By Arab News
By Mohamed Chebaro*
Many years ago, I used to brag to friends that I would have gladly paid money to be given the chance to have what has turned out to be a colorful career in broadcast journalism. I even used to say that a reporter’s luck plays a big role in their career. In my case, all this came together in 1999, when I received an invitation to attend a reception at Buckingham Palace held by Queen Elizabeth II to grant the Prince’s Trust — an umbrella group dedicated to helping young people succeed in life that was founded by the now King Charles III — its royal charter.
It was then that I saw the late queen in person and was fortunate enough that she stopped to speak with me. Our brief exchange was about the importance of charitable work and how young officials, royals or others from the Middle East must dedicate some of their time and money to charity, to the promotion of good and to improving the life of the younger generation.
If anything, that encounter and message has never left me, especially now that the UK is remembering the selfless queen, who dedicated her life to serving her country and the people of the Commonwealth, while contemplating the future of the monarchy under Charles, its relevance and its potential renewal. Charles is finally king after a long apprenticeship and one would hope that his years of experience will ensure a smooth transition that will preserve the monarchy and the constitution, despite the unprecedented challenges currently being experienced by Britain politically, economically and socially.
Post-Brexit Britain is still showing a divide between its people and its immediate neighbors. Pandemic aftershocks are also still being felt in society and the British economy. Internationally, the situation could not be worse, as Russia’s unprovoked war in Europe has sparked fears of escalations and has affected energy and commodity prices, while also creating food shortages and increasing uncertainty in a way that could shake the tenets of peace and stability everywhere.
The monarch is a largely ceremonial figurehead in Britain, but the new king’s reign started just days after the country’s third prime minister in just four years was sworn in. The new sovereign will not only have to grapple with replacing one of the world’s longest-serving monarchs, but also a changing Britain in a changing world. Charles has been echoing the heavy duties that await him, saying that, “in taking up these responsibilities, I shall strive to follow the inspiring example I have been set in upholding constitutional government and to seek the peace and prosperity of the peoples of these islands and of the Commonwealth realms and territories throughout the world.”
If anything, he is a product of the past 70 years — of the relative peace and prosperity in the UK and the world. But Britain is no longer the world power it used to be, especially since 2010 and the arrival of the Conservatives to power. Britain after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has given itself a smaller role to play worldwide, though there are indications this will change.
The Russian war in Ukraine dictates a new approach that might do away with the small state, less taxes vision championed by the Conservatives, which has led to years of austerity not seen in Britain for decades. Along these lines, maybe Charles should be a reformer with the task of leading a smaller monarchy in line with the small state advocated by the ruling party.
Like the UK, Denmark, Norway and Sweden are monarchies. Their sovereigns have conducted state business with less formality and less pageantry, while fewer royal family members carry out official duties. In the last few days, we have seen Charles mingling with the crowds outside Buckingham Palace in an informal and approachable way, with members of the public even managing to plant a kiss on his hand or face.
As the UK grieves, one often hears that the new king could never possibly live up to his mother’s service. That is true of course, despite his signaling that his “Mama” will inspire his reign. Charles’s history as Prince of Wales has been colorful and, though his popularity has recovered since the death of his former wife Diana in a 1997 car crash, he himself has been embroiled in several financial donation scandals related to his charity group in recent years. Meanwhile, the monarchy is still trying to recover from the tarnished reputation caused by his younger brother’s sex trafficking case and the allegations of royal racism related to his daughter-in-law Meghan.
But what will make or break his reign is the style and approach he will adopt as king. Many of his beliefs are widely known and have been scrutinized over the long years of his apprenticeship as heir to the British throne. Many tend to dissociate his care for diversity and religious tolerance and his calls to protect the environment, traditional architecture and English music from the evolving monarchy he has been a part of for decades. Future UK governments will certainly have a lot to benefit from Charles’s experience and insight. Whether he will be more vocal and direct or if he retreats to the confines of indirect intimations and advice is yet to be seen.
The British monarchy has survived for centuries due to the simplicity of dynastic succession and its ability to change, albeit very gradually. How far the monarchy is still compatible with the national popular mood and international trends that lean toward more openness and accountability or those of the constitutional democracy of the 21st century will certainly be questioned during Charles’ reign. Above all, I am for giving him a chance, as I believe Britain can still make use of the unique royal trademark that has kept the country’s soft power relevant globally and its influence effective, years after the end of colonization and the fading of the empire.
• Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist, media consultant, and trainer with more than 25 years’ experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs, and diplomacy.