Death of the Saudi ‘Red Prince’ Talal Bin Abdelaziz

Published in GSN, 10 January 2019

The Royal Court announced the death of Prince Talal Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud on 15 December. Funeral prayers were held the following day at Imam Turki Bin Abdullah mosque in Riyadh, led by King Salman Bin Abdulaziz. Prince Talal’s eight surviving sons attended the prayers, including prominent businessman Prince Alwaleed and deputy governor of Asir region Prince Turki. (he was promoted to govenor a few days later) , as well as princes Khalid, Abdelaziz, Abdulrahman, Mansour, Mohammed and Mashhoor Bin Talal.

Others to attend the high-powered service included Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), UAE ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sheikh Shakhbout Bin Nahyan Al-Nahyan and, on behalf of the Bahrain royal family, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa. Prince Talal was later laid to rest at Al-Oad cemetery, in the south of the capital.

Born in 1931, Prince Talal was a significant figure in Saudi history, being a prominent voice in favour of reform over the decades and, more recently, an opponent of the autocratic tendencies of MBS. Once known as the ‘Red Prince’, he was the leader of the so-called ‘free princes’ in the 1962 power struggle within the ruling family. Following the late King Saud Bin Abdelaziz’s takeover of government in 1960, Talal was appointed finance minister, but was replaced in the cabinet in September 1961 by his half-brother Prince Nawwaf. A disillusioned Talal then fled to Cairo in August 1962 with two brothers, princes Fawwaz and Badr. While in the Egyptian capital he flirted with Nasserism, set up a ‘national liberation front’ and renounced his title.

He returned to the kingdom in 1964, after King Faisal Bin Abdelaziz had replaced Saud, and focused on his business activities rather than politics. However, he continued to speak out on political matters. In 2007, Talal generated headlines when he announced plans to set up a new political party (GSN 812/8, 818/6). He resigned from the Allegiance Council (set up in 2006 to decide on royal succession – GSN 913/6) in November 2011; called for a package of economic reforms in early 2012 (GSN 916/8); and gave an interview to the AFP news agency in January 2013 in which he called for parliamentary elections (GSN 939/10). More recently he was reported to have gone on hunger strike to protest at the actions of MBS, including the detention of hundreds of people in a so-called anti-corruption campaign in November 2017 – a purge that included his sons Alwaleed and Khalid (GSN 1,048/1).

Some of his offspring have themselves claimed asylum overseas. In July 2012, Sara Bint Talal – one of six daughters he had over the course of four marriages – sought refuge in the UK, saying she feared for her safety (GSN 928/9). Among Talal’s grandchildren, Khalid Bin Alwaleed is married to Munira Ibrahim Al-Assaf, daughter of the recently appointed foreign minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf. Beyond the political arena, Prince Talal founded the Arab Gulf Fund for Development in Riyadh in 1980. The body works with the United Nations to promote education and healthcare provision in developing countries.