As people run around screaming about a clash of civilizations, it is reassuring to spend time with Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. He crosses boundaries in a unique way, proudly emphasizing his role as the largest individual foreign investor in the U.S. and mingling with power brokers from business, politics and even entertainment, in the East and the West. The Arab world needs people like him who show that good business can unite the most diverse of cultures and nations. In the mid-'90s, he bailed out Citibank when no one else would step inincluding Americans. He has openly condemned terrorism and pushed for reform at home in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle Eastalthough he points out with a wry smile that modernization does not have to equal Westernization. The Arab world, he believes, can find a balance that moves it forward without compromising traditions and culture.
The Middle East is at a crossroads. On the one hand, there are forces pushing for a break from the West because of its intervention in places like Iraq and its inequity in the treatment of Israelis compared with Palestinians. On the other hand, prosperous Gulf nations such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar encourage closer ties with America and Europe to help grow their mushrooming multicultural societies.
Prince Alwaleed, 53, has shown that the common goals of peace and stability can conquer ill-founded prejudices. He has charm, a wonderful sense of humor and the rare ability to answer tough questions with candid answers. With his example, it is possible the right path on that crossroads will be chosen.
Khan is a host on Al Jazeera English and the author of Alwaleed
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