Fox News, a leading news media organ in the US that captures the attention of many ‘far right’ elements in US politics, sent their investigative team last week to Saudi Arabia for an indepth look at the kingdom and an hour-long interview with Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman or MBS as he is popularly referred to.
To understand Fox News is to remember that on many occasions, their news snippets about Saudi Arabia have not always been favourable, and any blip was headlined in the broadcast. I remember a shooting in a Florida naval base where a 21-year-old Saudi national training at the Naval Air Station Pensacola opened fire inside a classroom on December 6, 2019, killing three and wounding eight others before being shot and killed.
Before investigations by US authorities were concluded, Fox News and other leading US news outlets ensured their listeners knew the perpetrator’s nationality, and some even questioned why the US was allowing Saudi trainees on their military bases. The loud crescendo against the kingdom eventually subsided when it was revealed that it was an act of a lone wolf influenced by the Al Qaeda ideology.
On normalisation with Israel, MBS reiterated that the Palestinian question was vital to any progress towards the talks, and the rights of Palestinians are not to be denied.
Saudis, who had advance knowledge of last week’s visit by Fox, were initially sceptical and wondered if it would be a rehash of the same negativity that the kingdom had experienced in much of the Western press.
The Saudis were not going to hide anything. No holds were barred in the team’s excursions and access to various government officials as well as to leading business and private citizens. If the intent was to get a good picture of the Saudi Arabia of today, then for the most part, the team seemed satisfied with the cooperation extended to their media group from the authorities.
An hour-long recap of their visit was released before the interview, which took place early Thursday. It showed a range of questions and answers put forward by Fox and aptly replied to by the recipient, among whom were the ministers of oil and energy, the ministers of tourism, the female leader in the chamber of commerce, and Lina Al Maeena, a Saudi woman who founded the first female sports club in the kingdom.
Fox News ties to GOP
The crowning of their visit was a one-on-one interview with MBS on the Red Sea resort of Sindalah by Fox News host Bret Baier. The decision to go ahead with the interview by Fox News, a leading American conservative outlet with strong ties to the Republican party, raised considerable eyebrows among rights groups. However, Fox came prepared and had a series of questions that would have made anyone uncomfortable.
Not so with the Crown Prince. He addressed every question with facts and figures, leaving viewers to marvel that he was a ‘walking encyclopedia.’ There was not the slightest hint of evasion to any of the questions. On rapprochement with Iran, MBS astutely pointed out that if the region’s economies are to succeed, then there is no room for regional tension, and he has pursued the initiative to make peace with his neighbours, including Yemen, which had recently sent a Houthi delegation to discuss the ceasefire protocol.
On normalisation with Israel, MBS reiterated that the Palestinian question was vital to any progress towards the talks, and the rights of Palestinians are not to be denied. This was echoed by the Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan, who said that the only way to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was through an independent Palestinian state. “There is no way to resolve the conflict other than by establishing an independent Palestinian state. People have begun to lose hope in the two-state solution,” Farhan said, adding that the plan “must return to the forefront.” Considering that Israel’s ruling party is a major right-wing political party today with Benjamin Netanyahu as its prime Minister, the task ahead could be precarious.
Throughout the interview, MBS, who had no aide to come to his defence, boldly confronted every question put forward to him, and even when the murder of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi was brought up, he admitted it was a mistake of the security authorities and that they have all been punished and serving time. He added that there are still some archaic laws, and he has tasked a team of legal experts to scour for such nuances that infringe upon human rights and correct them expediently.
The interview concluded well for the 38-year-old prince, a fact acknowledged by the highly experienced Fox News panels watching from the US.
— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena