Bismillah al Rahman al Rahim.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all I would like to thank you for inviting me and my wife Fadwa here tonight, to this special reception, to meet old friends and to make new ones. I hear the Saudi British Society is a fountain of knowledge and good friendship – and as American President Woodrow Wilson once said: “Friendship is the only cement that holds the world together.” My friends, it is a tremendous honour to have been appointed Ambassador to the United Kingdom.
My task is to make sure that our relationship, our friendship, continues to evolve. I will be following in the footsteps of my predecessors, Prince Turki Al Faisal, Dr Ghazi Algosaibi, Nasser Al Manquor and others before them. Though the style may differ the mission is the same. This is an important post and I was both gratified and humbled when I was instructed by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah to take up this assignment.
My family have always loved England, and I have been a frequent visitor to London since I was a young. My first visit was in the early 1960s with my family. It made a big impression on me. And it was the first of many visits, which helped me build up understanding of Britain and the British people and I’ve witnessed the changing face of Britain. Saudi Arabia is also a constantly evolving and changing society.
The development of the Kingdom in the seventy years since it was reunited by the late King Abdulaziz is remarkable by any measure. And that development is on going. You, our friends, have witnessed and taken part in the physical evolution of the Kingdom’s infrastructure – roads, cities, schools, hospitals – we couldn’t even dream of 50 years ago. But you must now look at the evolution of our society. Last year we held our first elections, the Shura Council was expanded again, new laws and regulations were brought in, we became a member of the World Trade Organisation. We started to modernise and reform our education system. Women are taking a more prominent role in our society. We are planning and building for our future. The King Abdullah City being built north of Jeddah is going to be the biggest economic city in the Middle East. It is an inspiring project, which will attract and bring investment to the Kingdom and create jobs for our young people.
Ladies and Gentlemen, many people in the west have an outdated image of our part of the world and our way of life which they constantly fall back on. It wrongly influences the way people deal with us. They see us in a negative stereotyped unsophisticated way. It is an image that has nothing to do with us – but it has stuck.
More recently and more dangerously the Muslim world has been equated with extremism and terrorism. This is an image that is both damaging and offensive and one that we are keen to dispel. Terrorism is an evil which is against people of all faiths and all communities. These evil criminals have been condemned by government and religious authorities in the Kingdom. The killing of innocent people goes against everything that we believe in.
As a Muslim I know we were not created to destroy one another but to work together towards better understanding and a better future. Extremism is fostered in by mistrust, misunderstanding and double standards. Understanding and honesty is vital between our communities and faiths, in our dealing with one another in the increasingly small world in which we all share.
We would like the people of Britain to get to know the real Saudi Arabia, from rural communities like those in the mountains of the Asir to booming economic oil centres like Dammam. From the political capital of Riyadh to the cosmopolitan commercial city of Jeddah. And we can never forget our sacred responsibility for the Two Holy cities of Makkah and Medina. But we will have to work hard to reach this goal of better understanding, not just for our own sake but for the sake of our children and of our future.
Britain and Saudi Arabia have a long standing friendship. Being friends means more than liking and respecting one another. It means learning to appreciate someone else’s point of view without feeling that it is an attack on your own views. Friends are people who listen to one another. As Albert Camus, the French novelist said: “Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow, don’t walk behind me, I may not lead: just walk beside me and be my friend.”I believe that as true friends we can and must be honest with one another. And so I am speaking to you today as an honest friend.
The West is constantly making decisions about the Middle East, that the people of the Middle East have to live with. Of course our opinions are asked, usually given and regularly disregarded. We are constantly being told that the West operates an activist approach to foreign policy based on values as well as interests. But whose values and whose interests? Globalisation has made the world a smaller place. We can send an email to a hundred people around the world at the touch of a button, stocks and shares are sold back and forth across our globe in nanoseconds. We see news on our television screens as it happens across the planet. There is no time difference that counts, no pause for thought in our communication and interaction.
We have tumbled head first into a global economy and now we are being told that we need to develop the politics of globalisation. This is worrying to us in our part of world. Whose politics? As civilised humans our aim is the same. We want, you want, we all want a peaceful, prosperous and secure world for our children and our children’s children. A world where we live in harmony with one another as our creator intended. It doesn’t mean that we will all take or need to take the same road to reach that ultimate goal.
Our history defines us and defines each and every society and the path it takes. When we speak we do so with a real understanding of the intricacies of our society and how it works and some knowledge of how it differs from societies in the West. Our friends in the West don’t wake up every day in Riyadh or Cairo – Jericho or Jerusalem; Baghdad or Basra. Their fathers, mothers, grandfathers, brothers, sisters and cousins don’t live there, don’t live the every day reality of the situation, and can rarely understand the dynamics that make it flourish.
British friends of the Kingdom here today probably come closer to understanding our society than many. You have lived there and worked there, if only for a short time. You have made friends in the Kingdom and in other parts of the Arab world. You have bought food in our markets, heard the call to prayer echo round our city streets and entered our homes as guests. It gives you more understanding. And because of that, we appeal to you to help us to help others understand a little more about our life, to persuade others to listen a little bit harder to what we have to say. Our region has been torn apart by injustice, war and terror. We look at our neighbours in Iraq and reel in horror at the conflict that surrounds them and is on our doorstep. Many Iraqis today believe the invasion of Iraq has unfortunately, resulted in the possibility of sectarian war, with neighbours fighting neighbours and bloody battles within as well as between tribes.
Much as many people wish this situation had never occurred, we cannot go back. The West cannot blame the Arab world for a reaction which we knew was perhaps inevitable. But equally the Arab world can’t continue to blame the West for taking the decision that they made with good intent to invade Iraq. We all have to live with the reality, of the situation in Iraq today – and work together towards a better tomorrow for a united and peaceful Iraq. Once again the key word is together. Let us look at our other neighbours.
The situation in the Palestinian occupied territories is one of despair. In the recent elections the Palestinian people turned to a different party. Hamas came to power, not because of their reputation abroad but because they offered the possibility of a tangibly better future to the Palestinian people. For the Palestinian desire for peace, prosperity and security. But perhaps we should not judge their predecessors for giving more concessions than they received in return. Instead we should look at our Western friends who committed themselves as friends of both Israel and the Arab world to trying to bring about resolution to this conflict – but who have repeatedly failed to act fairly or with a sufficiently strong will to bring about peaceful resolution.
Nearly four years ago Saudi Arabia came up with the Prince Abdullah plan – which was embraced by all communities as a positive and comprehensive solution. Israel has yet to respond. As your friends, we sometimes feel that although you appear to listen, you do not hear what we are saying. This is frustrating and aggravating and creating division between our people.
We want our friends to hear us, to understand that we want to work together to find solutions to these problems before it is too late. The United Kingdom is key in helping us to reach that goal. Because of Britain’s history and its historical relationship with Saudi Arabia and the Arab world as a whole, its views have an important international impact.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is a special relationship between us. There has traditionally and historically been a tremendous amount of interaction between our two countries – and our two peoples in trade, investment, education. training and cultural exchange. Our relationship, founded on mutual strategic interests, has blossomed into friendship. A friendship we value and that it is our responsibility to maintain and develop.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for listening to me this evening and for welcoming us as true friends. We look forward to getting to know all of you much better. I and my wife Fadwa, who is a real partner and supporter in this mission, will always welcome you at the embassy.
I also value the support of my colleagues and all of the embassy team and we all value your support
Thank you and God bless.