Adonis Diaries

Archive for April 25th, 2016

12 Most beautiful mosques in the Middle East and North Africa

And the stories behind these mosques

There is no doubt that the Middle East and North African regions have a lot of history, influences and Islamic heritage.

With a wide variety of architectural buildings inspired by a vast number of influences, both regions have mosques that have stood the test of time and remain to this day, beautifully designed houses of worship.

What are the stories behind these mosques though? StepFeed decided to find out – Let’s just say that the stories are as equally fascinating as the buildings they represent.|By Nina Awad

1.The Great Mosque of Mohammed Ali Pasha in Egypt

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The mosque is situated in the Citadel of Cairo, which is located in the heart of the capital. Mohammed Ali Pasha ordered the mosque to be constructed between 1830 and 1848 in memory of his son, Tusun Pasha, who died in 1816. However, the magnificent building was not complete until Said Pasha’s reign in 1857.

The mosque wasn’t properly constructed and by 1899, the building was full cracks and holes within the walls. Yet, incomplete and inadequate repairs took place. In 1931, King Farouk deemed the mosque too dangerous and ordered a complete scheme of restoration before such a historical monument was lost.

The mosque is currently a great tourist attraction, for both domestic and foreign travelers.

2. Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Turkey

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Known as the Blue Mosque due to its famous blue tiles that embellish its interior walls, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 in Turkey’s capital, Istanbul.

After the huge defeat in the war with Persia between 1604 -1618, Sultan Ahmet I was determined to reassert the Ottoman power and decided to build a big mosque in Istanbul. The famous mosque would mark the first imperial mosque to be built in more than 40 years. Unlike his predecessors who built mosques using funding they gained from their wars, Ahmet I had to reallocate money from the treasury to fund his project, angering many Muslim jurists in the process.

3. The Umayyad Mosque in Syria

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Located in Damascus, the Umayyed is one of largest and oldest mosques in the world and it is considered to be the fourth holiest place in Islam by some Muslims.

In the year 634 and after the Arab conquest on Damascus, the mosque was built on the site of a shrine dedicated to John the Baptist, who is a prophet in the eyes of Christians and Muslims alike. A legendary story from the era stipulates that the somewhere in the building, John the Baptist’s head remains. Furthermore, Muslims believe that the Umayyad Mosque is the place where Jesus Christ will return at the end of days.

The tomb of Saladin, the medieval Muslim Ayyubid Sultan Saladin, stands in a small garden in the north wall of the mosque.

4. The Quba Mosque in Saudi Arabia

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The Quba Mosque, which is the oldest mosque in the world and had its first bricks were placed by Prophet Mohammed, is located in the city of Medina in Saudi Arabia. After leaving Mecca to head to Medina, Prophet Mohammed spent 2 weeks in the mosque in which he performed the “Hijra” prayers while waiting for his companion, Ali, to arrive from Mecca.

According to Islamic laws, completing two rakaāt of nafl prayers in the Quba Mosque is equal to performing one Umrah. A hadith told by Ahmed Ibn Hanbal, Al-Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, and Hakim Al- Nishaburi state the prophet used to go to the Quba Mosque every Saturday and did two rakaāt. Afterwards, the prophet called on other Muslims to do the same and said “whoever makes ablutions at home and then goes and prays in the Mosque of Quba, he will have a reward like that of an Umrah.”

5. Hagia Sophia in Turkey

Circa 1900 photograph

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Hagia Sophia was Christian church that was later turned into an imperial mosque. Now however, the remarkable building stands as museum in Istanbul.

From the date of its construction in the year 537 until 1453, the building was a Greek Orthodox cathedral except for a short period of time between 1204 and 1261 when it was converted to Roman Catholic during the Latin Empire. Then the building served as a mosque from 1453 until its secularization in 1931.

The church housed a large number of holy artifacts and stood witness to the excommunication of Patriarch Michael I Cerularius by Pope Leo IX in 1054. Also, during the conquering of Istanbul by the Ottoman Turks headed by Sultan Mehmed II, who ordered the church to transform to Islam and serve as a mosque, the Chrisitan cathedral had fallen into despair and had no choice but to oblige. The church sacrificed all holy monuments and removed mosaics depicting Jesus and Mary and they were replaced by Islamic artifacts such as mihrab and four minarets.

Islamic relics stayed in the mosque till it was closed to the public for four years until its reopening in 1935 as a museum. Hagia Sophia’s fine architectural detail served as an inspiration for other mosques such as the Blue Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque, the Rüstem Pasha Mosque and the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque.

6. The Shah Mosque in Iran

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The Shah Mosque is located in Isfaham, Iran, and has been renamed to Imam Mosque after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The initial construction of the building took part during the Safavids period and is among the best examples of Islamic architecture in the country. Often seen as the masterpiece of Persian architecture, it is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its seven colored mosaic tiles and calligraphic inscriptions that date back to 1611.

7. The Süleymaniye Mosque in Turkey

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Yet another Ottoman imperial mosque that is located in Istanbul is the Süleymaniye Mosque. Built on the orders of Sultan Süleyman, the groundbreaking construction began in 1550 and was complete by 1558.

One of Turkey’s most famous tourist attractions, the mosque beautifully blends Islamic architecture with Byzantine architectural elements. The elegentally designed mosque was burned in fiery flames in 1660 and was restored by Sultan Mehmen IV. Another part of mosque collapsed during an earthquake in 1766. During WW1, the mosque’s courtyard served as storage for weapons. Unfortunately, however, ammunition caught on fire under bizarre circumstances which caused further damage to the building. It wasn’t until 1956 that the mosque went under full restoration.

8. Al Aksari Mosque in Iraq

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The Aksari mosque is one of Shia Muslims’ holiest shrines in the world and is located in the city of Samarra, Iraq. Built in 944, the shrine had the remains of the 10th and 11th Shia imams Ali Al Hadi and his son, Hasan Al Aksari. Also buried within the holy mosque are Hakimah Khatun, Ali Al Hadi’s sister, and Narjis Khatun, Mouhammed Al Mahdi’s mother.

Both imams, Ali Al Hadi and Hassan Al Aksari, were under house arrest in a military camp called Caliph Al Mu’tasim and therefore, they are known as the Askariyyain or “Dwellers in the Camp.” Following their death, they were both buried in their house on Abi Ahmed street near the mosque.

Nasir Ad Din Shah Qajar, the king of Persia from1848 to 1896, ordered the latest remodeling of the shrine in 1868. However, the golden dome on that topped the shrine was destroyed in 2006 by extremists. In June 2007, the remaining minarets were destroyed and in July of the same year, a separate bombing destroyed the remaining clock tower.

9. Nasir Ol Molk Mosque in Iran

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Widely referred to as the Pink Mosque, the Nasir Ol Molk Mosque is located in Shiraz, Iran. The mosque was constructed during the Qajar era and remains under the protection of the Endowment Foundation of Nasir Ol Molk. Construction on the marvelous building began in 1876 and was complete in 1888 on the order of Mirzā Hasan Ali, a Qajar ruler.

The mosque includes a large number of colored glass and brilliantly portrays the traditional elements on Shia Islam such as the five concaved designs.

10. The Mosque of Ahmad Ibn Tulun in Egypt

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The mosque of Ahmad Ibn Tulun, which is situated in Cairo, is one of the oldest mosques in the city surviving in its original form and design.

Ordered to be built by Ahmad in Tulun, Abbassif governor of Egypt from 868 to 884, the construction of this historic mosque began in 876 and was completed in 879. The mosque has undergone several restorations with the first recorded attempt of repairs in 1177 under the orders of Fatimid Wazir Badr Al Jamali, who inscribed the Shia version of the Shehahda on mosque’s walls. Improvements to the mosque were also observed in 1296 and most recently in 2004 under the orders of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

11. The Khamis Mosque in Bahrain

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Widely believed to be the first mosque built in Bahrain during the Umayyad era under the rule of Caliph Umar II, the Islamic monument is believed to have been founded in 692. However, an inscription on the walls of the mosque says that the foundation happened sometime during the 11th century.

The ancient building went through a complete restoration in the 14th and 15th centuries. The current monument however is composed of two main parts. The first is a prayer hall with a flat roof that is backed by wooden columns that go back to the 14th century. The second part was in addition to the flat roof and is rested upon thick arches that date back to 1339.

12. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayad Mosque

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Initiated by the founder of the United Arab Emirates, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan,

the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is one of the largest, most impressive mosques to be built in the last 100 years.

With room for more than 7,000 worshippers in its main hall, it serves as the grand mosque for the UAE. Like the UAE itself, the mosque is a mix of regional styles and designs, with Persian, Moghul and Moorish inspirations.

And of course, being in the UAE, the mosque has some notable “biggest” claims: It has what is reportedly the world’s largest carpet (5,627 m2), the third-largest chandelier in the world (15 m in height) and the largest marble mosaic in the world (17,000 m2).

Rarely is there a better representation of a country in its grand mosque than the Sheikh Zayad is for the UAE.

If Not Now, When? Young Jews Refuse to Stay Silent on the Occupation of Palestinian territories

Transcend the impulse to use silence as armor

This Pesach (Passover), young Jews across the United States under the banner of IfNotNow are calling for a sea change in American Jewish consciousness and an end to American Jewish support for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

On April 19, I stood with 100 young American Jews in the office lobby of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to say we support freedom and dignity for all Palestinians and Israelis.

This week, in New York, Boston, Washington, DC, Chicago and San Francisco, hundreds of young American Jews are holding ritual protests and getting arrested to say we have had enough. I feel the yearning of a generation to tell a new story of what it means to be Jewish.

Standing with this community, I feel a call to end my own silence.

I used to think of myself as brave, speaking what is tacitly left unsaid, writing poetry about queerness and anger, war and assimilation.

But as I’ve grown into adulthood I’ve felt the corners of my jaw ache as I keep my mouth shut to stop the words of dignity and occupation rising in my throat from pouring out. And it has been painful.

I feel the yearning of a generation to tell a new story of what it means to be Jewish.|By Sammy Sass

I am surprised, but more to the point, I am disturbed. How did my voice dim and my jaw tighten and my hands begin to hesitate?

These lessons in silence are learned; and most devastatingly, I learned them from the place that once taught me to know myself by the power of my own voice: Judaism.

I feel a call to reawaken my voice.

The institutions that raised us have betrayed us. They have taught us bravery and then asked for silence in return.

Hebrew school encouraged dispute and dialogue, introduced me to my first lover and girls making sisterhood.

When I was a teenager, Jewish institutions hired me as a teacher, empowering me to believe in my capacity. My synagogue encouraged me at the age of 15 to read a Shabbat sermon about the unbelievability of God.

They gave me a monogrammed copy of The Jewish Book of Why on the day my brother and I became bnai’ mitzvah.

IfNotNow member leads a collective scream during the action. (Photo: Michelle Weiser) 

An IfNotNow member leads a collective scream during the action. (Photo: Michelle Weiser)

But my synagogue also put up a “We Stand With Israel” sign and taught me that to be American and Jewish meant to unquestioningly support a nation engaged in violent oppression and occupation.

Some American Jewish leaders say that those of us who have walked away from the institutions that raised us have betrayed Judaism. I say that these institutions have betrayed us. They have taught us bravery and then asked for silence in return.

The “We Stand With Israel” signs — and the authority behind them, which is far larger than my individual synagogue — are a defense against the increasingly warranted critique of Israel’s brutal military occupation and systematic disenfranchisement of Palestinian people.

And that defensiveness makes sense for a people with a history of persecution and suffering. It makes sense for Jews to feel scared. The signs are an attempt to protect unity and strength and resources.

But defensiveness, and the silence it requires, is not a way to heal. It is a way to dam the waters of a conversation that needs to be central to modern Jewish life.

IfNotNow is a movement that lets the waters flow. I am in this movement because I need to speak and transcend the impulse to use silence as armor.

Yesterday, as I stood with IfNotNow and said, “Dayenu, It has been enough,” I thought about Mitzrayim, the Hebrew word for Egypt.

I thought about how it means the dark and narrow place. I imagined the slaves who left Egypt in the middle of the night carrying what they could of their possessions and their children on their backs. I imagined the joy and the luminous sense of possibility to be walking out of bondage.

But I also imagined the gut-wrenching sense of fear. I imagined a community of people walking away from everything they had ever known and how disastrous the present must have felt in order to risk stepping into a desert of total uncertainty.

In the Pesach story, the present disaster was slavery. As modern Jews, we again face Mitzrayim as we acknowledge the disaster of a Judaism associated with war, violent occupation and communal silence.

Choosing to walk through the dark and narrow place means choosing freedom and dignity for all — including Palestinians, Israelis and American Jews.

We have a choice to make. Choosing to walk through the dark and narrow place means choosing freedom and dignity for all — including Palestinians, Israelis and American Jews.

It also means choosing total change.

When the American Jewish consciousness, and the institutions that claim to represent us, choose this, a vibrant Judaism can be reborn. This risk will be rewarded, as we know a true freedom that does not rely on the bondage of others.

IfNotNow member is arrested for chaining herself to table inside AIPAC lobby. (Photo: Sam Boaz) 

An IfNotNow member is arrested for chaining herself to a ritual seder table inside AIPAC’s office lobby. (Photo: Sam Boaz)

In the Pesach story, the risk is rewarded as the Jews are delivered to the place we now call Israel. To retell this story without my heart breaking, I remember that Israel is a name, the second name of Jacob as told in the Torah.

After Jacob steals his brother’s birthright, betrays his father and leaves his home, an angel comes to him in the middle of the night to wrestle.

This angel is a metaphor as Jacob wrestles with himself and unflinchingly examines his past hurt, and the pain he has caused. Only then, after this night of redemptive self-awareness, is he renamed.

Israel, then, is one who wrestles.
Israel is not one who learns silence, or
one who lives in fear, or
one who does as told.
Israel is one who asks, who listens, who struggles, and heals.
This is the legacy that I reclaim.

I walk with IfNotNow through the narrow places toward an American Judaism that wrestles with the reality of the occupation.

And I walk with myself as I relearn my voice. I see the progression as our movement gains momentum across the country, and I know that no matter the pain of the change — the conversations with family, the bravery of words shared — this change is necessary.

I know that I cannot remain where I am, and American Judaism cannot remain as it is. I know that we have a choice to make, and I ask: If not now, when?

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Help Truthout keep publishing stories like this: They can’t be found in corporate media!

Sammy Sass

Sammy Sass is a writer and artist from Boston who has been talking, listening and creating for as long as she has had hands to write and words to ask.

Her work is about raising our voices, because within our stories lives the power to create personal, communal and social freedom.

Through speaking, then sharing, then listening, we can heal our planet from the hurt that comes from silence.

Susie’s Senior Dogs
Tonnie Ch shared this link Humans of New York

Susie passed away yesterday evening. She came into my life quite unexpectedly five years ago. I was photographing in Brooklyn one evening when I saw the coolest little dog sitting on a stoop.

I sat down to pet her, and after a few minutes, her owner told me that he was unable to care for her anymore. He asked if I could take her. I was broke at the time. I was sleeping on a friend’s couch. And everyone that I asked told me that it was ‘not the right time’ for a dog.

But I was so charmed by Susie, and the whole encounter seemed so fated, that I offered to take her.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Susie was twelve years old at the time and didn’t need much. I’d never had a dog before. It was a new experience. I was introduced for the first time to a dog’s unexplainable and unconditional love.

After a few weeks, it seemed that Susie’s only concern in life was staying as close to me as possible. There was now a joyous reunion waiting for me at the end of every workday. And I learned that there are few greater blessings than a wildly happy dog greeting you at the door.

Over the last few years, my fiancé Erin developed her own relationship with Susie. As many of you know, Erin started a nonprofit called Susie’s Senior Dogs, which seeks to place older dogs in loving homes.

Older dogs have the hardest time getting adopted. Because there is such a demand for young dogs, so many senior dogs are either euthanized or forced to spend the remainder of their lives in a shelter.

Over the past few years, Susie’s Senior Dogs has placed several hundred senior dogs into homes. There is a warm and active community of people who follow the page. In fact, I think that half the people who come to my book signings are more excited to meet Erin than me.

So it’s been a tough few days, but Erin and I are both very thankful that Susie came into our lives. She was such a special friend.

Susie was my introduction to the love of dogs. And she helped Erin discover her purpose in life. So in a way she’s going to stick around forever. I encourage everyone to follow Susie’s Senior Dogs, and consider allowing an older dog to change your life as well.

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Humans of New York's photo.

 $2 Trillion Project to Get Saudi Arabia’s Economy Off Oil? The dreams of a nut case of a Saudi Prince?

Any coverage of a person, good or bad, is a free ad for the individual.

I hate to be contributing to the false image of a crazy younger prince generation of the Saudi Kingdom, who is appointed as minister of defense and has used his position to already commit war crimes in Yemen, the eastern province in the Saudi Kingdom and in Syria.

This bolding and tall 31 years old “Mr. Everything,” Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is usually shown with his Saudi keffeyeh (head scarf) to hide his head, is getting ready to rule as the dictator King since his father Selman is a very sick person.

 $2 Trillion Project? Nuts. Saudi Kingdom is about to borrow money for its budget deficit. And oil prices are Not about to rise anytime soon. Iran and Iraq have increased their output, and to be followed by Libya soon.

 $2 Trillion Project? Nuts. On the assumption that this most obscurantist of kingdoms can withdraw its wealth from the US. As if any sate ever managed to siphon out the wealth it stashed in the US financial institutions. All these current fictitious restrictions on Iran are meant to delay for decades retrieving the Shah’s wealth from the USA, the Iran people’s money

Karim A. Badra shared this link. April 21 at 3:15pm ·
Eight hours interview with “Mr. Everything,” Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Early last year, at a royal encampment in the oasis of Rawdat Khuraim, Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia visited his uncle, King Abdullah, in the monarch’s final days before entering a hospital.

Unbeknown to anyone outside the House of Saud, the two men, separated in age by 59 years, had a rocky history together. King Abdullah once banned his brash nephew, all of 26 at the time, from setting foot in the Ministry of Defense after rumors reached the royal court that the prince was disruptive and power-hungry.

Later, the pair grew close, bound by a shared belief that Saudi Arabia must fundamentally change, or else face ruin in a world that is trying to leave oil behind.

For two years, encouraged by the king, the prince had been quietly planning a major restructuring of Saudi Arabia’s government and economy, aiming to fulfill what he calls his generation’s “different dreams” for a postcarbon future.

King Abdullah died shortly after his visit, in January 2015. Prince Mohammed’s father, Salman, assumed the throne, named his son the deputy crown prince—second in line—and gave him unprecedented control over the state oil monopoly, the national investment fund, economic policy, and the Ministry of Defense.

That’s a larger portfolio than that of the crown prince, the only man ahead of him on the succession chart. Effectively, Prince Mohammed is today the power behind the world’s most powerful throne. Western diplomats in Riyadh call him Mr. Everything. He’s 31 years old.

“From the first 12 hours, decisions were issued,” says Prince Mohammed. “In the first 10 days, the entire government was restructured.”

He spoke for eight hours over two interviews in Riyadh that provide a rare glimpse of the thinking of a new kind of Middle East potentate—one who tries to emulate Steve Jobs, credits video games with sparking ingenuity, and works 16-hour days in a land with no shortage of sinecures.

Last year there was near-panic among the prince’s advisers as they discovered Saudi Arabia was burning through its foreign reserves faster than anyone knew, with insolvency only two years away.

Plummeting oil revenue had resulted in an almost $200 billion budget shortfall—a preview of a future in which the Saudis’ only viable export can no longer pay the bills, whether because of shale oil flooding the market or climate change policies.

Historically, the kingdom has relied on the petroleum sector for 90 percent of the state budget, almost all its export earnings, and more than half its gross domestic product.

On April 25 the prince is scheduled to unveil his “Vision for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” an historic plan encompassing broad economic and social changes. It includes the creation of the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, which will eventually hold more than $2 trillion in assets—enough to buy all of Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Berkshire Hathaway, the world’s four largest public companies.

The prince plans an IPO that could sell off “less than 5 percent” of Saudi Aramco, the national oil producer, which will be turned into the world’s biggest industrial conglomerate. The fund will diversify into nonpetroleum assets, hedging the kingdom’s nearly total dependence on oil for revenue.

The tectonic moves “will technically make investments the source of Saudi government revenue, not oil,” the prince says. “So within 20 years, we will be an economy or state that doesn’t depend mainly on oil.”

For 80 years oil has underwritten the social compact on which Saudi Arabia operates: absolute rule for the Al Saud family, in exchange for generous spending on its 21 million subjects. (And over 5,000 princes and princesses)

Now, Prince Mohammed is dictating a new bargain. He’s already reduced massive subsidies for gasoline, electricity, and water.

He may impose a value-added tax and levies on luxury goods and sugary drinks. These and other measures are intended to generate $100 billion a year in additional nonoil revenue by 2020.

That’s not to say the days of Saudi government handouts are over—there are no plans to institute an income tax, and to cushion the blow for those with lower incomes, the prince plans to pay out direct cash subsidies. “We don’t want to exert any pressure on them,” he says. “We want to exert pressure on wealthy people.”

Saudi Arabia can’t thrive while curbing the rights of half its population, and the prince has signaled he would support more freedom for women, who can’t drive or travel without permission from a male relative.

“We believe women have rights in Islam that they’ve yet to obtain,” the prince says.

One former senior U.S. military officer who recently met with the prince says the royal told him he’s ready to let women drive but is waiting for the right moment to confront the conservative religious establishment, which dominates social and religious life. “He said, ‘If women were allowed to ride camels [in the time of the Prophet Muhammad], perhaps we should let them drive cars, the modern-day camels,’ ” the former officer says.

Related Story: Saudi Prince Says No Problem With Religious Authorities on Women

Separately, Saudi Arabia’s religious police have been banned from making random arrests without assistance from other authorities.

Attempts to liberalize could jeopardize the deal that the Al Saud family struck with Wahhabi fundamentalists two generations ago, but the sort of industries Prince Mohammed wants to lure to Saudi Arabia are unlikely to come to a country with major strictures on women. Today, no matter how much money there is in Riyadh, bankers and their families would rather stay in Dubai.

Many Saudis, accustomed to watching the levers of power operated carefully by the geriatric descendants of the kingdom’s founding monarch, were stunned by Prince Mohammed’s lightning consolidation of power last year.

The ascendance of a third-generation prince—he’s the founder’s grandson—was of acute interest to the half of the population that’s under 25, particularly among the growing number of urbane, well-educated Saudis who find the restrictions on women an embarrassment. Youth unemployment is about 30 percent.

But supporting reform is one thing, and living it another.

Public reaction to the economic reboot has been wary, sometimes angry. This winter, many Saudis took to Twitter, their favored means of uncensored discourse, to vent about a jump of as much as 1,000 percent in water bills and to complain about the prospect of Saudi Aramco, the nation’s patrimony, being sold off to finance the investment fantasies of a royal neophyte.

“We’ve been screaming for alternatives to oil for 46 years, but nothing happened,” says Barjas Albarjas, an economic commentator who’s critical of selling Aramco shares. “Why are we putting our main source of livelihood at risk? It’s as if we’re getting a loan from the buyer that we’ll have to pay back for the rest of our lives.”

Albarjas and other Saudi skeptics believe public investors, leery the state will always have other priorities for Aramco besides maximizing profits, will demand a steep discount to invest in its shares. They also wonder why Saudis should trust unaccountable managers of the sovereign wealth fund to bring in high returns any more than Aramco’s executives.

The company’s size is staggering. It’s the world’s No. 1 oil producer, with the capacity to pump more than 12 million barrels a day, more than twice as much as any other company, and it’s the world’s fourth-biggest refiner.

Aramco controls the world’s second-largest oil reserves, behind Venezuela (I sought it was Iraq?); but in contrast to that country’s expensive-to-tap Orinoco Belt, the oil in Saudi Arabia is cheap and easy to obtain. Aramco is also one of the most secretive companies on earth—there are no official measures of financial performance.

Saudi Arabia’s economy will probably expand 1.5 percent in 2016, the slowest pace since the global financial crisis, according to a Bloomberg survey, as government spending—the engine that powers the economy—declines for the first time in more than a decade.

The state still employs two-thirds of Saudi workers, while foreigners account for nearly 80 percent of the private-sector payroll.

Some past diversification drives in Saudi Arabia have been conspicuous failures. The $10 billion King Abdullah Financial District, for example, begun in 2006, sits largely unleased. A ghostly monorail track snakes through some 70 buildings, including five brand-new glass-and-steel skyscrapers. Some construction workers abandoned the project recently, claiming they hadn’t been paid.

“Ultimately, everyone knows what the demographics imply for Saudi Arabia,” says Crispin Hawes, a managing director at Teneo Intelligence. “Those demographics don’t look any nicer now than they did 10 years ago. Without real fundamental economic reform, it is incredibly difficult to see how the Saudi economy can generate the employment levels it needs.”

Prince Mohammed won’t go into details about any planned nonoil investments, but he says the gargantuan sovereign fund will team up with private equity firms to eventually invest half its holdings overseas, excluding the Aramco stake, in assets that will produce a steady stream of dividends unmoored from fossil fuels. He knows that many people aren’t convinced. “This is why I’m sitting with you today,” he says in mid-April. “I want to convince our public of what we are doing, and I want to convince the world.”

Prince Mohammed says he’s used to resistance, hardened by bureaucratic enemies who once accused him of power-grabbing in front of his father and King Abdullah. He says he studies Winston Churchill and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and will turn adversity to his advantage.

It could all read as just another millennial’s disruption talk if the prince didn’t have a clear path to power or speak so freely in ways that shock the petro-political world order.

The likely future king of Saudi Arabia says he doesn’t care if oil prices rise or fall. If they go up, that means more money for nonoil investments, he says. If they go down, Saudi Arabia, as the world’s lowest-cost producer, can expand in the growing Asian market.

The deputy crown prince is essentially disavowing decades of Saudi oil doctrine as the leader of OPEC. He scuttled a proposed freeze of oil production on April 17 at a suppliers’ meeting in Qatar because arch-rival Iran wouldn’t participate.

Observers saw it as extremely rare interference by a member of the royal family, which has traditionally given the technocrats at the Petroleum Ministry ample room for maneuver on oil policy. “We don’t care about oil prices—$30 or $70, they are all the same to us,” he says. “This battle is not my battle.”

To interview the deputy crown prince, you don’t check in with the receptionist. The perimeter begins at a downtown Riyadh hotel, awaiting the call from the office of palace protocol.

The evening of March 30 is spent on standby; the word comes at 8:30 p.m. Three Mercedes-Benzes arrive. Even headed to an interview about thrift, there’s no escaping decadence: The cars appear brand-new, with seats wrapped in plastic and safety belts that have never been used.

The caravan heads to the royal compound in Irqah, a cluster of palaces surrounded by high white walls where the king and some of his relatives live, including Prince Mohammed. Armed guards, checkpoints, and metal detectors are all bypassed. No one even checks IDs.

In his office, Prince Mohammed wears a plain white gown and nothing on his head, revealing longish dark curls and a receding hairline—an informality that many Saudis would find endearing when official photos were later published online. A marathon discussion and interview begins, with him listening to questions in English and responding immediately in detail in Arabic. He repeatedly corrects his interpreter.

At 12:30 a.m., it’s dinnertime. The reporters are joined at the table by the prince’s economic team, including the chairman of Aramco; the chief financial regulator; and the head of the sovereign wealth fund.

As conversation loosens over the meal, Prince Mohammed asks Mohammed Al-Sheikh, his Harvard-educated financial adviser and a former lawyer at Latham & Watkins and the World Bank, to give an update on Saudi Arabia’s fiscal condition.

During the oil boom from 2010 to 2014, Saudi spending went berserk. Prior requirements that the king approve all contracts over 100 million riyals ($26.7 million) got looser and looser—first to 200 million, then to 300 million, then to 500 million, and then, Al-Sheikh says, the government suspended the rule altogether.

A journalist asks: How much was wasted?

Al-Sheikh eyes a running recorder on the table. “Can I turn this off?” he says.

“No, you can say it on record,” Prince Mohammed says.

“My best guess,” says Al-Sheikh, “is that there was roughly between 80 to 100 billion dollars of inefficient spending” every year, about a quarter of the entire Saudi budget.

Prince Mohammed picks up the questioning: “How close is Saudi Arabia to a financial crisis?”

Today it’s much better, Al-Sheikh says. But “if you’d asked me exactly a year ago, I was probably on the verge of having a nervous breakdown.”

Then he tells a story that no one outside the kingdom’s inner sanctum has heard.

Last spring, as the International Monetary Fund and others were predicting Saudi Arabia’s reserves could stake the country for at least five years of low oil prices, the prince’s team discovered the kingdom was rapidly becoming insolvent.

At last April’s spending levels, Saudi Arabia would have gone “completely broke” within just two years, by early 2017, Al-Sheikh says. To avert calamity, the prince cut the budget by 25 percent, reinstated strict spending controls, tapped the debt markets, and began to develop the VAT and other levies. The burn rate on Saudi Arabia’s cash reserves—$30 billion a month through the first half of 2015—began to fall.

Al-Sheikh finishes his fiscally mortifying report. “Thank you,” the prince says.

A second interview, on April 14, takes place at King Salman’s farmhouse in Diriyah, on the outskirts of Riyadh.(I guess this was the 18th century capital of the tribe before Ibrahim Pasha entered and destroyed)

When the Mercedes caravan gets snarled in freeway traffic, a call from the front seat produces a police escort out of thin air. The reporters pull into a narrow lane running along a high wall that looks like the mud-brick bulwark of a desert castle. The property, where King Salman and his son have offices, sits atop a small hill in the heart of the Al Sauds’ ancestral lands.

This time the prince talks about himself.

Growing up, he says, he benefited from two influences: technology and the royal family. His generation was the first on the Internet, the first to play video games, and the first to get its information from screens, he says. “We think in a very different way. Our dreams are different.”

His father is an avid reader, and he liked to assign his children one book per week, and then quiz them to see who’d read it.

His mother, through her staff, organized daily extracurricular courses and field trips and brought in intellectuals for three-hour discussions. Both parents were taskmasters.

Being late to lunch with his father was “a disaster,” the prince says. His mother was so strict that “my brothers and I used to think, Why is our mother treating us this way? She would never overlook any of the mistakes we made,” he says. Now the prince thinks her punishments made them stronger.

The prince had four older half-brothers he looked up to, he says. One was an astronaut who flew on the space shuttle Discovery, the first Arab and Muslim to reach outer space. Another is the respected deputy oil minister. A third became a university professor with a Ph.D. from Oxford in political science, and the fourth, who died in 2002, founded one of the largest media groups in the Middle East.

All of them worked closely with King Fahd because he was their father’s full brother, the prince explains, “which allowed us to observe and live” the heady atmosphere of the royal court.

Prince Mohammed saw two possible versions of himself: one who pursued a vision of his own, and one who adapted to the court as it was.

“There’s a big difference,” he says. “The first, he can create Apple. The second can become a successful employee. I had elements that were much more than what Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates had. If I work according to their methods, what will I create? All of this was in my head when I was young.”

In 2007, Prince Mohammed graduated fourth in his class from King Saud University with a bachelor’s degree in law.

Then the kingdom came knocking. He resisted at first, telling the director of the Bureau of Experts, which serves as the cabinet’s legal adviser, that he was off to get married, earn a master’s degree overseas, and make his fortune. But his father urged him to give the government a chance, and Prince Mohammed did so for two years, focusing on changing certain corporate laws and regulations that “I had always struggled with.”

His boss, Essam bin Saeed, says the prince showed a restless intellect and no patience for bureaucracy. “Procedures that used to take two months, he’d ask for them in two days,” says Saeed, who now works as a minister of state. “Today, it’s one day.”

In 2009, King Abdullah refused to approve Prince Mohammed’s promotion, in theory to avoid the appearance of nepotism.

A bitter Prince Mohammed left and went to work for his father, then governor of Riyadh. He stepped into a viper’s nest.

As Prince Mohammed tells it, he tried to streamline procedures to keep his father from drowning in a sea of paperwork, and the old guard rebelled. They accused the young prince of usurping power by cutting off their contact with his father and took their complaints to King Abdullah.

In 2011, King Abdullah named Prince Salman defense minister but ordered Prince Mohammed never to set foot inside the ministry.

The prince worried his career was over. “I’m saying to myself, ‘I’m in my 20s, I don’t know how I fell into more than one trap,’ ” he says. But given how things have turned out, he’s grateful. “It’s only by coincidence I started working with my father—all because of King Abdullah’s decision not to grant my promotion. God bless his soul, he did me a favor.”

The prince resigned his government post and went to work reorganizing his father’s foundation, which builds housing, and started his own nonprofit aimed at fostering innovation and leadership among Saudi youth.

In 2012 his father became crown prince. Six months later, Prince Mohammed was named his chief of court. Gradually, he worked his way back into King Abdullah’s good graces, taking on special assignments for the royal court that called for sharp elbows.

As the prince privately began planning for his father’s eventual reign, the king came to him with a huge assignment: Clean up the Ministry of Defense.

Its problems had defied solutions for years, the prince says. “I told him, ‘Please, I don’t want this.’ He shouted at me and said, ‘You’re not to blame. I’m the one to blame—for talking to you.’ ” The last thing Prince Mohammed wanted at the time was more powerful enemies. The king issued a royal decree naming the prince supervisor of the office of defense minister and member of the cabinet.

He brought in Booz Allen Hamilton and Boston Consulting Group and changed the procedures for weapons procurement, contracting, information technology, and human resources, says Fahad Al-Eissa, director general of the defense minister’s office.

Previously, the legal department had become “marginalized,” which resulted in bad contracts that became “a big source of corruption,” Al-Eissa says. The prince strengthened the law department and sent back dozens of contracts for revision. Many weapons purchases had been misconceived and inappropriately vetted, with no clear purpose.

“We are the fourth-largest military spender in the world, yet when it comes to the quality of our arms, we are barely in the top 20,” Al-Eissa says. So the prince created an office to analyze arms deals.

He also started spending a few days a week at King Abdullah’s palace. He tried to push through several new reforms. “It was very difficult to do with the presence of a number of people,” he says. “But I remember to this day there’s nothing I discussed with King Abdullah that he didn’t give the order and implement.”

Less than a week after King Abdullah died and King Salman took the throne, he issued a decree naming Prince Mohammed defense minister, chief of the royal court, and president of a newly created council to oversee the economy.

Three months later, the king replaced his half-brother as crown prince—a former intelligence chief who’d been appointed deputy crown prince by King Abdullah just two years earlier—and placed his nephew and son in the line of succession. The king’s decree said the move had been approved by a majority of the Al Saud family’s Allegiance Council. Prince Mohammed was given control over Saudi Aramco by royal decree 48 hours later.

The prince divides his time between his father’s palaces and the Defense Ministry, working from morning until after midnight most days.

Courtiers claim his relationship with the crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, is good; they have neighboring camps at the royals’ desert encampment. Prince Mohammed takes frequent meetings with the king and spends long sessions with consultants and aides poring over economic and oil data. He also greets foreign dignitaries and diplomats and is the main prosecutor of Saudi Arabia’s controversial war in Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

For all the prince’s talk of thrift, the war has cost a fortune. “We believe that we are closer than ever to a political solution,” he says about the conflict. “But if things relapse, we are ready.”

He’s awakened most mornings by his kids, two boys and two girls, ranging in age from 1 to 6. That’s the last he sees of them. “Sometimes my wife gets upset with me because I put so much pressure on her for the programs that I want them to have,” he says. “I rely mainly on their mother for their upbringing.”

Prince Mohammed has only one wife and isn’t planning on marrying more, he says. His generation isn’t so into polygamy, he explains. Life is too busy, compared with past eras when farmers could work a few hours a day and warriors could “take spoils once a week and had a lot of spare time.”

Working, sleeping, eating, and drinking don’t leave a lot of time to open another household, he says. “It’s tough [enough] living with one family.”

In Prince Mohammed, the U.S. may find a sympathetic long-term ally in a chaotic region. After President Obama met the prince at Camp David last May, he said he found him “extremely knowledgeable, very smart, and wise beyond his years.” The prince visited Obama at the White House in September to air his disapproval of the U.S.-brokered nuclear deal with Iran, and the two men were likely to meet again on April 20 when Obama visits King Salman in Riyadh.

In March, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina met Prince Mohammed in Riyadh with a delegation from Congress. The prince emerged wearing his traditional gold-laced robe and red headdress and confided to Graham that he wished he’d worn something else.

“He said, ‘The robe does not make the man,’ ” Graham says. “He obviously understands our culture.” Graham says the men spoke for an hour about the “common enemies” that Israel and Saudi Arabia have in Islamic State and Iran; innovation and Islam; and, of course, the epic economic changes.

“I was blown away; I couldn’t get over how comfortable meeting him was,” says Graham. “What you have is a guy who sees the finite nature of the revenue stream and, rather than panicking, sees a strategic opportunity. His view of Saudi society is that basically it’s now time to have less for the few and more for the many. The top members of the royal family have been identified by their privilege. He wants them to be identified by their obligations instead.”

Changing the royal optics in a country where thousands of Al Sauds live opulently off the national coffers won’t be easy, but Prince Mohammed is willing to try. “The opportunities we have,” he says, “are much bigger than the problems.”

With Glen Carey, Deema Almashabi, Vivian Nereim, Wael Mahdi, Javier Blas, Alaa Shahine, Riad Hamade, Matthew Philips, and Zainab Fattah

(Update: Clarifies a description of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel.)




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