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Last Updated: Sunday, 1 August, 2004, 19:47 GMT 20:47 UK
Saudi bid to win UK hearts
by Lucy Jones
BBC News Online

When Prince Turki Al Faisal arrived in London to take up his post as Saudi Arabia's ambassador he was shocked at the kingdom's poor image in Britain.

Attacks on foreign workers, including the murder by Islamic militants of a BBC cameraman in Riyadh, and the search for probably Saudi Arabia's most notorious citizen Osama bin Laden were making matters worse.

Prince Turki Al Faisal talking to guests at 'Saudi Arabian Day - A Summer Celebration' held in Syon Park, Brentford
Prince Turki met many of the guests at the festival
This was in addition to the kingdom's longstanding poor human rights record in the West, notoriety for public executions, and in the eyes of the British, severe restrictions on women's lives.

It may have been an uphill struggle, but Prince Turki decided he wanted to show the other side to his country: the land of magnificent scenery, art, crafts, music and sport.

Bedouin tents

So with the help of a London publicity firm he organised a celebration of Saudi culture this weekend at Syon Park, on the estate of the Duke of Northumberland in Brentford, south-west London.
Sally Hanford (left) and Anne McIntyre in a traditional Bedouin tent
It's particularly difficult for women to go to Saudi Arabia.
Sally Handford

"We wanted to show that Saudi Arabia was much more than oil and rich sheiks," Prince Turki told BBC News Online.

"British people and other visitors are coming to see bits of Saudi Arabia - we hope it will whet their appetites," he said.

Thousands of people turned out for the festival which saw tea-drinking and date-eating in Bedouin tents, films about Saudi culture, demonstrations by artisans and camel and falcon displays.

All of this took place in stifling heat amid the exotic aromas of roasting meat and incense and as Saudi musicians played traditional instruments.

Diversity

"It's very interesting, the skill that goes into these tools," said Alan Gulliver, a metal worker from Yorkshire, as he looked at an exhibition of artefacts.

"Everything is mass-produced (in the West) these days," he said sadly.

Anny Winkfield, whose husband had worked in Saudi Arabia, tried out the henna hand make-up available in one tent.

Onlookers watch camel antics at the festival
The camels were particularly popular
"The diversity of the costumes and crafts is interesting," she said.

Saudi Arabia has recently announced it intends to boost "cultural tourism" to the kingdom.

Prince Turki pointed out that even during the "height of the terrorist attacks," Saudi Arabia's crime rate was still one of the lowest in the world.

"Last year 175 people were killed - including the perpetrators of crime - in Saudi Arabia," he said, pointing out the number killed in London alone was much higher.

"Terrorism afflicted your country for 20 years. I remember walking round Knightsbridge and Mayfair seeing the sandbags and police," said the prince.

British expats urged to 'stay on'

Saudi Arabia has made progress on cracking down on militant elements, he said, adding that British people working in Saudi Arabia should "stay on".

But education consultant Sally Handford said she would not be taking a holiday in the kingdom any time soon.

She said: "It's particularly difficult for women to go to Saudi Arabia. They are restricted in what they do there.

"I would love to go to Mecca but I know that would be impossible."


SEE ALSO:
Shock over shooting of BBC crew
06 Jun 04  |  Middle East
Saudi Iraq force offer welcomed
03 Aug 04  |  Middle East
Beaten Saudi woman speaks out
30 Apr 04  |  Middle East
Country profile: Saudi Arabia
29 May 04  |  Country profiles


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