Fighter Jets and Sword Dances

June 29, 2012

Abdulateef Al-Mulhim | Arab News

The world press is always fascinated by what Saudi Arabia does and does not do. You can see many pages in the Western press full of political and social analyses in the Kingdom but they forget the bigger picture. Many Western observers think Saudi Arabia is a closed country for the outside press and Saudi Arabia can’t or doesn’t have the capability to handle the media.

Western observers forgot that on August 2, 1990, the day Iraq invaded Kuwait, Saudi Arabia became a hub for many world media mega companies — CNN, BBC, ABC, CBS, NBC and other news organizations from every corner of the globe. It was Saudi Arabia where the first real-time televised battle was seen by the world. So, simply put, Saudi Arabia can handle any media coverage and we have nothing to hide in regard to our social or political system. To this day we hear the same stereotype opinions about Saudi Arabia.

The latest analyses about Saudi Arabia came after the death of the late Crown Prince Nayef. There were many media reports speculating about the succession procedure and talking about stability in Saudi Arabia. They talked about the Saudi royal family as if it was installed by foreign invaders or ruled Saudi Arabia after a military coup.

The Al-Saud royal family is deeply rooted in Saudi Arabia. It has strong relations with all segments of the Saudi society through marriages and hundreds of years of friendships. Just three months ago, Prince Salman, the newly appointed crown prince told an audience that every Saudi tribe and family took part in establishing and building the country. And just a few weeks ago, Prince Salman had an audience with some members of Al Ajaji family who gave him 1,500 documents which contained many letters between King Abdul Aziz and their grandfather. The same goes for many families and this shows the close relations between the ruler and the ruled in Saudi Arabia.
One Western observer told me he was convinced the Saudi royal family was very close to the people when he watched two events. I happened to be in one of them. Here is what happened:

On a winter afternoon some years ago, there was an air show being held at King Abdul Aziz Air Base in Dhahran. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, who was crown prince at that time, was the guest of honor at the show. He was accompanied by hundreds of other royals, as well as hundreds of military and civilian officials. The show was open to the Saudi public and expatriates. The number of spectators was in the tens of thousands.

Minutes after the arrival of the official parties and out of the blue, a Saudi F-15 Eagle fighter jet came flying at supersonic speed and almost touched the ground at the right side of the officials’ stand and when the F-15 was parallel to where King Abdullah was sitting, the plane took a sharp vertical ascent. I was sitting four rows behind King Abdullah and I didn’t realize how low it was flying until I saw the afterburner flames touching the ground when the plane was in the vertical position. I also didn’t realize how close the F-15 was to the official stand until I felt the heat from the flames of the afterburner. The pilot in the plane was Prince Turki bin Abdullah, the son of King Abdullah.

After this scary maneuver, tens of other fighter jets flew overhead at very, very low altitude and one of those planes was flown by Prince Mohammed bin Faisal, the son of the governor of Qassim Province. The rest of the formation was flown by young Saudis who were not royals. The planes were flying in every direction above the official stand at very, very low altitude. The air show was televised and was seen by many expatriates. The question I was asked after the show by a Western observer was, what kind of security arrangements were made for these stunt maneuvers in the presence of hundreds of government officials? The answer was none. There were no security arrangements or security procedures because the Saudi royal family and the citizens were one body. There is no talk about theories when it came to trust, they were facts.

The second event mentioned by the Western observer, at which I was not present, took place on a sunny day in Abha, the capital of Asir Province. King Abdullah was on a regular official visit and Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, the then Governor of Asir Province, received permission from King Abdullah to perform the “Ardah” dance, a traditional sword dance. The minute the drummers started, thousands of Saudi citizens joined King Abdullah. Those Saudis were carrying swords and daggers and King Abdullah’s shoulders were touching the shoulders of the sword dancers. No one knew the names of the five thousands sword dancers or had checked their identities, they were simply Saudi citizens who wanted to join King Abdullah in this traditional dance.

Only Prince Khaled Al-Faisal and two soldiers were in the vicinity of the king. The rest were simple Saudis who just wanted to dance with the king in the open. No security presence was seen. It wasn’t necessary. For Saudis, this is a common sight.

It was common for the average Saudi to do a sword dance with the king. People saw and participated in sword dances with King Abdul Aziz, King Saud, King Faisal, King Khaled, King Fahd and King Abdullah. And all those “Ardahs” took place without any security check. This kind of relations between the ruler and the ruled in Saudi Arabia is the biggest known Saudi secret.

Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

Abdulateef Al-Mulhim, Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

— Abdulateef Al-Mulhim is a Commodore (Retired), Royal Saudi Navy. He is a frequent contributor to the SUSRISblog. He can be contacted at: almulhimnavy@hotmail.com

Reprinted with permission of the author. Originally published in Arab News on June 21, 2012.

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