Adel al-Jubeir is the national spokesperson of Saudi Arabia, the face that the kingdom likes to show in the West. In contrast with most Saudi Arabians, he is clean-shaven, and his English is polished and almost unaccented. If he has any traditional Arab clothes, he hides them in the closet in his house in Saudi Arabia. In Western countries, he is careful to appear only in expensive, quietly fashionable, and conservative suits, which, together with his receding hairline, lend him the appearance of a senior accountant.
He speaks softly, but in tones of authority, backed by his senior status in Saudi Arabia foreign affairs adviser to Prince Abdullah, the acting ruler of the kingdom. His voice is the voice of his masters, dubbed for Western ears, and that is the source of his power. He is said to be the best Arab spokesperson today.
On Tuesday, at a press conference at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington, al-Jubeir launched a campaign to improve Saudi Arabia’s image in the US, under the slogan, “We’re fighting terrorism.” The fact that someone of his stature has been assigned to orchestrate the campaign shows how Saudi Arabia’s image has deteriorated in US public opinion.
Surveys show that Saudi Arabia has not yet managed to erase the stain of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which had Saudi Arabia stamped all over them. US media continue to report extensively the poisonous sermons preached by imams at Saudi Arabian mosques, contributions by wealthy Saudi Arabians to Muslim terrorist organizations, and the ambivalent attitude of ordinary Saudi Arabians towards Al Qaeda. Soaring oil prices have also not exactly endeared Saudi Arabia to Main Street USA.
Now, however, al-Jubeir wants Americans to believe that Saudia Arabia is remaking itself that what it has been is not what it will be. As he puts it, "The bottom line is that no Saudi citizen will be able to escape the clear message that intolerance, violence and extremism are not part of our Islamic faith, or of Saudi culture or traditions.”
Asked how Saudi Arabia defines terrorism, al-Jubeir said that the kingdom had adopted the UN’s formula, which defines terrorism as an act that causes victims among civilians, “anywhere.”
Saudi Arabia’s master explainer elegantly sidestepped, however, discomforting questions from an Israeli journalist, thereby raising doubts about the credibility of his brave pronouncements about his country’s efforts to surgically remove the cancer of terrorism.
"Globes’" reporter, who identified himself as an Israeli journalist, wanted to hear how Saudi Arabia defines Palestinian organizations like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other like them. Are these terrorist organizations? Does Saudi Arabia support them, and will it continue to do so? The reporter also asked whether the Saudi Arabian royal family would agree to diplomatic relations with Israel after implementation of the disengagement plan.
Without blinking, al-Jubeir answered, “Let’s wait a minute with that. Let’s finish with the subject of terrorism.” He turned to two other reporters, unexpectedly stopped the press conference, and quickly left the room. Several people, apparently employees of the Saudi Arabian embassy, physically blocked access to the retreating spokesperson. A group of Arab journalists began to shout, “What about the briefing in Arabic that you promised us?”, but al-Jubeir was already out of hearing.
In any case, before his tactical retreat, al-Jubeir demonstrated amazing command of the art of spin. Imams giving poisonous sermons against the West? In the US, al-Jubeir says, the Ku Klux Klan delivers poisonous messages ostensibly based on the principles of Christianity. Would anybody say that the US is a racist country, or that Christianity spreads hatred? The Ku Klux Klan hijacked Christianity, and uses it for its own ends. Extremist Muslims in Saudi Arabia have hijacked Islam, and are using it for their own ends.
”We won’t let deviants distort our religion,” al-Jubeir said, “We’re overhauling our educational system to instill the true values of our religion.”
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes.co.il - on March 10, 2005