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Saudi Arabia’s new foreign minister: Businessman turned diplomat

Published: Updated:

Prominent businessman Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud was appointed the new foreign minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Wednesday in accordance with royal decree. A 45-year-old former businessman, Prince Faisal is known for his intellectual acumen, a no-nonsense approach to running a business and innate diplomatic skills, according to former colleagues and acquaintances.

German-born Prince Faisal left a successful 20-year career in Saudi Arabia’s business sector when King Salman bin Abdulaziz appointed him to the position of advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2017.

Prince Faisal is a well-known expert on Saudi Arabia and changes in the Kingdom, has been interviewed on television, and is a regular commentator on Twitter, where he has gained almost 70,000 followers.

“I believe the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has an excellent story to tell, even if we have been ineffective at telling it. We have been trying to adjust that,” he said in a 2017 keynote speech at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, DC.

Fluent in English, Arabic, and German, Prince Faisal tweets in all three languages and speaks publicly on issues relating to Saudi Arabia, especially domestic reforms and foreign policy.

Prince Faisal on domestic issues

A member of the royal family, Prince Faisal served as chief adviser to the Saudi Arabian Embassy in the United States and most recently as the Kingdom’s ambassador to Germany.

His appointment as foreign minister “signals the Kingdom’s commitment to enacting structural change in the bureaucracy of the foreign service,” a close acquaintance of Prince Faisal told Al Arabiya English.

Prince Faisal has applauded efforts to diversify the Kingdom’s economy through Vision 2030, a set of reforms spearheaded by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Calling Vision 2030 “more than an economic reform,” Prince Faisal described it as a “true effort at national transformation.”

“I come from the private sector and one of the things that has encouraged me is the willingness to constantly review and to understand when we have made mistakes, when the government has made mistakes, and adjust in the middle of the program. There is no pride involved. It really is all focused on achieving the end goals,” he said in the 2017 keynote speech at the Arab Gulf States Institute.

He said that Vision 2030 includes an emphasis on moderate Islamic principles to “make sure any extremist voices are marginalized and pushed out of the scene.”

In a 2017 interview with Fox News, Prince Faisal said that the government of Saudi Arabia was focused on empowering its people through education and job opportunities for youth and women.

“I think that will really marginalize the voices of extremism. I think if we can set a very good model for the region, hopefully others in the region can follow us,” he said.

Prince Faisal on foreign affairs

In his new position, Prince Faisal will be in charge of the Kingdom’s international presence, including the growing regional tensions with Iran. In the past he expressed skepticism of an improvement in this relationship in the absence of a major change in the Iranian regime’s behavior.

“The current regime has left very little room for dialogue…After 1979 there have been several attempts at dialogue between the Kingdom and Iran. Some of them worked temporarily, but in the end they always fail because of Iran’s tendency to want to export the revolution and its want to impose its will on region,” he said in the 2017 keynote speech at the Arab Gulf States Institute.

According to Prince Faisal, Saudi Arabia is keen to make sure ISIS does not re-emerge in Syria and Iraq. He said that begins with making sure the seeds of ISIS are not sown in these countries.

“We have to make sure that the people in Syria, the people in Iraq that are liberated from ISIS, can live peacefully, can live in harmony. I think that involves in Syria specifically, protecting them from the Syrian regime and from its Iranian allies,” he said in the same 2017 speech.

An entrepreneur and business leader

Prince Faisal founded Shamal Investment Company in 2003, a supplier of defense and security equipment and consulting services to government agencies and private companies. He served as chairman of the company, which comprised five successful companies in Saudi Arabia’s defense sector.

He was previously chairman of the board for Alsalam Aircraft Company, a Riyadh-based joint venture with Boeing. He currently sits on the board of the state-owned Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), which was founded in 2017.

He studied business administration at King Saud University.

A close acquaintance of Prince Faisal told Al Arabiya English that he had a reputation in the Kingdom of being a “no-nonsense businessman with a proven track record of delivering.”

“He is a rare balance of hard-nosed business, keen intellect, and consummate diplomacy and courteousness,” said the acquaintance.