Iran’s destabilizing role in focus at US talks

Updated 05 September 2015
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Iran’s destabilizing role in focus at US talks

RIYADH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman is holding historic talks here with American President Barack Obama that would ensure significant headway in bringing peace to the troubled Middle East, the Royal Court said in a statement on Thursday.

King Salman and Obama would discuss a range of bilateral, regional and international issues, with the king aiming to push for more support to counter Iran after it agreed to a nuclear deal, the statement said.
Despite the Gulf Cooperation Council’s disappointment with Obama’s push for a nuclear deal with Iran and his lack of direct action in Syria, the role of the United States in Riyadh’s war in Yemen shows Washington remains the Kingdom’s core strategic partner.
The statement added that King Salman’s visit is part of his broader diplomatic initiative that calls for talks with world leaders “to safeguard the interests of the Saudi people and the Islamic world, and to reaffirm the bonds of friendship between the Kingdom and the United States.” Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir and his counterpart John Kerry met in Washington on Wednesday to review preparations for the royal visit.
Commenting on the visit, Zuhair Al-Harthi, a member of the foreign affairs committee at the Shoura Council, said that “the summit talks between King Salman and Obama come at a time when the region is in political turmoil.” He said that Saudi Arabia “believes in direct dialogue and meetings and, therefore, the king’s visit and his meetings with leaders of that influential country will have deeper repercussions.”
Al-Harthi hoped that the leaders would find “solutions for pending problems, notably those related to Syria, Yemen, Iran, and terrorism.” He said the forthcoming summit would play a pivotal role in shoring up relations between the two countries to push Washington into re-shaping its policies and priorities, and therefore ensure security and stability in the Middle East.
Palestinian Ambassador to Riyadh Basim Al-Agha described the visit of King Salman and his upcoming meeting with Obama as “important in terms of timing and meaning.” He hoped that King Salman would discuss the Palestinian issue with the American leaders.

Ben Rhodes, United States deputy national security adviser, said that “this is an important visit at an important time with the many developments in the region; where we have a shared interest.”
“Even as we work together to tackle challenges in the region — security and stability — we also have, of course, a very longstanding, long-established collaboration across a whole range of issues, including education, commerce, health, energy and other issues,” said another White House official.
“And we expect the two leaders will discuss ways to continue to promote security in the region, coordinating more closely to address Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, as well as the broader threat from extremism and terrorism in the region,” he said.
A transcript of the press call released by the United States embassy in Riyadh said that “the US is going to focus on discussing with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf partners how we can build more effective capabilities and cooperation to counter that Iranian activity.” To this end, the White House officials said that “we need to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region.”
On other regional issues, Rhodes said that the leaders would have “a very significant set of discussions on conflicts such as Syria and Yemen where we would support and share many of the objectives that Saudi Arabia has.” “At the same time, we want to make sure that we’re pursuing both military and political strategies in both of those cases, and that we are both committing the humanitarian assistance necessary to deal with grave situations in again both Syria and Yemen,” he said.
On Iraq, Rhodes said that Saudi Arabia has significant relationships in Iraq that can be utilized to support the ongoing effort against Daesh. “We’ve been very focused, for instance, on Anbar Province and deepening our support with the community, including Sunni tribal communities.” He said “Saudi Arabia can be a constructive voice in encouraging cooperation across different Iraqi communities.”


How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

Dr. Fatima Alakeel, cybersecurity expert. (AN photo)
Updated 20 March 2019
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How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

  • ‘Securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,’ says Dr. Fatema Alakeel of King Saud University in Riyadh
  • ‘Saudi women are ambitious,’ says one graduate. ‘We are acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers’

DUBAI: More and more girls in Saudi Arabia are opting for an education in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and now the challenge is finding them employment, said Dr. Fatima Alakeel, a cybersecurity expert and faculty member at King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh.
“In the Kingdom, STEM-related jobs are limited at the moment, as the economy is primarily oil-based and there are few technical jobs available,” said Alakeel, who is also the founder and CEO of the non-profit Confidentiality, Integrity & Availability Group (CIAG), which focuses on information security training and research in Riyadh.
According to a government report on the labor market situation in the third quarter of 2018, more than 30 percent of Saudi women aged between 15 and 65 are unemployed.
Among them, the highest rate of unemployment is among 20-24-year-olds (more than 70 percent) and among 25-29-year-olds (55 percent).
According to the report, there are 923,504 Saudi jobseekers, of whom 765,378 are women (82.2 percent).
“We have more girls in STEM education compared to Western countries,” said Alakeel, who completed her doctoral degree in computer science in the UK at the University of Southampton in 2017.
According to a report prepared by the Saudi Education Ministry, girls accounted for 57 percent of undergraduates for the year 2015-2016 in the Kingdom.
That same year, women outnumbered men in graduating with a bachelor’s in biology, information technology (IT), mathematics and statistics, and physics.
According to a survey Alakeel recently conducted on social media, “almost 80 percent of (Saudi) girls were keen to study STEM, but securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,” she said.
Maha Al-Taleb, 22, graduated earlier this year with a degree in technology from KSU, specializing in IT networks and security.
“It’s common for girls in the Kingdom to opt for STEM education,” said Al-Taleb, who now works in a public sector company in Riyadh as a junior information security analyst.
“Saudi women are ambitious. We’re acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers. I don’t know why the world assumes that Saudi women are a backward tribal species who have no say in these matters. This entire perception is flawed.”
Al-Taleb got a job offer immediately after university, but realizes that not all her peers are as fortunate. Women “are facing problems in securing jobs, not because companies don’t want to hire us, but because employment for Saudi youths is a major challenge,” she said.
“In today’s Saudi Arabia, parents are encouraging their daughters to get a degree not just in the Kingdom; they also want them to go to Western universities. It has become a common phenomenon. Things have changed. Women are a crucial part of the nation’s development process.”
Not all women graduating in the Kingdom are as lucky, among them Razan Al-Qahtani. “It has been several months since I graduated, yet I haven’t been able to find a job. It has been a struggle so far,” said the 25-year-old IT graduate. “We have more talented and qualified girls, especially in the field of technology, but there are few jobs available. It’s a difficult situation, but we’re hopeful things will change very soon.”
Al-Qahtani expressed confidence that the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan will bring opportunities for qualified Saudis.
As part of Vision 2030, the government has committed to raise employment among Saudi women.
Alakeel said the government is working hard to find a solution, and it is only a matter of time until more such jobs are on offer.
“As per Vision 2030, there will be more jobs, including technical jobs, available in the country. Once we have more jobs, women will eventually get their due share,” she added. According to Alakeel, female empowerment and promotion to leading roles have made huge progress in Saudi Arabia, and this may affect existing STEM job opportunities.
“We’re glad to see Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud becoming the first female ambassador of the country. It only suggests change is on the way,” Alakeel said.
Al-Taleb expressed pride in the way her parents have supported her, saying: “My father isn’t educated and my mother has basic literacy, but both provided me with the education I desired. They want their daughters to be as successful as their sons.”
Like women in any country, the transition from university to the workplace is not always easy, even for young Saudi women with technology degrees. Yet they are not losing hope.
“We realize these are difficult times in terms of employment, especially in technology-related fields, but things will change,” Al-Taleb said. “Saudi women will soon be ruling the fields of STEM all over the country.”