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A Second Look at the Saudi Crown Prince’s Visit to the UK

A Second Look at the Saudi Crown Prince’s Visit to the UK

Wednesday, 14 March, 2018 - 18:15
A lot has been written, and more will be written about the visit of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to the UK.

What was and what will be written about the visit is, no doubt, very important.

The opening up of Saudi Arabia is a very significant development. Also significant is preparing for a future of challenges and promises in a pragmatic and realistic way, as well as the dynamism of youth that rejects excessive “comfort zones,” which it regards as destructive complacency, stifling the spirit of initiatives under the pretext of avoiding taking risks, and depriving half of Saudi society of the opportunity of fulfilling its potential quoting excuses accepted only by those who ignore history.

Today, in Saudi Arabia, there is a genuine and brave belief that thoughtful development is no more a matter of choice, but rather a vital necessity and duty, and it is now optimistically taking shape against a dim regional picture seen throughout our vast Arab world.

Even those prejudiced against Riyadh in the UK – and those are not a tiny few – saw during the visit of Prince Mohammed and the accompanying delegation a new way of communicating and interacting. Gone are the days of argumentative or dismissive denial. Also gone is the sensitivity against self-criticism – even among high ranking or well-connected figures – and the sometimes apologetic or angry responses.

All the above are very promising signs. However, moving from the principle of “shock treatment” that Prince Mohammed mentioned before the media several times during the last few months, it is necessary to bring down illusion on both sides, the British and the Saudi – even the Arab. Illusions do exist, and have accumulated on both sides.

Some Brits, as well as some Europeans, do not know much about our problems, aspirations, concepts and culture. Worse still, a few of those either do not care, or do not even want to know. Evidently, I do not claim that we have no faults that we need to deal with as soon as possible; but I recognize that there is a problem of “double standards” when those British and European groups and currents deal with our many issues, complaints and sufferings.

Intentional application of “double standards” is impossible to treat as it usually stems either from racism or envy; however, when unintentional this means there is some kind of misunderstanding. In the latter case, we must prepare and organize ourselves, and make sure we communicate with the West using the language it comprehends, not the utopian or off-hand approach we have grown accustomed to in our societies.

In this instance, I would like to point two personal experiences: The first happened a few decades ago while chatting in a London park with a now departed Palestinian friend. He told me that a member of a prominent Jaffa family was the dealer of Packard automobiles in pre-1948 Palestine. The second experience happened a couple of weeks ago, when an Arab intellectual called for an end of “Arab media abroad”, and invited Arab media based in the West to return to the Arab world since the huge “communication revolution” has ended the need for it to remain there.

I was astonished by what my Palestinian friend had told me, so I asked him: “How many people, do you think know this piece of information? Do you think that Americans realize that there were American automobile dealerships in Palestine before the establishment of Israel?!” Upon saying that he had no idea, I told him: “My friend, our discourse with the US since 1948, even before, meant nothing to the average American citizen. When you tell an American that new immigrants took over our lands he or she wouldn’t care less because he or she, their family and community were all new immigrants who settled in a land that belonged to other people. Meaningless is to recite before him/her a list of UNSC resolutions numbers and dates about Palestine because they might as well be numbers in a telephone directory.”

I then added: “… when you tell Americans that they were bluffed by the lie ‘A land without a people for a people without a land’ they would be shocked to know that Palestine was not an empty desert ‘greened’ by Israeli settlers, and that there were Packards, Chevrolets, Fords and Chryslers roaming the streets of Palestinian towns, which also boasted hotels, restaurants, schools, hospitals and shipping agents. In short, we must understand how Americans thinks, and realize that their value systems are not necessarily the same as ours.”

The same principle is true of the “Arab media abroad” issue, of which I am a part for almost 40 years. When the pioneering newspapers were founded outside the Arab world, many reasons were mentioned, including: the diaspora of qualified Arab journalists, the bad security situation forcing many to flee the Middle East, and the desire of publishers to avoid excessive censorship and benefitting from editorial and advertising freedoms. As an eyewitness, I would say that, while all reasons given were valid, they were not the most important. If anything, Arab diaspora is on the increase, the security situation – given the ever increasing “failed states” – is now much worse than four decades ago, and the editorial and advertising freedoms have not improved, not deteriorated further.

Thus, what was justified then, and continues to justify the presence of the “Arab media abroad” now – in my humble opinion – is the need for better education, understanding, two-way influence, and interaction. We need to have a serious and efficient media presence in the West; which would be a source of education, information, comprehension and interaction with cultures and traditions; not only with advanced technology.

We will never have an impact in the West unless we understand it better and interact with it better; and this may apply in future to our dealings with China and India too.

Many of us came to the West and lived for a few years. Some have since returned home with high academic qualifications; however, due to concentrating solely on university education, they may have been uninterested in having a deeper interaction with surroundings.

Such people will never build the interactive cultural and interest-based “bridge” we need to connect us with the West.

The word “interaction”, just like the term “shock treatment”, is key to building strong relations capable of withstanding the winds of change and interests’ fluctuations.

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