A warm official welcome… and a media storm!
This is the headline for King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz’s visit to Britain. The Saudi monarch received a cordial reception on the official level, which he undoubtedly deserves, but it also puzzled some people. This was accentuated more so since the media had charged the atmosphere while the king was still on route to London.
In all truth, this was expected; King Abdullah is a frank man and candor is one of London’s characteristics. In fact; among the legal circles London is known as the “capital of libel cases” it is enough to take Hyde Park as an example [Hyde Park Speakers’ Corner].
Still; what remains most striking was the grand welcome that King Abdullah received from the Queen of England, the British Prime Minister and the Mayor of London; the latter of whom delivered a speech that did justice to the king and his kingdom!
It’s true that some of the comments in newspapers were harsh towards Saudi but it is certain that this came as a result of ignorance in perception regarding Saudi Arabia not hatred. Britain is not a country where hatred is present in the air. However, this ignorance is not a new thing; there is ignorance among those who are deliberately unwilling to listen and those who need to regard Saudi realistically, not only by reading or hearing about it, but through more required communication.
Some in the British media believed that the king’s statements were critical of Britain; but the truth is that King Abdullah is an honest man, and it is a friend’s duty to be frank, especially when it is related to the terrorism issue.
The king’s candor is a fixed trait, it does not stem from words spoken to defend statements. This is the same king who once told former US President Bill Clinton “there are limits to friendship Mr. President,” and who visited the incumbent US President George Bush bearing photographs and video footage of what the Palestinians suffer at the hands of Israel. The ‘New York Times’ described his visit with American Vice President Dick Cheney as “a fire that the New York City Fire Department could not extinguish.”
This is what we want and what our region wants and what everyone who is concerned with the conflict of the region wants: a leader who explicitly speaks the truth, faces the facts and one who listens to everything his people have to say without distinction.
Suffice it to mention the king’s visit to a group of Saudi students in London when he said, “I want to hear everything you have to say,” urging them not hesitate when addressing him.
Criticizing Saudi Arabia on a number of issues was expected, even some Saudis have reservations about what goes on in their country and the debate is alive and well there. Anyone reading Saudi newspapers would be able to sense this, not because the state is responding to these voices by turning a deaf ear, but rather, because the doors to discussion in Saudi are wide open. Additionally, there is an equally strong pursuit to develop the state.
Let us not forget that the Saudi monarch, prior to his advent to London, had just laid the cornerstone to a university that has long been a national dream [The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)]. It is esteemed to be in the league of international universities, and the subject of education, was one of the main issues that the king discussed with the British Prime Minister.
However, what Saudi may be criticized on relates to divine decrees rather than political ones. There are issues that have stirred up considerable debate within Saudi and which have had an impact on moving bigger issues, such as women’s rights and transparency.
Has Saudi reached what it aspires to? Of course not, but it is moving swiftly towards that.
All those developments have been sponsored by King Abdullah, starting from the system of succession to the judiciary, education, women’s issues and combating terrorism both internally and externally. It is enough to remember that the Saudi monarch was the one who opened up peace prospects when he proposed the initiative, known as the Arab Peace Initiative.
This visit to London will be remembered for a long time, because it was made by a frank king of the kingdom of freedoms.