Some British newspapers launched a volley of criticism on Riyadh during the British Government’s reception of King Abdullah. As I mentioned in my previous article, this is a habit of British media when welcoming visiting leaders.
The Russian President came under stormy attack during his visit, specifically on the issue of the poisoning of the fugitive Russian agent. Before him American President George Bush was greeted by thousands of protestors over the Iraq War. The same treatment was accorded to Chinese President Jiang Zemin during his visit to the British capital.
The number of protestors against the visit of the Saudi monarch did not exceed100 persons, according to the Daily Telegraph’s estimate, but the harsher reaction came from the media who had sharpened their knives in advance.
Targeting senior visitors with criticism is understandable in this framework and is a tradition of British journalism. But the usual accusations have targeted the leader who has engaged most in reform and development. King Abdullah has introduced many reforms in the systems and practices of Saudi society, which is known as the world’s most conservative society and most resistant to change. On the issue of women, which drew the bulk of criticism this time, they have been given administrative governmental positions they ever before. The visit marked the first time the king’s delegation comprised Saudi women working in the fields of commerce and culture. Even on his visit to London, several Saudi women sat on the delegations which met British teams.
These are unprecedented firsts. Further, women have returned to appear in the Saudi media at various levels. History will credit him for establishing national dialogue among opposites and involving women in the discussions from the first sessions. Women participated in these open debates on TV stations, talking about their issues and problems and going into arguments with the men. These might appear to be normal occurrences in other societies but for the Saudi society they are nothing short of social upheaval. Critics in the British press have also deviated from the truth when they accused the Saudi Government of promoting extremism. Let us look at the difference between the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in dealing with this dossier. It was the king who personally led the campaign. He brought together the leaderships of local societies including tribal chieftains, men of religion, academicians, bureaucrats, and media people. He talked seriously about there being no room for those who help extremism.
Security authorities have thrown two senior preachers in prison after it was proven they were involved in incitement and fatwas supporting terrorism. These are Sheikh Al-Khudayr and Sheikh Al-Fahd. Implicated charitable societies have been scrutinized and closed, and religious and media programs have been introduced to counter the extremists. On the other side, let see what transpired on the British side. The leaders of extremism are still going around free in London and various parts of the United Kingdom. They hold symposiums, incite against others, and engage in takfir [branding others as infidel and godless] against other governments. Some of them belong to groups wanted by authorities in their Islamic countries. British authorities have not done much to stop advocates of hatred and Islamic extremists. Criticism sometimes contradicts with itself. On the one hand they accuse Saudi Arabia, in the name of human rights, of throwing the advocates of incitement and hatred in prison. On the other hand they criticize it if it remained silent on preachers who engage in incitement.
We know that the British press is the dessert of politics here [in London]. Its criticism has become familiar, however harsh. But this time it has picked a personality that has given a lot for reform amid extremely difficult conditions, internally and regionally.