TME EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

TME: Following the announcement by HM King Abdullah that Saudi Arabian women will now be eligible to be nominated as municipal and Shura council candidates your Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation announced its support for the Sharikah project, aimed at strengthening the position of Saudi women in political activity. Can you tell us more about this project and how it will help Saudi women develop their role in society more fully?

HRH Prince Alwaleed: This will be the first time that Saudi women will be permitted to be part of their country’s electoral process and I believe it is very important to encourage them not only to go out and vote but also to educate them about their rights and how to use this opportunity fully. The Sharikah project is really an enlightenment project to help ladies understand their role in the process they will be a part of and to assist them in becoming properly incorporated into the system. We are currently at a very elementary stage but obviously as things progress and proceed we will definitely raise the stakes. The initiative is very much in line with the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation’s objective of having ladies fully incorporated and assimilated into Saudi society.

TME: In addition to your support for women, you have long been pivotal in the ongoing search to develop an effective strategy for expanding employment opportunities for the region’s burgeoning young population. Do you believe we are any closer to finding an answer to the problem?

HRH Prince Alwaleed: Steps are being taken to tackle and eventually eradicate the problem in Saudi Arabia, but unfortunately I do not see this happening in a cohesive manner. I see steps being taken to address the issue but no major, comprehensive, national plan to really examine the problem from all angles. This is a pressing problem, when you consider that 60% of our population in Saudi Arabia is below the age of 30. It can be considered as something of a time bomb in terms of our society. We are making moves in the right direction but we are not there yet.

TME:You are involved in the Egyptian market with, among other ventures, your agricultural company KADCO in Toshka. How is the current volatile situation there impacting international business and do you see an early resolution to the problem for investors?

HRH Prince Alwaleed: The situation in Egypt has improved a lot; clearly it is not as bad as it was before ex- president Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brothers were unseated from their position in government. We are expecting elections in Egypt imminently and we are optimistic about developments after that. Our projects in Egypt are moving ahead and we do not expect, in any case, that what might go on in and around the Cairo area will have any impact on our Toshka operations deep in the south of the country.

TME: Middle East air travel is forecast to grow by as much as 150% by 2021 and you have already recognised this opportunity with your involvement with NAS Saudi Arabia; do you have any other plans in this fast moving area?

HRH Prince Alwaleed: No, the emphasis for Kingdom Holding is on NAS which is the only privately owned airline operation in Saudi Arabia. When we go with a company we concentrate on it wholeheartedly and the results and growth we have seen from NAS have been very encouraging and in conformity with the figures you have mentioned. NAS is expanding regionally and internationally and will serve to connect Saudi Arabia with the outside world in this fast expanding sector. It is important to remember that Saudi Arabia has people coming to the Umrah, the lesser Hajj, (pilgrimage, which can be made at any time of the year), for at least nine months of the year and I think NAS has an important part to play in serving this market.

TME :It has been reported that you are pushing all the companies you have invested in – Four Seasons, Fairmont, JD.com and all your projects in Saudi Arabia and especially the real estate entities towards monetisation. Can you explain what you mean by this and how you hope to achieve it?

HRH Prince Alwaleed: When we use the term ‘monetisation’, this can take many forms; it can mean in an IPO (initial public offering) form, in a merger form, a reverse merger form or even selling a stake in the company. I have emphasised recently that we have a lot of jewels in Kingdom Holding. We have what I sometimes describe as ‘hidden treasures’, that are not publicly traded yet. These ‘treasures’ amount to in excess of $12 billion and include jewels such as the Four Seasons group, the Fairmont group, JD.com, real estate in Jeddah, real estate and NAS in Riyadh, the Savoy Hotel in London, the Plaza in New York, the George V in Paris, and many other assets. Most of these companies have to monetise but this does not mean just cashing out. No, this means finding a home where you can begin marking to market, which is exactly what happened to the successful IPO of Twitter.

We have many “twitters” in our inventory, many “twitters” in our treasury.

We are pitching all our companies towards the monetisation process and there is no one custom-made solution for all these companies.

They are in very diverse industries – hotels, real estate, technology and aviation – and in many different countries, such as China, the United States, Europe and the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia – so one size does not fit all but eventually they all have to go towards some form of monetisation process but at the right time. Obviously. Kingdom Holding has many public companies but also many private ones, which we called our ‘treasures’. These ‘treasures’ are worth more than $12 billion. If they go public, they will be marketed and the advantages to Kingdom Holding shareholders would be tremendous.

TME: You hold stakes in Fox, News Corporation, Twitter and the Beijing-based retailer JD.com, among many others, and now it is rumoured that you are considering investing in Square, a mobile payment solution company. How is this progressing?

HRH Prince Alwaleed: I cannot comment on on-going negotiations with any specific company but I can confirm that we are continually discussing, evaluating and looking at projects nationally, regionally and internationally in various areas. Clearly, the Internet and social networking definitely attractive to us and, right now, In the vanguard of our attention. The fact that we are investors in JD.com and also in Twitter clearly indicates that Kingdom Holding has an appetite to invest in this sector.

TME The recent move by Saudi Arabia to recall its ambassador from Doha has caused quite a stir in diplomatic circles but there must also be concerns among businessmen such as you to witness such signs of dissent in the 33-year-old organisation. Should we be concerned or do you regard this as ‘a storm in a teacup’?

HRH Prince Alwaleed: Clearly, right now, we have problems inside the GCC. We have three countries, namely Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain who have taken the step of withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar. But my sincere hope is that this will prove to be no more than a storm in a teacup and that very soon we can return to the previous order, restoring harmony among all members. There are more things that unite the six countries of the GCC than divide us; we have one language, one religion, one society and one objective and so many common threads between us. There is so much common ground between these six countries that I strongly believe that the storm clouds that hang over the GCC will dissipate soon.

TME:: In March you were awarded the highest honour granted by the State of Palestine, The Medal of Honour, for your efforts on behalf of the Palestinian people. At a time when the Palestinians have few champions, you have gone out on a limb to express your support for development and economic growth in Palestine. It was also reported in March that when visiting the Israeli occupied Palestinian Territories you refused to enter via an Israeli checkpoint. Can you please elaborate on that decision and how you feel the international community – both Arab and non-Arab – might help the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories to develop their economy, increase employment and alleviate their desperate plight?

HRH Prince Alwaleed: There were several reasons for my visit to Palestine, political, economic, business and charitable. With all the problems in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as all the troubles suffered as a result of the so-called Arab Spring, and with all the other ongoing problems around the world, the Palestine issue has been forced into the back seat. I really wanted to put Palestine in the spotlight again. I still believe that Palestine is the number one issue to be solved within the Middle East.

By my visit, I wanted to show economic and financial support to the Palestinian people in these tough times and during my stay there, a number of economic, charitable and philanthropic agreements were signed with the Palestinian government to support the Palestinian people.

The Arab world and the World community has a stake in the development of Palestine. You can clearly see the difference between the West Bank and Gaza In the West Bank we are beginning to see the ingredients and the early beginnings of a state because of the progress of democracy that exists and the economic development that has been injected into the area as a result of the leadership of Abu Mazen (Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas). Compare this to Gaza, which is still ruled by Hamas; they are still in a revolutionary mood and mode with their continuous bombardment of Israel. These are the two elements of the Palestinian state; one of them – the West Bank – advancing rapidly, while Gaza is left behind in a very tough situation because of the pressure the Israeli leadership is exerting on the Palestinian people and because of the weak leadership of Hamas. I put the blame on both. In terms of economic assistance, the Arab world and the international community is doing the minimum, almost nothing at all. If we take Gaza, this is one of the most dangerous areas in the world; too many people living in a strip of land not more than 25 miles long and an average of around five miles deep. A lot more could and should be done, both in Gaza and the West Bank.

TME: Since the Arab Spring the Middle East seems to have become something of a political minefield, with Iran recently thrown into an already volatile mix. There is concern in the West about how things will pan out. On the international stage you have funded and supported organisations and initiatives to promote greater East-West understanding, you have become a well known and well respected person in the Arab world. Is it possible that one day in the future, in addition to your business concerns and philanthropic ventures, we might see you enter the global political arena?

HRH Prince Alwaleed: I am often asked this question but as you know, these days, being involved in business, economics, charities, philanthropy and the financial world, all these are inter- twined with politics, whether we like it or not. Whether I am explicitly involved in politics or not basically I am immersed in the political arena de facto. I like to contribute to my nation and to society that is my mission and I intend to continue with it.

TME: There has been much written in recent weeks about the extent of your wealth, specifically in relation to Forbes magazine and their erroneous reports of your financial assets. You have denied some of figures being cited but this has not quelled the speculation. Could I ask you what is the figure the media is so desperate to know; how much are you worth?

HRH Prince Alwaleed: Frankly speaking this issue has never been about my wealth. The damage done by Forbes was threefold: Firstly, Forbes struck at the integrity of Saudi Arabia; secondly, Forbes maligned the integrity of the Saudi Arabian stock market and, thirdly, Forbes impugned my own personal integrity.

For more than a decade they have been less than positive about me personally but they went too far when they attempted to compromise the integrity of Saudi Arabia and of its stock market and me personally. That is why we are currently suing them. The Court in London already accepted our argument and will have the final jurisdiction.

There are various respected publications around the world that have reported on on the matter such as Hurun in China, Bloomberg in New York and Arabian Business in Dubai, as well as many other entities. Forbes should get its house in order before it is sold to a new buyer.

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