Friday, February 20, 2009

Talking Back to Royalty

Carlyle Murphy reports on a televised rebuke to a Saudi prince:
"Saudi Arabia's national team had lost the 19th Arabian Gulf Cup to Oman, 6-5, because the players were underperforming. There was discord on the team. The coach had made bad moves. Their complaints went on and on. And no one could say that the three – a coach and two former national team players – were unqualified to assess the damage.

"Suddenly, word came that a VIP was calling in, demanding to talk with the critics. Prince Sultan bin Fahd, son of the late king, and head of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, had vowed to bring this year's Cup back from Oman.

"What happened over the next few minutes, and in the days that followed, became a chart-topper when Saudis gathered to chat. For the episode is one of those moments when a nation instantly recognizes how it has changed. And in this case, that involves the slipping away of unconditional deference to royals...

"Then the prince turned to former player Faisal Abu Thnain. 'We work day and night and you just sit here blabbering away on television ... I do not want to hear this talk again. I have tolerated you long enough. You must exercise self-restraint. And you must behave... If you have not been raised properly, we can certainly raise you ourselves.'

"It was this last sentence that shocked the viewing audience, for to accuse someone of not being well brought up is a deep insult in Saudi culture, on par with shoe-throwing in Iraq.

"Mr. Abu Thnain did not let the prince's comment pass. 'No, thank God, we have all been raised well and we know our limits and the repercussions of our actions,' he retorted before the prince hung up...

"'Faisal Abu Thnain made history by being the first Saudi citizen to talk back to a prince ... live and on the air and for this, we celebrate him,' reads a Facebook page honoring the player. Created shortly after the Jan. 17 incident, it has collected 2,927 fans."

I wish I could say that I thought this was actually going to be a turning point in relations between the Saudi royal family and their country's society, but it seems more like a one-off due to circumstances and the heat of the moment.



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