By Arab News
By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
In the Arab world, the science of public relations is not taken seriously.
And when something that has a negative effect on a country in the Arab world takes place, then you would only hear official versions of the event. The audiences in the West don’t like and don’t want to hear the official side of the story. The Arab world lost a lot of battles in the United Nations because we didn’t know how to talk to the outside world. There are many cases in which the Arab elite didn’t know how to talk to their own people. So, if their own people have no trust or no interest to listen to what the Arab elite would say, then would you expect the outside world to listen to them.
The Arab world always resorts to official statements issued by embassies. And there is no attention to what a simple Arab man or woman can do. For example, a lot of people didn’t know who this Yemeni woman (Tawakkul Karman) was, until she was recognized by the Nobel Peace Committee. Also, the Egyptian Nobel Prize winner Ahmed Zuwail was an unknown figure in Egypt, until the Americans and the Scandinavians told his countrymen and the whole Arab world about what a genius this man is. The Arab world fails to show its brighter side. The reason for that is we appoint people based on who they know, not what they know.
After Sept. 11, 2001, Saudi Arabia found itself caught in rough seas of international media. News around the world was all focused on us and we were not prepared for this amount of media attack. We, the Saudis lacked the official and private public relations. I am not talking about good public relations that make black white or vice versa. I am talking about things that can be explained. We saw Saudi Arabia pay millions of dollars to public relations companies. I knew from the start that they would do more damage than repair. Others will judge you based on what you do that will help others, not listening to what a media company would say about you. To the surprise of a lot of Saudis, it was the old American pioneers who worked in the Saudi oil fields with Saudi Aramco who did most of the successful public relations for us in the US. They showed the brighter side of Saudi Arabia. The expensive public relations companies couldn’t do it.
On an early October evening in Alkhobar in the Eastern Province, I had the honor to be invited to watch a simple 45- minute movie. It was titled “Arabia.” Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd, the governor of the Eastern Province was present. Xenel, a private Saudi company was behind making the movie. After my arrival I had the honor to meet a lot of people such as the Arab News Editor in Chief Khaled Almaeena. Hala Al-Houti, a young Saudi woman who works for the Xenel Company was in charge of organizing the reception and coordinating the whole event. She was a talented public relations officer. She made hard tasks look easy to accomplish. The atmosphere was very relaxing and I was not sure what to expect. The movie was shown in some foreign capitals in 3 D and I was eager to see it. I thought it was a brilliant idea to have the private sector talk about Saudi Arabia.
I followed the movie minute by minute. It was a piece of history unknown to some people from the Middle East, let alone the outside world. The beautiful thing about the movie is that, it digested 2000 years of old and modern history in 45 minutes. It didn’t talk about politics. It mentioned no economics. It revealed no secrets. It didn’t mention anything out of the ordinary. It didn’t criticize any other country. So, what made this movie a good movie? What made this movie an eye-opener? The answer is very simple. It said, this is what Saudi Arabia is and this is what the Saudis are. The movie showed the outside world that Arabia (Saudi Arabia) was the land of a very ancient civilization. We were the history of the world.
Arabia accomplished in 45 minutes what public relations couldn’t do in years. So, are public relations between countries or civilizations that complicated? I think it is very simple to show your good side. Every Saudi with little effort could make a big difference. The movie had more than one hundred Saudis who participated in making and being in the movie. The movie was the first in the world about Saudi Arabia which was shown in IMAX theaters. So, I saw one of the best movies ever, not made by a giant movie company such as MGM or Columbia Pictures. It was made by a Saudi company called Xenel (Zainal).
— Abdulateef Al-Mulhim can be contacted at: [email protected]