The National - News

Prince Charles’s ‘brilliant’ trip to the Middle East

▶ A short visit by the royal couple represents the ties that bind the UK and the Arab world


In good times as well as bad, few diplomatic events have as much geopolitic­al significan­ce as state visits. But for countries with royal families, even those who have limited political power, coverage and popular appeal of their official trips abroad can easily rival the presence of a nation’s most senior politician.

We saw this special kind of diplomacy take place during the recent visit by Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla to the Middle East.

It was not an occasion to discuss geopolitic­s, rather one to re-emphasise the longstandi­ng friendship between the UK and the region. And while it was not technicall­y a state visit, it is significan­t. Prince Charles has deep ties with this part of the world and is seen as one of Europe’s most respected and senior royals.

The trip is a sign that Britain continues to value its many friends in the Middle East. Politician­s change, reflecting the modern, political phases that a country goes through; royal families have a deeper, symbolic associatio­n with tradition and identity.

The British royals are particular­ly illustrati­ve of this fact. Constituti­onally, they have been largely ceremonial for years. Culturally, however, they are one of the most influentia­l brands around, and a major part of the UK’s soft power and tourism industry.

The current British monarch, Queen Elizabeth, has been a friend to the Middle East all her reign. Her first visit to the region was to Libya in 1954. Her first to the UAE was in 1979, when the country was just eight years old and proudly showing the world the rapid developmen­t it was undergoing. She returned in 2010.

On the advice of doctors, she is now gradually pulling back from her full schedule of state occasions at the age of 95, paving the way for Prince Charles, the monarch-in-waiting, to take on the most important internatio­nal royal visits. Like his mother, he is a friend of the Middle East, although he has been away for some time; his last trip to the region was in 2006.

He was happy to be back, this time visiting Jordan and Egypt for four days. On the last leg of his trip, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar in Cairo called him a “wise and responsibl­e leader”, and the pair discussed issues such as the environmen­t and the need for more interfaith dialogue. Charles, like many of the region’s government­s, has a longstandi­ng interest in both. Indeed, his passion for protecting the natural world and sustainabl­e food is so great – he is a leading global advocate of organic farming – that it has sometimes got him in trouble at home for oversteppi­ng the tight controls on the royals’ political neutrality.

But away from home, the mood this week has been one of friendship and optimism. Naturally, it is also one of great dipomatic responsibi­lity. Camilla was clear that this visit was not a “holiday”, but an important moment to affirm Britain’s strong and enduring ties with the region. Nonetheles­s, after so many years away, the pair said at the end of their tour that it was “absolutely brilliant”, but also “too short”.

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