I have just returned from the US capital, Washington DC, after the
conclusion of a conference sponsored by Asharq Al Awsat on Saudi- US
relations in the aftermath of September 11th. This was my first visit to the US capital in almost four years.
I spent five days mostly racing between meetings and conversing with opinion leaders and decision makers in the corridors of power in Washington. The experience reaffirmed my belief in the sizeable gap between Saudi and American people.
Saudi- US relations have long remained a relationship between governments, to the exclusion of both countries” populations. This explains the presence of individuals, on both sides, who are able to delude their people, according to their own agenda, and encourage conflict.
Those who are as old as me have heard about the positive impact of the company Aramco in over fifty years” presence in Saudi Arabia and the socio-economic work carried by the Americans, the consequences of which are still felt to this day in some parts of the Eastern Region. Nowadays, after the Gulf War in 1990, many only recognize American military presence in the Kingdom and the Arabian Peninsula.
The same is true in Washington. In the US capital, nobody knows much about Saudi Arabia, except for the presence of oil and the Bedouin lifestyle; as if the Kingdom hadn”t progressed since it was founded. This horrifying ignorance about all matters relating to Saudi Arabia makes it easy, for groups who want to mobilize public opinion against the Kingdom, to do so.
Consider the following example from my latest trip. An influential figure in Washington argued with me for over half an hour that the two most famous websites on the internet that encourage violence and killing in Iraq were administered from inside Saudi Arabia. I was, naturally, shocked by this information; given that all the articles written about terrorism and the role of the internet categorically state that no such websites were launched from inside the Kingdom.
In Washington, some people think Saudi Arabia has not changed at all,
whether in a positive or a negative direction. The reason behind such a misconception lies, of course, in the lack of communication and dialogue between the elites of both countries. During one of the discussion forums sponsored by Asharq Al Awsat, one could clearly see the astonishment on the faces of the American audience and speakers, when a colleague, Hussein Shubushki, speaking in the second session, differed with Dr. Khalil Khalil on the subject of the education curricula in Saudi Arabia. It was as if they couldn”t believe that individuals from the Kingdom could differ amongst each other on certain matters and argue about it. This occurred again, in a second session between two colleagues at one of the research centres in the US capital. When a discussion chaired by some colleagues carried on beyond the allotted hour, other colleagues excused themselves and left, because of an already arranged appointment. This was obviously, evidence that the session was interesting and involving.
The presence of Saudi delegates who did not repeat the same ideas or act as if they belonged to a single camp was most useful. Whoever says that the people of Saudi Arabia are all of the same persuasion is clearly wrong. In difference, lies strength. Perhaps the most important conclusion from this visit is the need for additional meetings and discussions between the American people and the Saudi Arabian people to continue taking place, in Washington, and across the Untied States, as well as in Saudi cities such as Jeddah and Riyadh. Whether we like it or not, there is a strategic importance to Saudi-US relations. Oil, education, health, technology, and security are sectors important to both parties. It is vital to act immediately to safeguard this relationship and nourish it, as its enemies are actively trying to sabotage it. With dialogue, Saudi Arabia serves its own interests, and those of the entire Arab World.