Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal said Syria may have reached a “point of no return” and criticized the blocking of a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a political transition.
The Feb. 4 veto by Russia and China “strengthened Bashar al-Assad in Syria and internationally,” Alwaleed, 56, said in an interview airing today on public television’s “Charlie Rose” program. The Syrian leader “can say, ‘Well, China and Russia is going to back me up,’ so why would he back off from what’s happening in Syria?” said Alwaleed.
The draft resolution backed by the U.S., European Union and Arab League called for an interim government in Syria leading to elections. More than 5,400 people have been killed in Syria since the protests against Assad began in March last year, according to the UN.
“The bloodshed has to be stopped one way or another,” said Alwaleed, who owns shares in Apple Inc. and Citigroup Inc. “One way for him is to relinquish power and have free and open elections and have Syria go back to stability and tranquility.” Military intervention would be “very dangerous” and increase the risk of civil war, he said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said after the veto that the U.S. and allies will seek other ways to increase pressure on Assad’s government, tighten sanctions and support the opposition.
‘Get the Message’
Alwaleed said Arab countries that have escaped the uprisings in the region over the past year should also “get the message of the Arab Spring” and allow more public involvement in government.
“It’s good to have, for example, education for free, have no taxes, have health for free also and get houses,” he said. “That’s all nice socially and economically and financially. But having said all that, it’s important to have the people participate in the political process.”
Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia have mostly relied on increases in social spending to avert the unrest that toppled Arab leaders in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya last year.
Saudi Arabia is the least democratic country in the Middle East, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2011 Democracy Index, which classified all six Gulf Cooperation Council nations as “authoritarian regimes.”
Alwaleed said Jordan and Bahrain are moving toward becoming constitutional monarchies, following in the footsteps of Morocco, which approved a new constitution in a referendum last year that was followed by elections.
Saudi Arabia sent troops to Bahrain, whose hereditary rulers are Sunni Muslims like the Saudi royals, to help crush protests last year by the Shiite majority calling for democracy and a constitutional monarchy. At least 35 people were killed.
Photo: file picture of Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal ( R) with former Lebanese PM Saad Hariri