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Opinion: A Trip to Al-Nafud, He is Just Like He Was 47 Years Ago - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In this chapter, I enclose the third and last part of Dr William Polk’s letter on his visit to Saudi Arabia:
“Today, I met the King. As I expected, he was extremely friendly, attentive and has a sharp memory. He is just like he was when I met him all those years ago whilst he was the Governor of Riyadh. He sat and spoke to me with a smile on his face whilst his son Prince Sultan stood behind him respectfully. We talked about the translation of Labid ibn Rabi’ah’s poem and Arabic poetry in general. I spoke to him about the wonderful work being done by his son Prince Sultan, and I told him that we should work together to develop the relationship, not only between the Islamic world and the west, but also with the (north), namely China, Russia and Europe.

The King said that he had been working hard to achieve this for decades. Half an hour later, I apologised for taking up so much of his time, especially as he was due to deliver his speech to the Shura Council later that day. He responded affectionately by saying “Not at all, I enjoy these conversations very much”. When it was time to leave, he stood up, took my arm and led me to the rear of the hall where we took souvenir photos. The meeting was cordial and so was the next appointment at the National Museum, where I delivered a lecture on my trip to Al- Nafud 47 years ago. The audience was completely attentive, but I found that I had forgotten some of my Arabic with the passing of time and due to my advanced age. Languages are like muscles – they slacken as days pass.

The next day, we went on a trip to Mada’in Saleh. However, this time we travelled on a magic carpet arranged for us by Prince Sultan; a jet aircraft. We travelled for an hour and a half to the north of the extraordinary archaeological site Mada’in Saleh. It’s an amazing archaeological site and some of it is more impressive than Petra. There are rock formations the size of palaces and huge towers made of rock. It seems that the waves of the sea sculptured them in the distant past.

The day after that, we held talks at the Governor of Madinah Prince Faisal bin Salman’s palace. We talked about the troubled Middle East, and a group of experts were present. They included the very knowledgeable Saudi ambassador to the UK Prince Mohammed bin Nawwaf, and the conversation touched on the situations in Turkey, Somalia, Yemen and Egypt. The openness and directness of the gentlemen present amazed me; there was no dogmatism, frosty atmosphere or fury. The meeting was largely constructive and the issue of Palestine was discussed in all the meetings. Like most Arabs, the Saudis support the PLO and take a united stand against terrorism and the idea of terrorism.

On the last day of the visit, I was overcome with sadness. My friend Zaamil who had accompanied me on that trip 47 years ago had come to meet me in a wheelchair at the hotel that I was staying at. Prince Sultan had arranged for him to be transported from his home 300 km away to the hotel. I reminded him of the day that I complained of fatigue to him to which he replied “I am a bedouin, the son of a bedouin, the son of a long line of Bedouins and I have ridden camels all my life but it still tires me”.”

Samir Atallah

Samir Atallah

Samir Atallah is a prominent Lebanese journalist, author and political analyst.

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