Le prince de Galles reçu à Riad par le nouveau roi Salman d'Arabie Saoudite
The Prince of Wales met the new, conservative King of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday at the start of one of the most politically sensitive tours in his time as heir to the throne.The Prince was asked by the Government to use his "special relationship" with the Saudi royal family to push British interests - and by human rights groups to press for the release of the blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes for disrespecting the religious establishment online.The "special relationship" - the fruit of a dozen visits to the kingdom - was on display as he laughed with the new King Salman, 79, who treated him to a state luncheon, and exchanged warm words with Prince Miteb, the son of the late King Abdullah who died aged 90 last month.The state of the country's human rights record has been in the public eye since it joined Britain and America in the coalition to fight Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil). The flogging of Mr Badawi, who received the first 50 of his lashes in a public square in Jeddah last month, caused outrage around the world.The Prince rarely makes public the subject of his discussions with foreign royalty, but he has brought up human rights issues in the past, Sir William Patey, a former ambassador, told the BBC in an interview. He said that as a fellow royal, the Prince was able to raise the issue without making his hosts "bristle".Simon Collis, the British ambassador to Riyadh, said the Prince's personal relationships could make a difference."The importance of the royal family in this country means royal to royal links are of particular value," he said. "These kinds of visit are capable of having an impact."Mr Collis said it was not up to the government what the Prince chose to discuss, however."We have serious concerns about the Badawi case. We have raised that - it was raised by the Foreign Secretary with the Saudi ambassador recently," he said. "The Prince will be the judge of what he raises and how and when he raises it."The decision to lower flags to half mast on government buildings and royal palaces to mark the death of King Abdullah caused widespread controversy, given the country's use of the death penalty - administered in public, by the sword - and the imprisonment of dissenters.King Abdullah had been seen as a reformer until the start of the Arab Spring, allowing wider political debate and encouraging women's education. He also allowed women to vote in local elections, and brought them into the advisory council, the Shura.But he cracked down after pro-democracy uprisings elsewhere in the region, arresting activists and suppressing dissent. He also maintained the ban on women driving, despite civil disobedience campaigns.Two women, Loujain al-Hathloul and Maysaa al-Amoudi, have been in prison awaiting trial over a protest test drive since the beginning of December.Amnesty International has asked the Prince to "pass on a few well-chosen words". "We don't expect Prince Charles to give up the red carpets and state banquets and become a human rights campaigner, but as a man who knows the Middle East well we hope that he will use the visit to pass on a few well-chosen words to his royal hosts," its UK director, Kate Allen, said.The new King Salman has a reputation as a conservative, though he will have had to agree to his predecessor's reforms as Crown Prince. His name has also been in the public eye since the start of the coalition against Isil for his links to Islamic charities that funded armed Islamist groups in Afghanistan, Bosnia and elsewhere.Mr Collis said that critics of Saudi Arabia's funding of radical groups in the past had to be set in the context of their "timelines" - that as around the world, policies changed after the 9/11 attacks of 2001.He said the current stance of the kingdom was unambiguous. "We have in Saudi Arabia a key strategic partner, a key partner in the coalition against Isil, and in the fight against terrorism more generally," he said.The Prince had his longest private meeting with Crown Prince Muqrin, now the formal heir to throne, and seen as a supporter of King Abdullah's reforms.Tomorrow he will be escorted round the historic site of Al-Ula, in northern Saudi Arabia, by Prince Sultan bin Salman, who as well as being son of the king and the tourism minister was also in his earlier days a scientist and the Muslim world's first astronaut.When he flew on the US space shuttle Discovery in 1985, he later rang the then Grand Mufti, a notorious conservative, to tease him that he had discovered that the earth was not, in fact, flat.The most personal moment of the visit came at the meeting with Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, who thanked the Prince for having come in person to pay condolences on his father's death."My father often talked of the Queen, and her mother," he said.