Point-blank: Neutrality of the crown

Mohamed Salmawy
Thursday 15 Sep 2022


I had the opportunity to speak with Prince Charles during his visit to Cairo in 1995, about a lecture he had given at Oxford University, UK, about Islam. In the lecture, he emphasised the importance of this faith to which a quarter of the world’s population adhere, and presented an outlook that was considerably more sophisticated and enlightened than the views prevailing in the West at the time. He said that to have a wrong understanding of Islam was to be ignorant of a fundament component of our contemporary life and that developing a correct understanding of it was not just a political necessity but a cultural and civilisational duty. On returning home from his trip, he kindly sent me a booklet containing the above-mentioned lecture. When I opened it, I found a dedication signed with a single name: “Charles”. 

During Prince Charles’ visit, I attended a reception in his honour hosted by the British ambassador to Egypt. At one point, I noticed him involved in a long conversation with someone I did not recognise whom the ambassador had introduced to him. To my surprise, I found out it was the embassy’s Egyptian cook. Charles showed the great respect due to one of the longest serving members of the embassy’s staff, someone who had prepared meals for such famous British figures as Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden. “I feel grateful to him,” he told me later. 

The reason for relating the above is because, with the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the prince inheriting of the crown, the monarchy in Britain has entered a new era, one in which the British crown will descend a little from its heights and be more in touch with the realities of the general public. The late queen had preserved the political neutrality of the crown. She refrained from expressing an opinion on any of the major issues of concern to public opinion, not least of which was the British exit from the EU, or Brexit. As crown prince, Charles had not been bound by this restriction and he made many of his positions known. This applied not only to such issues as environmental conservation, for which cause he was one of the most ardent champions in the UK, but also to more sensitive questions, such as Islamophobia. True, his assumption of the throne will limit what he can say. But the British public is familiar with his previous involvement in certain issues and his declared stances on them can not be overlooked. 

Will we soon see the emergence of a new concept for the British monarchy, one that parts ways with political neutrality and no stated positions on major issues?

*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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