Saudi Diplomacy at Home

A senior member of the royal family said Monday that Saudi diplomacy has many shortcoming. Prince Turky Al Faisal, head of King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, was giving a lecture on the history of Saudi diplomacy at King Saud University. The former Chief of Intelligence and ambassador to the UK and the US added, “but we have no right to blame others just to find excuses for our problems.”

The lecture was initially announced earlier this week under a different title: “The Saudi-US Relations,” but shortly after Turky Al Faisal took his seat at the podium he said he decided to change the focus of the lecture to Saudi diplomacy. The lecture has drawn a large audience from teachers and students, and much to my dismay, some zealots as well. There were also a lot of journalists, but I have to say that I really felt sorry for them because the lecture was boring, and btw this is something none of these journalists would dare to say when they report on the event for their newspapers ;-)

I think the lecture would have been more interesting if the speaker went into some detail and gave us some examples of Saudi diplomacy in action in recent history, but instead he went back to the days of the Prophet (PBUH) telling us stories that we all know by heart from our school days. I also wanted to hear him taking about his experience doing “public diplomacy” when he was at the States. However, the Q&A session following the lecture was more interesting, even when Prince Turky tried to answer diplomatically and avoid controversy or giving bold statements.

When asked about the failure of Saudi diplomacy to use financial support in order to achieve political goals, Al Faisal admitted that connecting financial support to certain policies is usually not successful. He also said he was surprised when some countries which the Kingdom has helped have turned against us in the Gulf War. But what I really wanted to hear, though, is how does he evaluate the Saudi support of the Afghani jihad against the Soviets. Was that also a failure?

True to Saudi fashion, female teachers and students followed the lecture on TV screens from the comfort of their campus in Olaysha at the other end of the city. Things turned depressingly comical when it was time for them to ask questions due to technical glitches with the sound system.

A few female journalists physically attended the lecture, and they were seated in a corner at the upper deck of the auditorium. The only female journalist who had a chance to ask a question said they were told to leave but they insisted on staying, and she asked Prince Turky what to expect from report that will follow the visit of Yakin Ertürk, the special rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Violence Against Women.

Al Faisal admitted that women’s rights are being violated “in the government’s bureaucracy and in the social arena.” He said the government is trying to promote women’s rights but described them as social matters related to the progress of society. Princey Turky said he sees no problem in women’s working as diplomats, and he thinks that they will excel and give a good image for the country. Finishing his remarks, he said he is looking forward to the day when there is no discrimination or injustices against women. “As men, we should put women above our heads.”