Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

Do you really need to conceal a camera and move around taking photos in a country like Saudi Arabia? I don’t think so. Shops and malls in the Kingdom are flooded with the most advanced cameras and video recorders.

Do you really need to conceal you identity to talk to people about anything in the Kingdom? Is it really a country that needs to be “uncovered”? I don’t think so. Saudi Arabia is a huge country with a diverse population. One third of the total Saudi Arabia’s population comprises expatriates from all over the world. They roam about everywhere without any restrictions. But what to do if somebody wants to produce a cheap documentary far from truth? For such elements, it is very easy to lie about the need to conceal a camera and talk to people off the record or unnecessarily blur their faces.

Is there really any need to “uncover” a country with such a huge expatriate population? This is what a documentary by the PBS Frontline tried to tell people who have no knowledge about the Kingdom. The documentary in question simply focused on isolated incidents that took place in parts of the Kingdom and presented those events totally out of their actual contexts.

With a hidden camera and wrong intentions, any country could be portrayed in a negative light.

Even I can roam around the streets of any western capital and take shots of homeless, poverty-stricken and unemployed people. It is also not difficult to produce a documentary about the killing of African-American teens at the hands of the “white” cops. By using the approach that has been used in the PBS Frontline documentary, it would be very easy to blow those tragic killings out of proportion and out of context.

Actually, I fail to understand as to why the world is so obsessed with Saudi Arabia. Just paint the Kingdom negatively and the story will become a hot cake. What type of dishonest approach is that? The PBS Frontline documentary showed the man with a hidden camera, as if he was on a spying mission.

We do admit that Saudis are generally media shy people and they should be more open. We do need more open channels to the outside world. Let’s be more frank, Saudis are not obligated to talk about or criticize Saudi Arabia just for the sake of making a western journalist happy. As for the dos and don’ts in the Kingdom, like every independent country in the world we also have our own rules, which we respect and follow.

It is very easy to notice in the documentary that it concentrated on specific cases that are known to the public and many articles have already been written on those issues.

Ironically, some of the interviewees shown in the documentary owe a lot to the country they unnecessarily criticize. Some of them were sent on full government scholarships and were provided with excellent employment opportunities.

Apparently the documentary just promoted stereotypes about the Kingdom. Poverty and unemployment are global phenomena and not unique to Saudi Arabia. But our government is taking all possible measures to effectively address these issues. These efforts are genuine and have nothing to do with any foreign stimuli.

The producer of the film has very wrongly assumed that such steps are but the result of the so-called Arab Spring. He should have done a little research. Since the establishment of the country, our leaders are working relentlessly for the welfare of the citizens.

We have easy access to our rulers who always positively respond to our needs. It is something not possible in many parts of the world.

The film showed certain individuals, who did not put forward their viewpoint in a peaceful manner and in ways considered respectable in the Saudi social context.

From the very beginning, they had been in direct contact with some foreign governments who wanted to export the so-called Arab Spring to Saudi Arabia.

We all saw the chaos the so-called uprisings had caused in many countries in the region.

In Saudi Arabia people will side with you if you call for — through peaceful means —any social, political, economic or judicial reform. Saudis will never support those who want to raise these issues using violent means or at the behest of foreign powers hostile to their country.

The documentary showed young men rioting violently but failed to mention the number of policemen shot by the rioters. The Saudi police never fired a single shot in retaliation.

Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Unethical Reporting of KSA reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.