Former minister Khairy Jamaluddin has described the failure of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to meet with his Saudi Arabian counterparts during his recent official trip to the kingdom as nothing short of a "huge diplomatic blunder".
"Whatever the excuse, (for example) saying that they asked the prime minister to stay one or two more days, and then meet them after that – the prime minister of Malaysia should not go to Saudi Arabia without a fixed appointment.
"That's it, that's all there is," Khairy said in a podcast co-hosted with former Umno man Shahril Hamdan, with whom he was recently sacked from the party.
Khairy agreed with a suggestion by Shahril that the incident was not only a blunder, but also an embarrassment to the nation.
He said there had been attempts by ruling politicians to trivialise the incident.
"No, this is not small. This is a big embarrassment," he added.
He also recalled his own experience arranging programmes for prime ministerial visits overseas.
"I know that we would not go unless the programme was locked," he said, adding that the timing of Anwar's visit at the start of Ramadan was also questionable.
"During the first week of Ramadan, of course the schedule will be haywire. It cannot be last-minute.
"I understand that Saudi Arabia themselves signalled us to try not to come," he said.
He said the crux of the matter lay in the fact that Wisma Putra had confirmed Anwar's meeting with both King Salman Abdul Aziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
"So there is no question of a change in dates. You go to Saudi Arabia to have an audience with the king, and especially the crown prince.
"We know that for the last couple of years, Mohammed has been the one actually leading the kingdom of Saudi Arabia."
News that Anwar's official three-day visit to Saudi Arabia had ended without a meeting with Mohammed was followed by a flurry of comments from opposition leaders and jibes on social media.
A Bernama report said the meeting could not take place because the crown prince had a change of plans ahead of the Ramadan month.
This led to opposition coalition Perikatan Nasional demanding an explanation of the events leading to the cancellation of the meeting.
Many also drew comparisons with the full honours accorded to former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin in 2021, where Mohammed, better known as MBS, welcomed him at the airport himself.
In response, Pakatan Harapan MPs and the government's propaganda unit under the Prime Minister's Department maintained that Anwar's visit had been fruitful although he had not met with the crown prince.
Amanah's Hulu Langat MP Sany Hamzan questioned those who said that unlike Anwar, Muhyiddin had been given access to the kaabah, a privilege reserved for eminent Muslim dignitaries.
"What would the people and country have gained if the prime minister was able to enter the kaabah?" he asked.
But Khairy said the MP's argument was misplaced.
"That's not the point," he said. "He is trying to counter attack, maybe because he feels embarrassed that this has happened.
"If he (Anwar) had entered the kaabah, it would have been validation that you are the guest of the king, the guest of the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. The standing of a prime minister who visits the kaabah is very high."
Khairy also said the importance of ties with Saudi Arabia went beyond the common perception that the Malaysian government was seeking an increase in the annual haj quota from Riyadh.
"If we look at it in geopolitical terms, the role played by Saudi Arabia now is very, very important – maybe more important than Turkey," he said.