Friday, 4 September 2009


' I entered a world unchanged since the frankincense trade,' said Kate Humble, the engaging presenter, of the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia. To wit, the iconic tower in Riyadh owned by Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal who made million dollar deals, on his mobile, while chatting to her..

The appellation 'His Royal Highness' has long annoyed me for addressing eminent sheikhs. Can someone put me right with the Arabic equivalent?

I would dispute the veracity of a script claiming that incense caravans took only two weeks to cross the 'Empty Quarter' a 225,000 square mile sand sea occupying central Arabia.

Miss Humble cried in the first programme, when she put on a niqab in Sana'a. In last evening's programme, her tears were flowing on hearing the prayer-call in Jeddah. Does she cry at the sound of church bells, I had to wonder?

At one point she told us 'you must advance certain causes that you believe in.' but we were never told what they were.

Behind the glamour of Frankincense Trails 2, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remains, the most misogynist regime in the Middle East.

Miss Humble had the opportunity to rant about inequality, but the remark by her humourless guide, 'I don`t believe in women playing sport` (of women playing netball) said it all.

But it was an attractive film and no doubt divers will eat their heart out for the pristine wreck of a ship carrying frankincense, embedded on a Red Sea reef.

C.Christine Osborne


  1. the correct apellation for "eminent" sheikhs is "sheikh". i worked in the Gulf for a while, and that's how it was. as for the Saudi princes and princelings, presumably 'emir' would be appropriate...or if in english, "prince". HRH is so sycophantic!

  2. Thanks. I wrote The Gulf States & Oman, many years ago and neither there, nor in Saudi, did I ever hear the gushing HRH, now apparent common usage.

  3. Hi Christine, as you know the UAE has been my base since 1998 and before I worked as a writer, I was a dean of a media studies programme at a women's university. We frequently had to receive Sheikhs on visits, bringing ambassadors and such to visit the college, and were briefed on protocol from the start. It was a requirement to call Sheikh Nahayan who was the Minister for Education and our boss "Your Excellency" and refer to him as "His Excellency", and the Rulers and Princes such as Sheikh Mohammed, who often visited, "Your Royal Highness". Same went for any of their Gulf/MidEast counterparts who visited.

    Christine, seems we both disliked the programme but for different reasons. Watching it last night, we all found Kate Humble to be far from engaging, but rather one of the most irritating presenters we'd ever seen on television. But what we most disliked was her ignorance - the woman appeared to have done no research. It was a "Frankincense Trails for Dummies" which you expect from American travel shows, but not from the BBC. I prefer to watch a journey by a journalist who has done their research and digs deeper and analyses along the way - someone of the calibre of Pilger - rather than a moron who constantly makes idiotic exclamations. Had she not left the UK before?

    Her constant cultural blunders also had us cringing completely - the lack of headwear in some places, being so tactile toward the men she met, etc, all which showed a complete disregard and disrespect. It was appalling. Would she behave this way in all other countries/cultures that are different to her own and completely disrespectfully disregard their norms/customs? It appeared racist to me.

    Had she have been more respectful she would have been treated better and her subjects would have been more forthcoming and open and she would have got better content - that's what I've always found, no matter where I am, whether it's the MidEast, Asia or Africa.


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