How conservative is he? Not very. While he largely abstains from Saudi Arabia's debates over how far to push its wahhabi religious doctrine, he has called for incremental liberalization of the kingdom's laws surrounding women -- notably coming out in favor of women's right to drive cars.
In private, however, he is believed to go even further: A friend of mine who visited Saudi Arabia last year found himself taken to a soiree at Al-Waleed's palace outside Riyadh. At lunch in Washington a few weeks later, my friend was still goggle-eyed by the luxury, the beautiful Lebanese executive assistants, the food, the refreshments...
How Saudi is he? Not enough to ever be king. His father, Prince Talal, was born to an Armenian wife of King Abdulaziz, who reigned from 1936 to 1953, which is decidedly the wrong pedigree. To ascend to the throne, princes should possess an entirely Arab family tree. Al-Waleed's own mother was Lebanese, which compounds the problem. He has hundreds of other cousins with better credentials for the throne.
How big an ego does he have? Gigantic. Al-Waleed likes to have his picture taken with heads of state or prime ministers. One high point for the prince was hosting U.S. President George W. Bush, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, then-Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Jordanian King Abdullah, Bahraini King Hamad, and then-Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas at his Four Seasons hotel in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in 2003.
A group photo from the event appeared on the back cover of his biography -- AlWaleed: Businessman, Billionaire, Prince - which was penned by Al Jazeera English presenter Riz Khan. However, even this impressive collection of world leaders was not enough for Al-Waleed: Because the prince wanted to be front and center, the image of Jordan's King Abdullah II was shifted to the background to make room for the Saudi tycoon.
Last year, Al-Waleed's count of leaders he had met was 209, over 36 years. This month, he added Cypriot President Christofias to the tally.
How are his political instincts? Questionable. In the United States, his reputation never recovered from the uproar immediately following the 9/11 terror attacks, when he accompanied a $10 million donation to New York City with a note imploring the U.S. government to "re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance to the Palestinian cause." New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani returned the money.
Later contributions to establish Islamic centers at U.S. universities may have been gratefully accepted, but remain a source of academic contention. The Saudi government also once publicly slapped him down for suggesting that he had a role in Lebanon's politics due to his Lebanese heritage, a statement that muddled Saudi diplomacy. The proposed Islamic center in Manhattan is just the sort of project that he likes to support -- and he just might judge it to be payback time for the slight of having his check returned by Giuliani.
How will he respond to criticism on Fox News? Badly -- but, for the moment, privately. Few people take criticism worse than Saudi royals -- that's why they have bought so many major Arabic newspaper and television companies. But senior members of the House of Saud are probably advising him to remain quiet on this one.
They might even see all the fuss as a blessing in disguise. There are hints that some members of the royal family secretly resent Al-Waleed's high international profile -- the world's confusion over whether he is more important than other Saudi princes, his private Boeing 747, the A-380 double-decker being fitted out for delivery next year, and the other trappings of wealth and influence he has accrued over many colorful decades. Envy is not just a vice of the poor.