Majalla – London
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman landed in the UK on Tuesday on a three-day trip at the invitation of the British government during which he met Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace, Prince Charles of Wales, Prime Minister Theresa May, and several British officials. The visit of Crown Prince will “usher in a new era in bilateral relations focused on a partnership that delivers wide-ranging benefits for both the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” May’s spokesman said.
The Crown Prince met with Prime Minister Theresa May and her ministers in Downing Street on Wednesday. At the meeting the two leaders discussed their political, military, security and economic ties and deepening their bilateral relationship. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said there were great opportunities to strengthen relations between the two countries across all sectors. The talks also covered hot topics in the Arab region and the Middle East.
The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia also met Queen Elizabeth II for lunch on the first day of his extravagant state visit to the UK and dined with Prince Charles and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, in the evening.
In an exclusive statement to Majalla, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair praised the visit of the Crown Prince. “This is a very important visit. Relations between the two nations are strong and essential for our security and future prosperity,” he said.
“The reforms being undertaken in KSA today show that it is a country which is changing, modernising, connecting to the global community; and this is exciting for Saudi citizens and for the wider world,” he added.
In an earlier interview with Majalla, Blair praised Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for “embarking on a very ambitious but absolutely necessary program of change — which is consistent with the position of the kingdom as home to the two holy sanctuaries and the center of Islam.”
“The Vision 2030 for Saudi Arabia is in my view the first really coherent, worked-out plan for the country to get fully connected to the modern world and be as successful a nation as it could be…I think there is determination to make the change happen, and I think it’s very important the outside world gets behind it,” he added.
During their meeting at Downing Street on Wednesday, the Prime Minister and the Crown Prince hosted the inaugural meeting of the “U.K.-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council,” a trade and investment body that will see British and Saudi officials work to promote reforms in the public and private sector.
“The meeting agreed a landmark ambition for around £65 billion ($90.3 billion) of mutual trade and investment opportunities over the coming years, including direct investment in the U.K. and new Saudi public procurement with U.K. companies,” a Downing Street spokesperson said in a press release.
The prime minister gave strong support to Vision 2030, calling it “an ambitious blueprint for internal reform that aims to create a thriving economy and a vibrant society.”
Mrs May welcomed “recent reforms in Saudi Arabia, including on women attending sporting events and the cinema, and being legally able to drive from June” and she and the Crown Prince agreed to “explore ways the UK can support Saudi Arabia to progress and intensify these reforms, particularly on women’s rights.”
During talks on the situation in Yemen, the Prime Minister agreed with the Crown Prince on the importance of full and unfettered humanitarian and commercial access, including through the ports, and that a political solution was ultimately the only way to end the conflict and humanitarian suffering in Yemen.
Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary, said the government would seek to build a range of new joint initiatives with Saudi Arabia. Mr Johnson said he saw Prince Mohammed as an exciting force for change in the region.
“This visit is of great importance,” he said. “Prince Mohammed is a reformist and has a moderate vision of Islam. It shows that he has a desire to listen to all religions and that he is a man of tolerance and mutual respect.”
For his part, Saudi Ambassador to the UK Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf stressed that the Saudi-British relations spanning a century have been characterized by mutual respect and concern for their common interests and sharing the values of peace and stability in the region and the world.
He added that the world is witnessing geopolitical changes that call for coordination, consultation and serious action to ensure stability, strengthen the axis of peace and moderation, and prevent the forces of extremism from dragging the region into new conflicts.
On Thursday, the Crown Prince regrouped with May at her country retreat of Chequers, met with religious and business leaders, and visited historical and cultural sites.
During his meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at Lambeth Palace in London, the Crown Prince vowed to promote religious freedom as part of his domestic reforms in Saudi Arabia. “The Crown Prince made a strong commitment to promote the flourishing of those of different faith traditions, and to interfaith dialogue within the Kingdom and beyond,” a statement from Lambeth Palace said.
Both Prince Mohammed and the archbishop viewed a selection of early texts from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths, including fragments of a Quran manuscript found in a Birmingham University library in 2015, which are thought to be among the world’s oldest.
HOW THE BRITISH PRESS REACTED
by Ghenwa El Minawi and Maria Asaad
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has compelled the attention of the British press throughout his high profile visit to the British capital. The Financial Times confirms that UK-Saudi relations will be taken to a ‘higher level’ in trade agreements worth billions. In light of the tumultuous political circumstances brought to Britain at the hands of Brexit, the Huffington Post states that Prime Minister Theresa May is avidly promoting the United Kingdom as an ‘ideal site’ for Saudi investment.
Other prominent media platforms such as The Guardian highlighted how these bilateral contracts yield mutually beneficial returns to both the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia. The Guardian states that with Saudi ‘diversifying the economy away from oil revenues, this will provide new opportunities for British firms in health, technology, entertainment, sport and education’.
In addition to setting the tone for socio-political and economic progression, Mohammed bin Salman has been cited in the Telegraph for his staunch position to counter the threat of Islamic Terrorism. His attitude towards terrorism goes hand in hand with his vision to establish a more ‘moderate’ understanding of Islam within and beyond the Saudi Kingdom. According to an exclusive interview of the Crown Prince in the Telegraph, he is ‘embarking on an overhaul of the country’s social norms’.
The Guardian proceeded to quote Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s words of admiration: ‘We feel strongly that this is the beginning of change in the whole Islamic world. We strongly admire what Prince Mohammed is doing, and we want to engage in and support what is happening. He is a man of tolerance and mutual respect.’
Most British publications lauded Mohammed bin Salman for his modernising endeavours. The Huffington Post reads: ‘Downing Street praised the Crown Prince for reforms such as the upcoming lifting of the ban on women driving, and stressed the need to keep the country on its path to political change’.