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Prince Alwaleed’s Quiet, Growing Philanthropic Legacy

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (C) hugs Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal (R) as Princess Ameera, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal's wife, looks on during the ceremony marking the launch of the works of the Louvre museum's future Islamic art department in Paris July 16, 2008. REUTERS/Eric Feferberg/Pool (FRANCE) - RTX7ZDJ

Europe’s largest collection of Islamic arts lies in the Louvre museum in Paris. Unveiled in late 2012, this construction was made possible, in part, thanks to a $23 million donation initiated by the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and his foundation Alwaleed Philanthropies.

Art and Understanding

As French then-President Sarkozy laid the first stone of the Islamic art section on-site in 2008, he drew parallels between the structure and France’s wishes for increased understanding of the Muslim world’s culture. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the construction is the “Veil”, a wavy, golden and glass roof, designed in Milan, which floats over some 10,000 artifacts and allows visitors to view the exterior Parisian architecture through its semi-transparent design.

louvre, islamic art

Louvre Museum Department of Islamic Art

Self-made Businessman

The man behind it all, is HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. Born to a Lebanese mother, Alwaleed’s paternal grandfather founded the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

prince, homme saoudien, lunettes de soleil

Le Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV (CHINA)

One of Prince Alwaleed’s Saudi palaces has 317 rooms. And yet, much like his houses, his fortune is apparently mostly self-built. Behind this glitzy front is a self-made businessman, who diversified his investments around the worlds of media and real estate (including the Paris Four Seasons Georges V) amongst others. His outspoken attitude has gained him the admiration of peers, and, of course, some tiffs.

Late in 2015, he famously tweeted the then-US Presidential candidate Donald Trump: “.@realDonaldTrump You are a disgrace not only to the GOP but to all America. Withdraw from the U.S presidential race as you will never win.” To which Trump replied: “Dopey Prince @Alwaleed_Talal wants to control our U.S. politicians with daddy’s money. Can’t do it when I get elected. #Trump2016”.

But once President Trump was elected, Alwaleed graciously replied “President elect @realDonaldTrump whatever the past differences, America has spoken, congratulations & best wishes for your presidency.” However, he did also follow this act with a $50 million donation in late 2016, in support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) which aims to invest more than $1 billion in energy technologies, in hopes of harnessing emerging breakthroughs to achieve a carbon-zero future.

Promoter of Social Reform

In Saudi Arabia, we see that youth and women’s empowerment are equally high on Alwaleed Philanthropies’ agenda. Prince Alwaleed has been vocal on several occasions about his support of women’s rights to drive in the Kingdom.

In a bid to reduce gender-based violence in the Kingdom in 2016, the foundation launched an online campaign to raise awareness of the National Family Safety Program. This campaign includes an interactive website featuring powerful visuals of beaten Saudi women, as well as information on the 1919 hotline, offering round-the-clock assistance for domestic abuse victims, run by trained Saudi women. The campaign was a success, attracting over 30,000 men and women to pledge their support through social media activity.

On the regional level, the foundation commemorated the Holy Month of Ramadan in 2014 by paying the debts of 1,059 Saudi and Egyptian prisoners, in their respective countries, thus securing their release. Collaborating with “Prisoners in Debt”, an Egyptian-run program, through an EGP 3.5 million donation, the initiative provided moral and financial support helping prisoners re-integrate themselves into society.

Natural Disaster Relief in Syria

Last but not least, the foundation is quick to mitigate when disaster strikes other regions. In response to snowstorm named Alexa, which hit the Middle East in 2013, Alwaleed Philanthropies donated over SAR 1.5 million to ease the suffering of over 40,000 Syrian children and families.

Syrian refugees play with snow during a winter storm in Zahle town, in the Bekaa Valley.
REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir (LEBANON)

What’s next for the Prince? Another record to break, it would seem. In 2011, the company that Alwaleed chairs (Kingdom Holding Company) partnered with the Jeddah Economic Company to announce the Jeddah Tower. Currently under construction, the tower’s final height has not been communicated, however it should be the tallest building in the world, breaking the Burj Khalifa’s record, in neighboring city Dubai (United Arab Emirates).