The visit by one of the grandsons of King Abdulaziz to Washington this month provides a historic moment for the United States to reach out to the next possible ruler of a country that is consequential on the world stage and of enormous strategic importance to the U.S.
Miteb bin Abdullah is the son of the current ruler of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah. Prince Miteb was born in Riyadh and did his military training at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, graduating as a lieutenant and rising through the ranks of the Saudi military. Beginning a military career in the early 1980s, he eventually was appointed commander of the Saudi National Guard in November 2010 — a position previously held by King Abdullah himself — and later appointed minister of the National Guard in May 2013. He currently is a member of the Saudi Council of Ministers, the Military Service Council and vice president of the Supreme Committee of the National Festival for Heritage and Culture — the Janadriyah. Prince Miteb’s resume of appointments demonstrates the high level of regard he holds with his father as a capable and influential member of the next generation of Saudi royal family leadership.
Yet Prince Miteb’s influence is not merely owing to the number of appointments he enjoys, but rather the actions he has taken over the past few years. These actions are grounded in four fundamental principles. The first is the importance of stability within the broader Middle East. Prince Miteb understands that stability in countries such as Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen or Egypt prevents subversive regional actors from gaining undue influence. For example, in 2011 he ordered the National Guard to intervene in Bahrain, thus preventing an American ally (Bahrain is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet) from slipping away to Iranian influence and from creating further instability in the Persian Gulf.
Prince Miteb has also demonstrated the ability to act quickly and decisively against subversive non-state actors such as the Islamic State, or ISIS. This decisiveness is borne from a second fundamental tenet of the 60 year-old prince’s thinking; namely, the need to unite against extremism. Prince Miteb thinks that the Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a state. As a man of faith whose father is the custodian of the Islam’s two most important sites (Mecca and Medina), he has no illusions about the need to ensure that extremists do not hijack Islam for political ends. For example, in 2013, Prince Miteb spoke at the Janadriyah festival on the need for more secularization in Saudi Arabia and downplayed the role of political Islam. His remarks were welcomed by a majority of Saudi men and woman who do not want to remain hostage to narrow-minded clerics but instead think — like the prince — that jihad should be about creating, building and innovating, not destroying.
Not surprisingly, another fundamental principle that guides the next possible ruler of Saudi Arabia is the need to embrace technological innovation to advance humanity’s common challenges. Like his father, Prince Miteb refers to institutions that can create innovative ideas to battle cancer or build a more efficient solar cell as “houses of wisdom.” It did not come as a surprise, therefore, to learn that the prince was familiar with the U.S. Marines’ recent moves to an independent electric-grid infrastructure to ensure uninterrupted power flow using highly efficient solar panels. Just as America is worried about attacks on its national grid, so too are the Saudis. Therefore, despite being the world’s largest oil producer, the kingdom plans to spend billions of dollars over the next few years on solar energy. As an enthusiast of American innovation, the prince sees enormous potential for American companies with game-changing technologies to partner with Saudi Arabia.
Philanthropy is another fundamental guiding principle for Prince Miteb. Whether it is helping low-income Saudi families with housing or sending aid to starving Iraqi families escaping the terror of ISIS thugs, the prince has acted with compassion. More specifically, he would like to establish in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Defense a hub in Saudi Arabia for a rapid-response team made up of Saudi National Guard and U.S. military personal to respond to natural disasters around the world such as the devastating typhoon that struck the Philippines last year.
Washington should take two immediate steps to begin closer engagement with Prince Miteb. First, the prince should be invited to address a joint session of Congress and outline his vision of how a more robust U.S.-Saudi partnership can address the global and regional challenges facing the United States, Saudi Arabia and the civilized world. Second, the National Academy of Sciences should organize a tour of American universities and startups for Prince Miteb to meet the next generation of America’s innovators.
As Washington looks at the next chapter of its relations with Saudi Arabia, engagement with and cultivation of ties to the man who can uphold King Abdullah’s legacy of reform becomes paramount. That person is Prince Miteb bin Abdullah.
S. Rob Sobhani is the CEO of Caspian Group Holdings and author of “King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: A Leader of Consequence.” (Caspian Publishing, 2012.)
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