In London, high-profile visitors are often met with protests and demonstrations. This is due to two main reasons: the first is the dynamic nature of British society, which deals with politics in a direct manner with each group taking to the street to make its oppositional views heard. The second reason is due to the large presence of politicized foreign communities that see every visit as an opportunity to state a given group’s opinion after which the members can go back home feeling content.
The Saudi monarch’s visit will bear witness to the same protests; same as all the visitors who have preceded him in visiting the British capital, but King Abdullah will also witness the official side that has not concealed its eagerness to receive him.
In the words of a television commentator, “… the leader of a state that is not the birthplace of [Osama] Bin Laden as we like to repeat in Britain, but rather the land on which Mohammed was sent.”
Politically speaking, everyone saw that King Abdullah displayed fortitude when he took no heed of the loud, controversial accusations and headlines against Saudi Arabia and decided to not let the press run the kingdom’s interests.
The paradox in the relationship between the two states is that each delegation now sits in a seat that is opposite from what it is accustomed to; Saudi sees that Britain is being lenient towards Islamic extremists, while the British want Saudi to curb local terrorist activities. In the past, the former wanted to expand the Islamic circles in foreign societies, while the latter wanted to grant more freedom to the extremist voices in the region.
However, visions have changed with the recurrent terrorist events; today Saudi explicitly distinguishes between Islam as a religion and politicized Islam while supporting the first and condemning the latter. Meanwhile, Britain has come to distinguish between the types of freedom and only grants freedom to the moderate voices whilst rejecting those holding extremist views.
The Britons want the Saudis to regulate their approaches and institutions, while the Saudis want the Britons to expel the radical opposition, which the kingdom believes is behind the terrorist activities.
Despite the fact that these suggestions gain considerable media attention, they are given little time during delegations’ official debates, because each party is unwilling to make concessions, and thus does not waste time in futile discussions.
I heard about the discussions that took place between 14 Saudi and British university students who displayed their eagerness and enthusiasm in expressing new ideas to help develop the relationship between the two nations.
A Saudi woman stood up and addressing her words to the participating members of the Saudi Shura Council asked when the day would come when she would be able to deliver her speech before the council in Riyadh not here in London. No one made any promises! The truth is King Abdullah is more progressive than his senior officials; he was the one to propose initiatives and establish internal dialogue and has reconciled between all parties that had previously refused to sit together in one place. Such debates brought together youth, and men and women, and other conflicting parties who all converged under the need to discuss matters of concern away from politics.
During the aforesaid university debate, one student stood up and asked why he had to come all the way to London to make his voice heard. And he is right, it’s true that generating further discussion and debates serves to facilitate conflicts and makes the conservative group become accustomed to hearing opinions that it disapproves of. Additionally, it also helps the other group understand the obstacles and justifications that are not always made heard. It was a stimulating dialogue that took place on the sidelines of an important visit.