Following an enthusiastic and thrilling campaign, BBC Arabic aired the documentary “The Siege of Mecca.” You can tell how dramatized it is from the title! The documentary is about the terror events at the Grand Mosque in 1979 or at the beginning of the new Hijri Millennium 1400 AH.
I watched the hour-long documentary and expected it to carry hostile messages against Saudi Arabia. However, it was less aggressive than I expected.
Before I outline some notes, I must say that some people’s comments on social media that the timing of the movie is intentional, following the crisis with Qatar, are an exaggeration. Some people said that BBC aired the documentary on purpose as Saudi Arabia is at the forefront of countries boycotting Qatar.
However, the Qatari crisis has been going on for only around a month and preparations for the documentary took more than two years. Those who know how these documentaries are produced should be aware that it is impossible to finish them in a month or two.
As for my notes, I will begin with what has been valued as for the first time ever – the French testimony about their “real” role in the crisis. This testimony comes after years of false information and leftist, nationalist and Brotherhood gossip.
Unless the Saudis begin narrating their own history – as they are best suited to do this – others will begin to do so either out of good or bad intentions – that is if they haven’t begun alreadyMashari Althaydi
The French role
In brief, the French special force’s role was to train the Saudi special force on using gas in the “basement” battles in the mosque after the rest of Juhayman al-Otaibi’s group descended from the roof and hid in the basement.
The French special force was stationed in Taif and not in Mecca as ignorant people or people who ignore the facts claimed. Another point, which the French acknowledge, is that the Saudi forces are the ones who liberated the Grand Mosque. Saudi forces, and not western or Arab soldiers, sacrificed their lives to execute this glorious task.
The documentary featured former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, and perhaps due to his age, he made some unreasonable exaggerations such as “France saved Saudi Arabia!” Of course, this is doesn’t make sense as what happened inside and around the Grand Mosque was limited to that area – despite its gravity – and the country was secure under the state’s protection.
The documentary also hosted guests from Egypt and they spoke about the sequence of events and their relation with Juhayman. One of them had his face and voice masked and most probably he is one of those guests who like to exaggerate events.
There’s not enough space to discuss this further but I know that some are sensitive when discussing these matters. I must note though that unless the Saudis begin narrating their own history – as they are best suited to do this – others will begin to do so either out of good or bad intentions – that is if they haven’t begun already.
Speak so I see you.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Saudi journalist Mashari Althaydi presents Al Arabiya News Channel’s “views on the news” daily show “Maraya.” He has previously held the position of a managing senior editor for Saudi Arabia & Gulf region at pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Althaydi has published several papers on political Islam and social history of Saudi Arabia. He appears as a guest on several radio and television programs to discuss the ideologies of extremist groups and terrorists. He tweets under @MAlthaydy.