LONDON: In November, the Prince of Wales and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, embarked on the first overseas tour by a member of the British royal family since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which had temporarily interrupted these trips two years earlier.
For those familiar with the interests closest to the prince’s heart, the choice of the Middle East as his destination comes as no surprise.
By visiting Jordan and Egypt, the Prince was honoring his lifelong commitment to building bridges between different religions and cultures, and exercising his fascination and love for a region with which he has always been deeply engaged.
During his visit to Jordan, the prince was keen to express his admiration for the work being done in the country on behalf of refugees, many of whom had been displaced by the war in Syria.
He was particularly concerned about the plight of refugees throughout the region. In January 2020 he was announced as the first UK patron of the International Rescue Committee, the organization working in 40 countries “to help people survive, recover and take control of their future”.
In Jordan, he met and spoke to some of the 750,000 people hosted by the country, many of whom depend on support from donor countries including the UK and Saudi Arabia.
The prince’s sense of the region’s history, which in many cases is inextricably linked to that of his own country, is acute. While in Jordan, he planted a tree to symbolize the Anglo-Jordanian partnership and to mark the centenary of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan – a product of the Allied defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, and which eventually gained independence from the British Mandate in 1946.
In Cairo, the prince and the duchess were welcomed by President Abdel Fattah El-Sissi. It was the prince’s second trip to Egypt. He had previously visited in 2006, as part of a tour which also included Saudi Arabia and which was carried out to promote better understanding and tolerance between religions, and to support environmental initiatives and the promotion of sustainable employment and training opportunities for young people. .
After visiting the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, the prince highlighted his commitment to interfaith harmony in a speech delivered at Al-Azhar University.
He said: “I believe with all my heart that responsible men and women must work to restore mutual respect between religions, and we must do everything in our power to overcome the mistrust that poisons the lives of many. people.
Similar to his mother, who died on Thursday, Charles has always been dedicated to ecumenism and promoting harmony among religions.
As King Charles III, he now inherits Queen Elizabeth II’s role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England and the title of Defender of the Faith – and, like her before him, he has always made it clear that he considered this role to be better defined. as an advocate for all faiths.
During a BBC interview in 2015, he said: “It has always seemed to me that while at the same time being a defender of faith, you can also be a defender of religions.
“The Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all religions in this country.”
With over 3 million Muslims in the UK, Islam is the country’s second largest religion and Charles’ interest in this religion is well known.
In 2015, during a tour of the Middle East that took him to Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, it emerged that the prince had spent the previous six months learning the Arabic with a private tutor, in order to be able to read the Koran in its original language, and to better decipher the inscriptions in museums and other institutions during his many trips to the region.
A royal aide revealed the prince was “hugely interested in the area”.
Known for his passion for Islamic history, art and culture – at Cambridge University in the 1960s the prince studied archaeology, anthropology and history at Trinity College – Charles is always very interested in the heritage of the Middle East.
In particular, he closely followed and repeatedly visited the extensive archaeological works taking place in and around AlUla and the ancient Nabatean city of Hegra, inscribed in 2008 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
During a visit to Saudi Arabia in 2013, he enjoyed a tour of Wadi Hanifa and watched with great interest a presentation on the Diriyah project, which is transforming the historic Wadi into a destination for global cultural tourism, with the Preserved ruins of Diriyah, capital of the first Saudi state and birthplace of Saudi Arabia, in its heart.
Charles is a keen artist, and this interest is reflected in his personal website, princeofwales.gov.uk – in the process of being updated to reflect his new position – on which four watercolors he painted in the Middle East are presented.
The oldest, dated 1986, is that of a ship in Port Suez, Egypt. Two others are landscapes painted in Saudi Arabia – a view of Wadi Arkam in the remote southwestern province of Asir in 1999, and a study of a historic palace in Diriyah, painted in 2001.
Since his investiture as Prince of Wales in 1969, Charles has made countless visits to countries in the region, both formally and informally. Private visits aside, as Prince of Wales Charles has made five official visits to Jordan, six to Qatar, seven to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates and 12 to Saudi Arabia.
It was a tradition that began in 1986 when he embarked on a nine-day tour of the Middle East, during which he visited Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia with his wife. ‘then, Diana, Princess of Wales, from whom he would separate in 1992.
The number of meetings he has had at home and abroad with members of royal families in the Middle East – more than 200 over the past decade, including those in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
As Prince of Wales, it was part of Charles’s job to promote the mutual interests of Britain and its allies, and in pursuit of this duty he made numerous formal and informal visits to Saudi Arabia, Britain’s most influential ally in the region.
The prince’s role as a bridge between his country and all the Gulf nations, in particular, has always been mutually beneficial. For example, the day after a visit to Riyadh in February 2014, during which the prince valiantly accepted an invitation to don traditional Arab dress and participate in a sword dance, it was announced that the British aerospace company BAE had reached an agreement for the sale to the Kingdom of the 72 Typhoon fighter jets.
As Prince of Wales, Charles had many charitable interests, but perhaps none have been as global in vision as the Prince’s Foundation, dedicated to “realizing the Prince of Wales’ vision of building communities for a more sustainable world”.
Focused on education, heritage appreciation and creating equal opportunities for young people at home and abroad, the foundation has conducted satellite programs in more than 20 countries, including Saudi Arabia. and Egypt, where it operates permanent centres.
In Saudi Arabia, the foundation has set up a vocational training program in building arts and crafts in Jeddah’s old city, Al-Balad, giving students the opportunity to get involved in the restoration projects of the Ministry of Culture in the city.
During the Winter at Tantora festival, held in AlUla from January 10 to March 21, 2020, the foundation held an exhibition titled “Cosmos, Color and Craft: The Art of the Order of Nature in AlUla,” and curated a series of hands-on workshops in conjunction with the Royal Commission for AlUla.
In the United Arab Emirates, since 2009, the foundation has worked with the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation to offer traditional arts workshops in the capital.
During his visit to Egypt last year, the prince met young artisans from the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation and the Jameel School. Supported by the Prince’s Foundation, the school teaches young Egyptians lessons in traditional Islamic geometry, drawing, color harmony and arabesque.
Unsurprisingly, the foundation attracted donations from many influential friends in the area. As Prince of Wales, Charles’ ties to the royal families of the region have always run deeper than the necessary ties required by wise diplomacy.
For example, he considered King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia a personal friend and, after the monarch’s death in January 2015, flew to Riyadh to pay his last respects and express his condolences to his successor, King Salman, in person.
In the person of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who died on Thursday, the Middle East and its peoples had a lifelong friend, close to its leaders and committed to building and maintaining bridges between religions and cultures.
In King Charles III, this precious friendship is clearly destined to continue uninterrupted.