Saudi Arabia’s public diplomacy builds international bridges


PUBLIC diplomacy plays a crucial role in international relations by establishing a dialogue with members of the public of foreign nations in order to inform them and influence the main actors in international politics. The purpose of public diplomacy is to explain and speak in favor of government policies and to represent a specific nation to the foreign public.

Saudi Arabia has implemented several methods of public diplomacy, such as cultural diplomacy, educational exchange programs and international broadcasting. The Kingdom has been able to advance its foreign policy interests as it has the unique approach of using both hard and soft powers. This approach is directly linked to Saudi Arabia being the home of the Islamic religion and one of the wealthiest nations in the world due to its vast oil reserves.

Cultural diplomacy includes the exchange of ideas, arts, sports, education, languages and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding. The Saudi government supports and empowers the sports sector in the Kingdom and Turki Al-Shaikh, chairman of the board of directors of the General Sports Authority, has focused on reviving the Saudi sports media, as part of Saudi Vision 2030, as sports promote peace, development and international cooperation. Moreover, media, journalism and international broadcasting play a major and positive role in promoting peace by providing a truthful image of every country’s culture and historical heritage.

Saudi Arabia is a Kingdom of Humanity as it is concerned with humanitarian assistance worldwide through different official and unofficial agencies. In the last three decades, the Kingdom has made remarkable strides, not only in terms of humanitarian assistance and relief work, but also in fostering regional and international cooperation. Historically, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has undertaken a pioneering humanitarian role by serving the international community by coming to the aid of those affected by crises worldwide. The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) was established in May 2015 under the patronage and guidance of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdulaziz. KSrelief has provided humanitarian and development aid to various countries in four continents, with local, regional and international partners.

Educational exchange programs have enabled Saudi Arabia to preserve its position as a leader in the Muslim and Arab world. Such programs provide Saudi public diplomacy with an opportunity for the Kingdom to share its values, norms and culture with Arab, Muslim, and non-Muslim nations. In doing so, the Kingdom has reached out to the world by setting up a large numbers of mosques and schools. Exchange programs create interaction that turns into mutual understanding of others and has an effective influence by means of exhibiting an understanding of and respect for the different cultures and norms of other nations.

Saudi Arabia has also attracted foreign students by providing fellowships for study at intellectual institutions, such as King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). Furthermore, the nonprofit MiSK Foundation was established by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman in 2011 to develop Saudi youth and empower them to become active participants in the future of the nation. This is an example of a successful implementation of the Kingdom’s cultural diplomacy as it encourages innovation and ensures sustainability in order to accomplish the higher goal of developing the human mind.

Saudi Arabia balances its desire to achieve public diplomacy goals with the need to remain true to its religious and cultural traditions. Nowadays, a country’s public diplomacy is based on the value of its internal policy, culture and strength of its foreign policy. The use of public diplomacy can help us connect more positively, through building bridges, links and alliances with the international community. At the end of the day, all countries must adopt this method, as the entirety of the human race shares a universal element, which is ‘‘humanity”, regardless of each country’s different culture, religion, norms, language or political system.

— The author is a Saudi political analyst specialized in International Relations. She can be reached at: Twitter: @EkleelBS