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King Charles’ and the Middle East: A look back at the special relationship

From friendships with GCC royals to an interest in Islam, we explore the British monarch’s love of the region.

As King Charles III assumes his new role as King of the United Kingdom and Head of the Commonwealth, we look back at his special relationship with the Middle East. King Charles has visited the region many times – whether it’s meeting royal families or wearing a keffiyeh, he clearly has a love for the Arab world. 

King Charles is the longest serving heir to the throne, and was declared king following the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II on 8 September. The strong relationship between the United Kingdom’s royal family and the Middle East was forged by his mother. Not only was she the first member of the country’s royal family to visit the region, but the most widely travelled British monarch.

In total, King Charles has made 12 official visits to Saudi Arabia, seven to Kuwait and the UAE, six official visits to Qatar, and five to Jordan. Here’s a look back at the special relationship between King Charles and the Middle East.

King Charles III’s interest in Islamic studies and landscapes

King Charles has a keen interest in Islam. He is a patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, and studied Arabic so he could read the Quran. 

He once said: “Islam can teach us today a way of understanding and living in the world which Christianity itself is the poorer for having lost. At the heart of Islam is its preservation of an integral view of the universe.” 

King Charles loves to paint and over the years he has drawn inspiration from the Middle East. His artwork includes watercolours of Aqaba in Jordan, and Port of Suez, Wadi Arkam and Diriyah in Saudi Arabia.

‘Overlooking Wadi Arkham: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’ by King Charles
King Charles’ tour with Diana, Princess of Wales 

The then Prince Charles and Princess Diana undertook their first trip to the UAE in 1989. The nine-day tour of the Middle East included visits to Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The pair went on a charm offensive, as the trip was intended to boost trade between Britain and the Middle East. 

Princess Diana was praised for her modest fashion when she stepped off the plane in Abu Dhabi. Dressed in a high-waisted blue pencil skirt, white jacket with blue lapels and a blue turban, she covered her hair in both a respectable and fashionable manner.

The couple met Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father of the UAE, at his majlis in Al Ain. The pair were treated to a picnic at Ghabat Raqnah Oasis, then visited the camel races and British Consulate in Dubai. 

The warmth that King Charles had for the UAE’s leaders was apparent. When he met Sheikh Zayed, he joked: “When we come from Britain, all we’re looking for is the sun.”

King Charles and the Middle East
The picnic at Ghabat Raqnah Oasis
King Charles’ solo tours

In 1999, King Charles made a seven-day solo visit to the Middle East and visited Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. While in the UAE, he visited the Dubai Airshow, and even popped into the cockpit of a jet.

In 2013, he visited Saudi Arabia and toured Wadi Hanifa, and got a sneak preview of what we now know as Diriyah Gate. The area is considered the birthplace of modern-day Saudi, and provided an insight for the monarch about the kingdom.

In 2014, King Charles visited the region including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE. He was met by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. 

In 2015, King Charles visited the UAE briefly while on tour in Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. While in Saudi Arabia, he visited AlUla with Prince Sultan bin Salman. The same year, when King Abdullah passed away, who he regarded as a personal friend, he flew to Riyadh to pay his respects.

Janadriyah cultural festival near Riyadh in February 2014
King Charles’ tour with Queen Consort, Camilla

King Charles and Queen Consort, Camilla visited the UAE together as a couple for the first time in 2016. The three-day trip included a visit to Oman and Bahrain. 

The pair visited Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The Duchess visited the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, and was photographed touchingly resting her hand on a bird while it was undergoing an operation. 

A visit to Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Prince Charles then made his way to Zabeel Palace, and met Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai. The leaders discussed cultural ties between the UK and UAE. 

This was King Charles’ last state visit to the UAE. Given the frequency of his visits and his love of the Middle East, we are sure it won’t be long until he returns. 

GO: Follow @theroyalfamily for more information.

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Kohinoor Sahota - Deputy Editor
A sucker for a good story, if you invite Kohinoor to a gallery, comedy night, new restaurant, hiking trip, cycle ride, pool day or just about any activity, preferably with the promise of wine, she’ll probably say yes – that is if she isn’t busy planning her next adventure.

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