Scroll down for some "welcoming, needed to be said" media comments on King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia's State-sponsored visit to Britain
The weather was fabulous, the setting sensational, but the crowd was sparse. It was also almost silent. Say what you like about we British, but we still do apathy better than anyone else. The Mall was not packed for the procession of the Queen with the King of Saudi Arabia, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. For long stretches of railings there was nobody at all - at one point I walked 100 yards and passed two elderly women, each standing alone. The next 100 yards contained a chap with his son.
A small group of tourists (at least half the crowd were from abroad, but then so are most Londoners these days, as David Cameron will tell you) was being given their instructions by a guide. "When you see the Household Cavalry you'll know the Queen's coming."
At this stage we were probably outnumbered by the police. There was some action where the procession was due to turn into the Mall from the Horse Guards - protesters carried banners saying "Human rights before BAE profits!"
Guardsmen appeared at intervals to be ordered about by their officers. "Form two ranks! R-i-g-h-t dress! Shoulder - ARMS!" An Australian woman said: "Oh, no, I'm going to have a busby in front of me," which seemed silly since she could have found half a mile of perfect views to either side.
"Front rank will RETIRE!" bellowed a Guards officer. We knew there were job cuts in the services, but hadn't realised they were coming so soon, and here. We heard another bellow: "Number four, half-company, stand at EASE!" It's come to this - two reigning monarchs, and all we can afford to protect them are half-companies
By now the mood of the onlookers had risen to somewhere near tepid. Suddenly there was a police motorbike, behind it a Bentley with the royal standard, and inside the Queen and Prince Philip heading east, to Horse Guards and the official welcome. They waved at us. Nobody waved back, or even cheered. It wasn't an aggressive silence, just friendly indifference. Presumably the Queen is used to seeing streets flanked by people standing five deep. It must have looked to her as if someone had dropped a neutron bomb.
Twenty minutes later they were back, this time in various state coaches. The crowd had grown somewhat denser now; not five deep - perhaps half-deep. And to be fair, you wouldn't need to be a monarchist to thrill at the sight of the Household Cavalry, the low autumn sun blinding on their helmets.
Again, no cheering, just an uncontentious silence. The Queen was with King Abdullah in the Australian state coach. Conversation seemed to have ground to a halt, since he doesn't speak English and her Arabic is shaky, or non-existent. Anyway, "have you come far?" is pointless when you know exactly where they've come from.
There was a thicker crowd up near the Palace, and even some cheering. I tracked the enthusiasts down, and they turned out to be a small group of Saudi schoolgirls in national colours, waving national flags. ^^^^^^^^^^^^ London ~~ Wednesday October 31 2007
With friends like these
The House of Saud may insist they're allies against fanaticism, but the reality is much more disturbing
In the spring of 2003, local imams in northern Iraq were worried. Not just about the impending war, but about the inroads that ultra-conservative, intolerant and aggressive strands of Islam were making among their traditionally moderate congregations. The enemy in this particular struggle was not Saddam, they said, but Saudi Arabia.
Since the Kurdish regions had established a de facto autonomy in the wake of the first Gulf war, the imam at the main mosque in Sulaymaniyah explained, hundreds of mosques had been built by Saudi Arabian religious foundations, their ultra-conservative imams imported from the Arabian peninsula. He and his fellow clerics simply did not have the means to compete with the massive aid being distributed by Saudi-based charitable organisations - aid contingent on attendance at special Qur'anic lessons, on wives or sisters wearing a veil and leaving secular political parties. Most damaging of all, he said, was the flood of pamphlets and books that pushed a worldview in which Jews, Christians, Shias and the west were cast as Muslims' sworn enemies.
The rolling hills and grassy plains of Kurdistan are a long way from Whitehall, the Mall and the trappings of a state visit. Yet they ought not to be so far from the thoughts of the various dignitaries warmly shaking the hands of the Saudi royals than they no doubt are.
What I heard in Sulaymaniyah should surprise no one. For many decades, Saudi Arabia has used its prodigious profits from oil not just to buy off domestic dissent but to fund the export around the world of one of the most conservative, rigorous and intolerant strains of Islam.
The origins of Saudi Arabia lie in an alliance between a tribal chief, Muhammad Ibn Al-Saud, and a fiery revivalist theologian and preacher, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahab. The former needed fired-up, holy warriors to weld together a state. The latter needed shelter and a logistic base. When the new nation of Saudi Arabia solidified after two centuries of on-off conflict that deal was translated into a new arrangement by which the House of Saud kept secular power but al-Wahab's followers had a free religious hand. In foreign policy, the goal of disseminating Wahabism throughout the Islamic world has coincided perfectly with more secular aims such as countering the influence of Arab nationalism, revolutionary Shia, Iran and communism or, more recently, of extending influence into Africa, Asia and Europe.
In Britain, a struggle between religious doctrines has gripped immigrant communities, sharpened by propaganda bankrolled out of the Arabian peninsula. We have also suffered individuals educated in Saudi universities such as Sheikh Faisal, who was imprisoned for his anti-semitic and anti-western comments, and Omar Bakri Muhammad, the leader of the al-Muhajiroun group, whose members have been linked to militant activities ranging from jihadi fund-raising to suicide bombing. Bakri told me proudly, if somewhat bizarrely, that he was a "hardcore Wahabi" as we sat on Richard and Judy's green room sofa.
It would be wrong to go too far. The Saudis have made some reforms of school and university curriculum, have tightened up monitoring of funding and have attempted to co-opt radical local clerics. Others have been imprisoned. There is an innovative rehabilitation programme.
But the impression remains that the House of Saud has one strategic message for internal consumption, one for the west and one for the broader international Muslim community. And though the Saudis insist they are allies against intolerance, fanaticism and prejudice, for the moment it is understandable if the Kurdish clerics and millions of others who follow centuries-old moderate traditions of Islam remain unconvinced.
· Jason Burke is the author of Al-Qaeda: the True Story of Radical Islam
Robert Fisk: King Abdullah flies in to lecture us on terrorism
In what world do these people live? True, there'll be no public executions outside Buckingham Palace when His Royal Highness rides in stately formation down The Mall. We gave up capital punishment about half a century ago. There won't even be a backhander – or will there? – which is the Saudi way of doing business. But for King Abdullah to tell the world, as he did in a BBC interview yesterday, that Britain is not doing enough to counter "terrorism", and that most countries are not taking it as seriously as his country is, is really pushing it. Weren't most of the 11 September 2001 hijackers from – er – Saudi Arabia? Is this the land that is really going to teach us lessons?
The sheer implausibility of the claim that Saudi intelligence could have prevented the ondon bombings if only the British Government had taken it seriously, seems to have passed the Saudi monarch by. "We have sent information to Great Britain before the terrorist attacks in Britain but unfortunately no action was taken. And it may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy," he told the BBC. This claim is frankly incredible.
The sad, awful truth is that we fete these people, we fawn on them, we supply them with fighter jets, whisky and whores. No, of course, there will be no visas for this reporter because Saudi Arabia is no democracy. Yet how many times have we been encouraged to think otherwise about a state that will not even allow its women to drive? Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister, was telling us again yesterday that we should work more closely with the Saudis, because we "share values" with them. And what values precisely would they be, I might ask?
Saudi Arabia is a state which bankrolled – a definite no-no this for discussion today – Saddam's legions as they invaded Iran in 1980 (with our Western encouragement, let it be added). And which said nothing – a total and natural silence – when Saddam swamped the Iranians with gas. The Iraqi war communiqué made no bones about it. "The waves of insects are attacking the eastern gates of the Arab nation. But we have the pesticides to wipe them out."
Did the Saudi royal family protest? Was there any sympathy for those upon whom the pesticides would be used? No. The then Keeper of the Two Holy Places was perfectly happy to allow gas to be used because he was paying for it – components were supplied, of course, by the US – while the Iranians died in hell. And we Brits are supposed to be not keeping up with our Saudi friends when they are "cracking down on terrorism".
Like the Saudis were so brilliant in cracking down on terror in 1979 when hundreds of gunmen poured into the Great Mosque at Mecca, an event so mishandled by a certain commander of the Saudi National Guard called Prince Abdullah that they had to call in toughs from a French intervention force. And it was a former National Guard officer who led the siege.
Saudi Arabia's role in the 9/11 attacks has still not been fully explored. Senior members of the royal family expressed the shock and horror expected of them, but no attempt was made to examine the nature of Wahhabism, the state religion, and its inherent contempt for all representation of human activity or death. It was Saudi Muslim legal iconoclasm which led directly to the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban, Saudi Arabia's friends. And only weeks after Kamal Salibi, a Lebanese history professor, suggested in the late 1990s that once-Jewish villages in what is now Saudi Arabia might have been locations in the Bible, the Saudis sent bulldozers to destroy the ancient buildings there.
In the name of Islam, Saudi organisations have destroyed hundreds of historic structures in Mecca and Medina and UN officials have condemned the destruction of Ottoman buildings in Bosnia by a Saudi aid agency, which decided they were "idolatrous". Were the twin towers in New York another piece of architecture which Wahhabis wanted to destroy?
Nine years ago a Saudi student at Harvard produced a remarkable thesis which argued that US forces had suffered casualties in bombing attacks in Saudi Arabia because American intelligence did not understand Wahhabism and had underestimated the extent of hostility to the US presence in the kingdom. Nawaf Obaid even quoted a Saudi National Guard officer as saying "the more visible the Americans became, the darker I saw the future of the country". The problem is that Wahhabi puritanism meant that Saudi Arabia would always throw up men who believe they had been chosen to "cleanse" their society from corruption, yet Abdul Wahhab also preached that royal rulers should not be overthrown. Thus the Saudis were unable to confront the duality, that protection-and-threat that Wahhabism represented for them.
Prince Bandar, formerly Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington, once characterised his country's religion as part of a "timeless culture" while a former British ambassador advised Westerners in Saudi Arabia to "adapt" and "to act with the grain of Saudi traditions and culture".
Amnesty International has appealed for hundreds of men – and occasionally women – to be spared the Saudi executioner's blade. They have all been beheaded, often after torture and grossly unfair trials. Women are shot.
The ritual of chopping off heads was graphically described by an Irish witness to a triple execution in Jeddah in 1997. "Standing to the left of the first prisoner, and a little behind him, the executioner focused on his quarry ... I watched as the sword was being drawn back with the right hand. A one-handed back swing of a golf club came to mind ... the down-swing begins ... the blade met the neck and cut through it like ... a heavy cleaver cutting through a melon ... a crisp moist smack. The head fell and rolled a little. The torso slumped neatly. I see now why they tied wrists to feet ... the brain had no time to tell the heart to stop, and the final beat bumped a gush of blood out of the headless torso on to the plinth."
And you can bet they won't be talking about this at Buckingham Palace today.
King Abdullah's claim that Britain has ignored intelligence is merely a smokescreen to distract from the Saudis' own failure to tackle terrorism. By Richard Norton-Taylor
So King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia tells the BBC on the eve of his state visit to Britain that Britain is not doing enough to fight terrorism. Most countries were not taking the issue seriously, he claimed, "including, unfortunately, Great Britain".
Speaking through an interpreter, he added: "We have sent information to Great Britain before the terrorist attacks in Britain, but unfortunately, no action was taken. And it may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy." The Saudis have previously claimed that they passed to Britain information that might have averted the London bombings of 2005.
Unsurprisingly, British security and intelligence agencies deny the claims. Certainly, there is no evidence for it. Well, there wouldn't be, would there? Probably not.
What is not in doubt is that there are many things the Saudi regime itself would like to hide. His claims about Britain turning a blind eye to terrorism is a welcome distraction.
The Saudi royal family is still smarting about its country's record in exporting Islamist extremism. Osama bin Laden is Saudi. Fifteen of the suicide bombers in the September 11 2001 attacks on the US were Saudis. Saudi money funded the madrasas which continue to supply the Taliban with a cadre of religious zealots. A significant number of foreign fighters who have joined al-Qaida in Iraq are Saudis, according to western intelligence and military sources.
King Abdullah's claims are also a welcome distraction from the claims of bribery and corruption and the collapse of the Serious Fraud Office investigation into payments allegedly made by the British arms firm, BAE Systems. The decision to abandon the investigation came at a time when the British government was negotiating the sale of 72 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter aircraft for £4.43bn.
Ministers chose instead to point to alleged threats Saudi Arabia had made to cut off intelligence links with Britain. Lord Goldsmith, attorney general at the time, went so far as to claim that Britons might have died in terrorist attacks had the fraud inquiry gone ahead.
No doubt the Saudis have passed on "intelligence" to the west, including Britain - if only to try and purge itself of past sins. Britain's security and intelligence officials say they would have to act on information provided by the Saudis even it had been obtained by torture - something the Saudis practise.
A Saudi threat that, in future, it would not provide Britain with genuine intelligence that would save British lives seems as incredible as King Abdullah's claims that Britain had ignored such intelligence in the past.