When Britain’s Prince Charles visited Saudi Arabia last week his donning of traditional costume and wielding a sword during a traditional dance was greeted with rapturous headlines in the British media.
‘Charles of Arabia,’ hailed the Daily Mail, with glowing photos of the prince surrounded by members of the House of Saud performing the Sword Dance – known as the Ardah.
The Saudi and related Arab media also enthused about the British royal’s bonhomie and seemingly gracious indulgence of their culture.
But the real, unspoken headlines should have read: ‘British prince serves as key arms dealer to Saudi terrorist regime’.
During Charles’ four-day visit to Saudi Arabia, it transpired that a long-delayed arms deal with British Aerospace (BAE) worth some $8 billion was finally signed off – much to the relief of company executives and British government officials alike.
Incredibly, a spokesman for the British prince denied that there was any link to the weapons transaction, involving the sale of more than 70 Typhoon fighter aircraft. And, equally incredible, the British media scarcely made any connection between the events. The latter point illustrates the servile role played by the British media in concealing Britain’s grubby and unethical “strategic interests”.
The inescapable fact is that Prince Charles – the heir apparent to the British Crown – was the lynchpin in securing a pivotal arms deal for Britain’s economy. Hardly a fitting role for someone who is supposed to rule by divine right and who portrays himself as a defender of “all creatures great and small”.
The Typhoon fighter jet contract between Britain and Saudi Arabia was first signed in 2007. But its completion and final payment has been delayed for seven years owing to haggling on both sides. BAE is Britain’s top arms producer and a major source of revenue for the British government. Hinting at the significance, the delay in the Saudi Typhoon contract was described recently by the Financial Times as “tortuous”.
If the purchase had not gone through, thousands of jobs at BAE were to be axed and the recession-strapped British exchequer stood to lose millions of pounds in vitally needed revenue.
Not only that, the sale of the Typhoon to Saudi Arabia is seen by defense analysts as critical to further business for the British company in the Persian Gulf and worldwide. Similar deals are being targeted with Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait. Last year, Oman bought 12 Typhoons and there are high hopes that purchases will be made by South Korea and Malaysia among others. Securing the deal with Saudi Arabia is therefore an endorsement for future multi-billion-dollar British sales over the coming years.
The importance of the contract being sealed in Riyadh was underscored by several visits already to Saudi Arabia and the region by British Prime Minister David Cameron whose primary interest on those trips was to close the BAE deal. Only two months ago, talks on the Typhoon contract with Saudi Arabia hit the buffers and the entire business appeared to be faltering.
Tellingly, Prince Charles was dispatched to Saudi Arabia for the second time in less than a year – the latest visit being at the request of the British government.
The British royal was hosted by senior members of the House of Saud, including the deputy prime minister, Prince Muqrin, and foreign minister Prince Saud al Faisal. He also met separately with Saudi King Abdullah.
Despite denials from the House of Windsor and London about the purpose of Charles’ visit, most of his meetings were conducted “in private”. Britain’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sir John Parker, talked in typical vague platitudes about “mutual interests” and said: “I am sure that His Royal Highness will discuss a lot of topics related to the need for reconciliation and aspirations for the future of the region.”
However, more crucial than words is the public relations imagery of the British prince being seen in the eyes of the world as bestowing a sense of respect to the Saudi rulers. How being associated with a British royal is viewed as a positive image is questionable for many people.
Nevertheless, with the help of the British media propaganda system, the Sword Dance is turned into a “cultural nicety” and spun to burnish the perception of the House of Saud, as well as the House of Windsor.
That contrived PR value goes a long way to sanitize and dignify both parties. Quite a feat when you think about the barbaric head-chopping practices of the Saudi rulers, and Prince Charles being the titular head of the murderous British paratrooper regiment.
While Prince Charles mouthed about “reconciliation in the region” parlayed in the candy floss make-believe realm of Western and Arab media, in the real world the House of Saud has emerged as the primary sponsor of terrorism in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere. The “mutual interests” shared by the House of Saud and the House of Windsor – as the figurehead of British imperialism – are the destabilization of entire countries through sectarianism and bloody conflict, which in turn fuel massive weapons sales.
That whitewashing service of the British monarchy will have been much appreciated by the Saudi despots – a service repaid by giving their final assent and boost to Britain’s strategic weapons trade.
But the abiding – albeit unintended – image of the recent Sword Dance in Riyadh is that of the British and Saudi so-called rulers wielding steely blades and donning bullet belts across their chests. Despite all their pretensions of majesty and divine rule, both parties are just a bunch of sordid bandits – with fancy titles.
Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. He is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in journalism. He is also a musician and songwriter. For nearly 20 years, he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organisations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Originally from Belfast, Ireland, he is now located in East Africa as a freelance journalist, where he is writing a book on Bahrain and the Arab Spring, based on eyewitness experience working in the Persian Gulf as an editor of a business magazine and subsequently as a freelance news correspondent. The author was deported from Bahrain in June 2011 because of his critical journalism in which he highlighted systematic human rights violations by regime forces. He is now a columnist on international politics for Press TV and the Strategic Culture Foundation.