MANAMA, Feb 5 (AFP) - In the closed, conservative world of Gulf Arab politics, Bahrain's crown prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa stands out as a young man in a hurry, unafraid of big, some may say dangerous, ideas like democracy and freedom.
The 31-year-old may fall flat on his face in trying to achieve what he admits is a "dream" in a tiny nation endeavouring to emerge from years of internal unrest amid one of the world's most turbulent regions.
"It's a dream, but it's a dream that I intend to see realised," he vowed in his first major meeting with the press in the Bahraini capital on Sunday.
"That is the dream of creating an environment for Bahrainis to prosper."
Prince Salman confesses that what Bahrain is asking of its estimated 450,000 citizens in a referendum on a national charter of political reform on February 14-15 is a "huge leap forward".
"Freedom, justice, equality, regardless of race, religion or sex is something that we aspire to see as the inalienable right of every Bahraini citizen," the prince announced in the wood-panelled cabinet office.
"To share (power) and in sharing power become more powerful as a nation."
Such open confidence and conviction are rare among the Gulf monarchies whose fabulously rich ruling families traditionally take decisions in camera.
"The separation of the judiciary from the executive branch is certainly a major step forward in protecting individual liberties," he noted.
These are big words in an emirate which scrapped its parliament in 1975 just two years after it opened.
Demands for its restoration descended into violence which left at least 38 dead and earned the islands a fearful reputation among human rights campaigners.
The prince appropriately credits his father, Emir Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa, with the vision to transform the archipelago, but it is clear he espouses the ambition totally.
Courtiers say Salman is a driving force behind the reforms, against which some of his family caution, and does not want to inherit the problems of the past the day he takes the throne.
He first emerged into the media glare in March, 1999, on the death of his grandfather who ruled as emir for 38 years.
Salman, who had served as under secretary at the ministry of defence since 1995, moved up to become commander-in-chief of the Bahrain Defence Force as well as first in line to the throne.
With a US degree in political science and a masters from Cambridge, England, in the philosophy of history, his subscription to the principles of democracy may have been taken out in those educational years which also gave him native-standard English, with a light American accent.
The self-assured father of two sons and a daughter, just back from brain-storming meetings in Davos, looks set on a course which will test all his talents.