them and give them salaries, and help them marry and lead stable lives.
This policy was so successful that the Americans decided to replicate it, and until last month, I would often read about details of American programs designed on the basis of the Saudi experience.
Putting friendship aside, I say with the professional objectivity that I have that Prince Nayef was first and foremost a Saudi patriot who placed the interests of his country as he saw them above every other interest, and who never shied away from bold and firm decisions when this was needed.
One example of this is enough. I bore witness to it with the Prince and wrote about it, and I still keep the minutes of our conversations together: the Khobar bombing in 1996. The Americans had requested to run the investigation themselves, but Prince Nayef rejected this. They asked to participate in the investigation, and again, the Prince refused. In the end, he allowed them nothing more than to write questions that the Saudi investigators can ask the suspects, while the Americans observed behind a two-way mirror.
I don’t think I would be revealing a secret if I said that Prince Nayef had gathered enough evidence that condemns Saudi Hezbollah and Iran as being behind the bombing of Khobar. But instead of handing over the evidence to the Americans, which would then carry out a strike against Iran that would unleash more terrorism, he used this information to threaten the Iranians. As a result, he reached a security agreement with Iran, and since 1996, no terrorist attack against any Saudi target has occurred, be it in Saudi Arabia or abroad, and be it from a Shiite Iranian source or otherwise. This achievement protected the lives of many Saudis, and I was a direct witness to it.
Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz was my friend. He is now with his Lord, so I pray for mercy for him and for solace for his brothers and children for having lost an honorable man who served his country and his nation well.