British Crown Prince Charles and his wife Camilla will visit Saudi Arabia this week “to strengthen the United Kingdom’s bilateral relations with a key partner in the region,” according to a statement by Clarence House, the prince’s residence. Rights organizations are urging the prince to raise the issue of human rights with Saudi officials. “Desert diplomacy is not easy, but I’d advise them to tell the truth about Saudi human rights,” Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK director, told the Daily Mirror. So will Charles “nudge” Saudi Arabia about it? Probably not. Brian Whitaker writes:
Charles and Camilla’s last official visit to Saudi Arabia was in 2006, and a lot has changed since then. Seven years ago, public criticism of the way the Saudi royals conduct themselves came mainly from westerners or dissidents outside the kingdom. Today there is a new dynamic: pressure for change is growing inside Saudi Arabia – as it is in the other countries the royal couple will be visiting.
Across the Arab region monarchies are beginning to feel the heat from their own people and are responding in ways that don’t augur well for their long-term future. Regardless of all the guff about friendship between nations, a visit at this juncture by the heir to the British throne sends out entirely the wrong message: to Arabs seeking change in their countries it will look suspiciously like a royal solidarity visit. That familiar phrase, “wrong side of history,” comes to mind.