Goodbye to the Prince of development charity

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With the departure of Prince Talal Bin Abdul Aziz, the systematic charity work aimed at achieving sustainable development has lost one of its icons and staunch supporters. The late Prince was keen on achieving the development of Arab and Islamic societies, especially the poor, the destitute, the youth and women among them.

Prince Talal exerted all his efforts and spent a lot of time and wealth to achieve these noble goals in both direct and indirect ways. Toward achieving these goals, he established the Arab Gulf Program for the United Nations Development (AGFUND) to support sustainable human development efforts in the developing world, especially in the Middle East. The Program focused largely on promoting the activities of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

This does not mean that Prince Talal neglected other aspects such as the issues of women, the environment, education and the eradication of illiteracy. He founded AGFUND to support initiatives and programs of various organizations that function under the aegis of the United Nations. These initiatives were successful thanks to the Prince’s keenness on shouldering major responsibilities.

The charismatic personality of the Prince as well as his status and his caliber have contributed significantly to overcoming many of the difficulties encountered in implementing projects in some countries and societies that were hitherto not accustomed to have such projects, carried out by AGFUND under the guidance and follow-up of Prince Talal.

Apart from his leadership role as chairman of AGFUND, Prince Talal was also actively involved in other humanitarian initiatives and charity work. These include his activities as a member of the Endowment Project, established by the government of Pakistan, in cooperation with the Makkah-based Muslim World League (MWL) while General Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq was the president of Pakistan in 1980s. The purpose of the Rabita Endowment was the repatriation and rehabilitation of Pakistanis stranded in Bangladesh since the secession of East Pakistan and creation of the new state of Bangladesh.

These people migrated to East Pakistan from the eastern Indian state of Bihar at the time of the partition of the Indian subcontinent into the independent states of India and Pakistan. They moved to East Pakistan by virtue of its proximity to their native place in India. At the time of the civil war that led to the creation of Bangladesh, these people stood with the Pakistani Army against secession, and this prompted Bangladeshis to consider them to be traitors. Consequently, they were driven out of their homes and placed in squalid camps scattered all over Bangladesh where they still eagerly await the day of their repatriation and rehabilitation in Pakistan. But unfortunately, the Rabita Endowment was frozen after the death of its Chairman Gen. Zia-ul- Haq.

When I was the consul general of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Prince Talal visited the city. He came to attend a fund raising ceremony to support the children of Bosnia and Herzegovina at a time when they were being subjected to a war of ethnic cleansing by the Serbs. The entry fee for the function was fixed at $500. Prince Talal hired a renowned American singer at his own expense to make the ceremony a successful event. The function was a huge draw mainly for two reasons. One was that the money collected from the event would go to a charity to help the children affected by the war in Bosnia and the second was that it was Prince Talal who organized and financed the event.

Naji Mufti, Saudi ambassador to Turkey, came to Istanbul from Ankara to meet Prince Talal and greet him. Naji and I were the guests of the Prince at the ceremony. Prince Talal’s initiative to hold such a ceremony produced a positive impact on Turkish society, and the Prince and his initiative won accolades for the same. This also highlighted his efforts in the fields of charity work and development.

These are some of the examples of the great charity work and humanitarian initiatives of Prince Talal. There are several similar examples of his charity initiatives for which there would be no room in a single article. One such initiative was the establishment of the Arab Open University, which has benefited thousands of Arab students.

It is also worth mentioning the meeting of Prince Talal with the Nobel Peace laureate and founder of the Bangladesh Grameen Bank Dr. Muhammad Yunus. Their joint work paved the way for expanding the pioneering concepts of microcredit and microfinance by establishing banks for poor people in a number of Arab and Islamic countries. The objective of this was to help the poor by granting them microcredit to finance their small projects, and not to allow them to be exploited by individual lenders who charge high interest rates, making the borrowers suffer and unable to repay the amount. This initiative was a great relief for a large number of poor borrowers who otherwise were forced to remain at the mercy of greedy lenders.

May Almighty Allah shower His mercy and forgiveness on the deceased Prince and accommodate him in His Paradise. I also take this opportunity to offer condolences to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and all bereaved members of his family and loved ones.

— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com


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