Talal Bin Abdelaziz, the half brother of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, requested political reforms and the establishment of a sovereign fund like those in all the other Gulf countries yesterday [Jan. 8}, in anticipation of an attack from oil substitutes and a decline in demand for oil.
Bin Abdelaziz, who is one of the foremost liberal princes calling for political reform in the kingdom, affirmed to Agence France-Presse, from his headquarters in Riyadh, that this sovereign fund must be completely independent of the government administration and is to be monitored by the legislative authorities.
He added that revenue in the United Arab Emirates from the sovereign fund has become equal to its oil revenue. The sovereign fund in Kuwait invested in government expenditure and projects when Iraq invaded the country and bombed its oil wells.
He also explained that, in the case of any disruption in the oil supply, not only in terms of oil depletion, there are alternatives in the markets which might surprise us someday and the demand for oil might subsequently decrease. All these elements must be clear to the people and the decision-makers.
Economist estimates indicate that the size of Abu Dhabi’s sovereign fund could reach as much as $800 billion, while the Kuwaiti fund might reach around $400 billion.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, which doesn’t have a sovereign fund, recently announced a record budget for 2013, while the year 2012 witnessed a surplus of $103 billion due to the increase in oil revenue.
The Saudi reserve fund amounts to around $650 billion.
Bin Abdelaziz pointed out that Tarweej Company, for instance, allocated 20% of its petroleum revenues, not from its surplus, for the sovereign fund, which has now grown to $450 billion.
He added that the yearly budget surplus must be deposited in a sovereign fund, fully independent of government administration with its own rules, laws and preservation method as well as legislative monitoring, either from the parliament or the Shura council.
Bin Abdelaziz continued to say that the economic recession that struck the world a few years ago affected everything, from bonds to sovereign funds. However, after the situation returned to its normal course, assets were put back into the sovereign funds.
Bin Abdelaziz said regarding reforms that "King Abdullah has been a man of reform since the start and I have known him for a long time. We have worked together on several occasions, and I wish him a long life and good health so that he might speed up the political and social reform process.”
He also demanded that the elected Shura council be granted three privileges: accountability, general budget and legislation.
It is noteworthy that there is no elected parliament in Saudi Arabia. Instead, there is a designated Shura council which does not have legislative powers, but can issue recommendations.
On the other hand, Bin Abdelaziz answered the question regarding allowing Saudi women to drive cars by saying that the topic is very frustrating. He stated, “My daughter and Bedouin sister drive a car in the suburbs and in villages, so where’s the harm in driving it in the city?”
He also wondered whether everyone had the money to hire a driver as many find themselves indebted to pay their drivers’ salaries.
Through the television screen he winked at the religious figures who refuse the idea of women driving by asking, “Is it reasonable to have this foreign driver hanging around your house day and night while you claim that driving and gender interaction are sinful?”
He followed with severe criticism, asking whether the issue is related to doubting our women.
“Don’t we trust them? The sole protector of a woman is Allah, and then, there’s her dignity and conviction. This is not up to the Saudi Arabian people who use the now-obsolete weapon of religion, which they have not acquired by education, but by instinct.”
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are forbidden to drive a car and still need a guardian or muhrem, to complete all their paperwork, including obtaining a passport and traveling abroad.
On June 17, 2011, a small number of Saudi women responded to a call by female activists to lift the driving ban imposed on women. A petition with 3,500 signatures was presented to the Saudi king to lift this ban.
This most widespread venue for mobilization in the kingdom has been on Facebook and Twitter since the arrest of 47 Saudi women accused of driving in November 1990.
According to certain female activists, hundreds of women have breached the driving ban and dozens of them were arrested and later released after signing a pledge never to drive again.