Saudi Arabia’s project to restore stability in the region is being subjected to a series of smear campaigns. I came under this impression after two meetings in Washington and a few others in Berlin with a group of researchers and diplomats interested in the region’s affairs who do not believe that Saudi Arabia’s motives in the region are “moral” and are not convinced that the kingdom can achieve such a large-scale mission.
Even those who are familiar with Saudi Arabia, such as political observer Mohammad Hassanein Heikal who is certainly well aware of the kingdom’s aims, angered Saudis. In his last interview with as-Safir newspaper, he said: “When Gamal Abdel Nasser intervened in Yemen, he was helping a liberation movement and had no common borders with this country whereas Saudi Arabia has constant demands from Yemen having already seized two of its provinces.” During the TV show, Heikal addressed many other negative opinions about the kingdom but this sentence in particular shows, I believe, how ignorant he is of the Saudi role in Yemen. It seems he has not noticed that Saudi Arabia aims to build a new Yemen, complete with a pluralistic government and wishes to prevent it from falling under Iranian domination which not only threatens Saudi Arabia’s national security but that of Egypt’s too!
Let us carry out a survey on the activities of Saudi embassies in the main capitals of the world. How many conferences were held? When did a Saudi ambassador deliver a speech in a major research center?Jamal Khashoggi
Is it possible that Mr. Heikal is unaware of this, despite his claim that he meets the Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi once a week - according to what he once said in an interview - and apparently discusses current developments in Egypt and the region with the leader. If for some reason he is unaware of the manner in which Saudi Arabia’s plans are propping up national security, perhaps the Egyptian president, who is a coalition partner in the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, has informed him of the true intentions of the kingdom. Those intentions do not include eradicate the Houthis but for some reason Heikal is not aware of that. Instead, the Saudis want to encourage the Houthis to accept partnership with Yemen’s other political components.
How can a prominent researcher and political analyst such as Heikal, who has studied the Yemeni case since Abdullah al-Wazir’s coup against the Imam Yahya, lose sight of that? I tend to always favor goodwill and prefer to blame my own people who lost contact with the intelligentsia of our close ally, Cairo, and fail to explain the Saudi project, leaving the door open for Houthis and Egyptians to demonstrate, in front of the Saudi embassy at times, in a bid to share their ideas on what they call the “Saudi offensive on Yemen.”
Missing in action
Yes, we are absent in terms of popular and official diplomacy not only in Cairo but also in Washington, Berlin and all Arabic and foreign countries at a time when we are leading the most important current campaign, if not the only one capable of saving the region. However, it is being carried out without a parallel active international public relations campaign to clarify its purpose to achieve support. This complex and multifaceted operation is called lobbying. Let us admit that we do not have an organized and effective Saudi lobbying system. What is painful is that after complaining about the Zionist lobby in the United States and its expansion and activities, even against the kingdom, we are now subjected to the effects of the Iranian lobby which emerged strong and effective due to the historical deal between Iran and the West which aims to bring the two together.
Let us carry out a survey on the activities of Saudi embassies in the main capitals of the world. How many conferences were held? When did a Saudi ambassador deliver a speech in a major research center? They even decline media requests for interviews. I only remember the activities of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Prince Mohammad Bin Nawaf, and its permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Abdullah Mualimi. I might have overlooked a lecture or two by one of the kingdom’s ambassadors but, in general, Saudi diplomacy is weak if not absent.
Where are the friendly institutions that can help the kingdom in this time of need? If this were to begin, the work would not produce a positive outcome. It should have been initiated at least ten years ago in order for us to reap the benefits now. Let no one say we didn’t expect an agreement between the West and Iran that would change the regional political equation and an operation in Yemen. Let no one say we didn’t consider the possibility of a coup perpetrated by the Houthis and our old ally, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the total collapse of Syria, the division of Iraq and the revolution in Egypt. These excuses are not convincing for two reasons: First, the current events are nothing but the result of yesterday’s misfortunes, from Kuwait’s invasion and the ensuing war, the September 11 bombings and Algeria’s uprising in 1988 to the assassination of late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri which revealed the true face of the Syrian regime and Iran’s project in the region. As for the nuclear deal, the first meeting between the two negotiating parties took place a decade ago. Saudi Arabia’s absence due to an “unexpected” turn of events cannot therefore be justified at all.
Further proof of the irrelevance of this excuse is the fact that others had prepared for this day while we were busy, in the aftermath of September 11, sweeping away the accusations heaped upon us. The Rockefeller Fund chose to study Iran as if trying to find an alternative for our Sunnite world and had gathered, by the end of 2001, a number of retired American scholars to create the “Iran project” which involved $4.3 million spent on meetings and workshops in order to speed up the establishment of an agreement with Iran. This project revolves around dissolving fears over Iran’s nuclear project and seemingly on giving Iran an important regional role. This project has greatly benefitted Iran, allowing it to create its own lobby group in the U.S. made up of American professors of Iranian origin. Some are opposed to the American government while others will be automatically arrested once they set foot in Tehran. However, they put their differences aside for the sake of higher national interest. Some of them are well-respected authors and researchers in the American academic field, such as the prestigious author Vali Nasr and Trita Parsi, a Swedish of Iranian origin, who is one of the leading advocates of Iran and founder of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) which became the spearhead of the Iranian lobby in Washington.
In the coming article, I will provide details on a study I have gained access to in Berlin which forecasts that the kingdom will lose the war in Yemen. I assume its author has changed his or her mind after the latest victories in Aden. I have also participated in a workshop that took place in Washington where I found that the majority of participants were skeptical about the operation’s purposes and were accusing the kingdom of cooperating with ISIS during Aden’s liberation. In my eyes, it seems that the Iranian lobby is doing a good job, not only in Beirut but even as far as Washington.
I will close this article by quoting a prestigious writer for The Times magazine, Joe Klein, who I met when I was in Washington working with Prince Turki al Faisal who was an ambassador back then. When we were heading to the prince’s office to conduct an interview, Klein told me: “The prince’s daily press relations and public diplomatic activity done here are similar to what the Israelis were accomplishing throughout the past forty years. If you go on like this for one more decade, the American press and public opinion will change its outlook toward Saudi Arabia.” We haven’t achieved that, but Prince Turki still calls for the emergence of a new generation of young Saudi diplomats who can be proficient in public diplomacy. He believes that ambassadorial duties have changed: “When the king of the country needs to contact the head of another country, he can make a direct call through a secure telephone line; nonetheless he is unable to respond to the request of a journalist from a local newspaper in Ohio or a scholar from a university in the North of Texas. This has become the job of the ambassador,” I believe he once said. Truth to be told, he accomplished his mission during his short stay there and it is time to adopt his point of view in future diplomatic work. We hold a fair and moral cause but we do not know how to defend it and share it with the rest of the world.
This article was first published in al-Hayat on August 1, 2015.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggi