Keeping up with the Saudi’s

Prince Charles dons traditional Saudi garb for a sword dance while on official royal tour.

Yesterday, BBC News reported that Prince Charles was visiting Saudi Arabia while on an official royal tour. According to the article, “the prince was taking part in the annual Janadriyah Festival, a celebration of Saudi culture and heritage” marked by the men  wearing traditional garb and dancing with swords, a tradition usually practiced at Saudi weddings.

I think this incident and the press that surrounded it was a very smart move by the United Kingdom. It shows cultural acumen and sensitivity as well as providing a great photo-op for the press. Prince Charles showed that western people can relate to and have camaraderie with the middle east, as well as strengthening the relationship between leaders of the two nations.

I think it was significant that this was “his second visit to the two nations in just under a year and his 10th official trip to Saudi since he first toured the nation in 1986.” It makes me wonder whether or not this is a way to “keep your friends close”…and well you know the rest. Not that the UK has any official issues with Saudi Arabia, but it is widely suspected that Saudi officials fund many activities the west has been trying to combat—if you catch my drift. So I wonder if this is the UK’s way of saving face and keeping up the appearances of friendship and solidarity. I could be totally wrong.

What is most definitely true is that participating in a cultural event such as this one is a great way to segway into what the “British ambassador to Saudi Arabia Jon Jenkins had said in a statement prior to the prince’s visit– that the royals were expected to discuss the need for reconciliation in the region and their hopes for its future.” Once you have made an effort to meet the host country half way, they might be more willing to compromise later.

I would argue that this is excellent Public Diplomacy on the part of the UK—it makes them seem very culturally sensitive and aware, something that can only help UK-Saudi (and hopefully Western-Saudi) relations moving forward.

63 thoughts on “Keeping up with the Saudi’s”

  1. Thanks for posting this interesting article and for your succinct analysis of it! I absolutely agree that Prince Charles’ participation in the annual Janadriyah Festival, which is an important representation of Saudi Arabian culture, was a smart diplomatic move for England. As you mention, this demonstrates heightened cultural sensitivity and awareness. It shows that Prince Charles respects the customs and traditions the country. Most importantly, as you also explain, it sends an overarching message – it is entirely possible for Western nations and Middle Eastern nations to cooperate and relate with one another, to the mutual benefit of both parties involved.

    You make a good point about the whole “keep your friends close…” element – I don’t really know either what the actual political strategies behind this event were, but it’s an interesting thing to think about.

    This article actually reminds me of the cultural and diplomatic acuity President Obama’s showed during his 2009 speech in Cairo. During his speech, he made a point of stating the Muslim greeting and demonstrated “a distinct appreciation for Muslim culture.” Just as Prince Charles engaged with the foreign public by participating in the Saudi Arabian cultural event, President Obama began his speech by saluting his audience with the Muslim greeting. During his speech, President Obama spoke at length about the inherent values and attributes of Islam and the Koran. A phrase I especially appreciated was the following: “The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism — it is an important part of promoting peace.”

    In my mind, this is a historic and unprecedented step forward in U.S. diplomacy abroad, as President Obama, through this speech, attempted to dispel the hatred and stereotypes on both sides of the spectrum and promote an environment of cooperation, tolerance, respect and understanding.

    Justus and Hess (Blackboard reading) explain that one same message or phrase can be interpreted differently between different nations and cultures. They argue: “While similar messages may circulate in different areas throughout them globe, the messages interact with national and/or cultural traditions that result in different types of message interpretation.” This is why it is of the utmost importance for our diplomats and policymakers to demonstrate cultural perspicacity and awareness, so that they are capable of understanding how a particular message will be understood abroad and formulating it accordingly.

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