KSA, France in talks to boost ties

King Salman receives French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development Jean-Marc Ayrault in Riyadh on Tuesday. (SPA)
Updated 25 January 2017

KSA, France in talks to boost ties

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and France said on Tuesday they hoped Syrian truce talks in Astana would lead to a resumption of UN-led peace efforts in Geneva and more aid to civilians suffering from years of war.
In a joint news conference, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault also said cooperation with new US President Donald Trump would be important on a range of Middle East issues.
Iran, Russia and Turkey ended talks in Kazakhstan on Tuesday with the announcement of a trilateral mechanism to observe and ensure full compliance with a shaky truce between Syrian warring parties.
Saudi Arabia did not take part in the Astana meetings. A French envoy attended informally with other Western counterparts. The talks in Astana come after years of intermittent talks in Geneva failed to resolve the conflict.
"We wish for the success of today's meeting, but I don't know if we're going to reach a real agreement. We hope for negotiations to resume in Geneva," Ayrault said.
Al-Jubeir said he was optimistic about the possibilities of regional powers working with the Trump administration. He expressed confidence in Trump's cabinet nominees, including national security adviser Michael Flynn, whom he described as "an American patriot."
Flynn ruffled feathers with divisive rhetoric on the campaign trail, such as the Twitter comment: "Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL."
The Kingdom and France vowed to take bilateral relations to greater heights during the talks held between King Salman and Ayrault at Al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh on Tuesday.
“Saudi-French relations date back to 1926, and France is third-largest investor in the Kingdom,” Al-Jubeir said, adding that both countries face several challenges, including in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iran.
Al-Jubeir said the Kingdom is not aggressive against any country, and condemned Iran's intervention in the affairs of Arab states, including Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
“Yet the Kingdom wants to build friendly relations with Iran, since it is a Muslim country that falls within the region,” Al-Jubeir said.
Ayrault said during his meeting with the king, he stressed the strategic alliance between the two countries, and explored ways to combat terror and establish permanent peace in the region.
He added that terror has become a common enemy of the two countries, which need concerted efforts to combat terror and extremism, and block their sources of funding.
Commending the Kingdom's efforts against terror, Ayrault said there is an urgent need to crush Daesh and for political dialogue between aggrieved parties.
He said France does not yet know the foreign policy of the Trump administration, but the G20 meeting in Bonn in February will help clarify this.
Speaking about Syria, Ayrault said: “We need a permanent a cease-fire, which could allow humanitarian aid to the victims of this tragedy.”
French exports to the Kingdom have increased by 20 percent in the last year. The Riyadh Metro is being constructed in partnership with French company Alstom.
Ayrault said France is ready to undertake new projects in the Kingdom under Saudi Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program (NTP) 2020.
Al-Jubeir said the talks with Ayrault were positive and demonstrated the keenness of the two parties to strengthen bilateral relations.
The French minister also met with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and visited a construction site of Riyadh Metro, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) and the Misk Foundation in the Diplomatic Quarter.

Motherly advice from Dr. Thoraya Obaid

Updated 21 March 2019

Motherly advice from Dr. Thoraya Obaid

  • n an exclusive interview for Mother’s Day in the Arab world, the woman who paved the way for a new generation of Saudi women shares her life lessons
  • ‘Have faith in Allah, and believe in yourself and that you were created to bring good to the world,’ she advises

RIYADH: The first Saudi to head a UN agency, the first Saudi female to graduate from a US university on a government scholarship, one of 30 women to be appointed to the Shoura Council for the first time, one of 100 notable “Muslim Builders of World Civilization and Culture,” and editor of “The Oxford Dictionary of Islam.” These are just a few achievements on the remarkable CV of Dr. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid. 

For years she politely declined media requests for interviews, saying it was time for the next generation to take the spotlight. But after a year of attempts by Arab News, she finally granted the newspaper an interview. 


As the Arab world marks Mother’s Day on March 21, Arab News decided it was a good occasion to sit down with Obaid, a mother of two girls, because she has been a role model to so many young Saudi women.


She has been an advocate for women’s rights worldwide, most notably as under-secretary-general and executive director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) from 2001 to 2010. 

But what most people do not know is how humble she is. “Please don’t call me Dr. Thoraya, call me auntie,” she said in a soft voice.

Early beginnings 

“I was 7 when I left for Cairo (to study at a boarding school). There were no girls’ schools in Saudi Arabia at the time, in September 1951, and my father had the same principles for his sons and daughter. He followed our Islamic teaching that advocated education for all,” she said.

“I started crying when he took me to the school in Cairo and told the teacher to take me away.”

Years later, she asked her father how he felt at that time. He told her: “I felt that if I let my fatherly emotions take over, I’d have bundled you up and taken you away.” 

But he decided against it, realizing that this moment would make or break her future, and he wanted to empower her through education.  

That moment, Obaid said, helped her cope anywhere in the world. 

She learned to make a new family through bonds with other students and teachers at the boarding school. 

She went on to get a PhD in English literature, with a minor in cultural anthropology, from Wayne State University in Detroit.

“My generation was focused on education,” she said. “You learn that education isn’t only for you, but also for you to serve others.” 

Working life

Obaid has lived and worked most of her life outside her country, in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and the US. 

During her time with the UN, she travelled the world. After her meetings in various countries, she would insist on going to villages and poor urban areas where the UNFPA supported government projects, so she could meet the people there. 

“These are the real people that must be empowered to change their own lives, not the ones we meet in the ministries,” she said. “Unless you go and see the poor, the sick and the very basic human rights violations, you won’t know what the country is about, especially if you’re stuck in nice hotels.” 

Even though she sought to visit these impoverished areas, heart-wrenching scenes would always get to her. At the UN they called her the “crying executive director,” but she was not ashamed of her tears. 

In one African country, while checking maternal programs in the village, she encountered a sickly woman who was thrown out of her home by her husband. She told her story to Obaid, both of them with tears streaming down their cheeks. 

In South Africa, she visited the cell in which Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 17 years. The guides were all former political prisoners, who said they kept the prison open in order to demonstrate that apartheid should not exist anymore. As she cried silently, she told them: “You know, there’s another apartheid happening again, in Palestine.” 

Life lessons

Obaid’s experiences taught her much about life. When it comes to family, she had this advice: “For young girls in families, don’t ask for everything and at the same time. Be selective, and have a strategic goal that you want to achieve in your life; focus on that.”

She said: “My most important request was going to university, a goal that’s now taken for granted by the young generation. So I tell girls to have a strategic objective in life. If you work toward it and achieve it, it will change your life.”

She advises daughters not to be inflexible with parents regarding their demands. “When you grow up, you’ll realize the issues weren’t worth it,” she said. “It’s even more obvious when you become a parent yourself.” 

Obaid, who worked hard to realize her dreams, added: “We, as human beings, don’t have unlimited energy, so direct your energy to what will make a difference in your life.” 

As for being Saudi, she said there is no place like home, adding: “I’ve lived 58 years out of my country and returned voluntarily. I’ve never really felt home except in my home, Saudi Arabia, with all its frustrations and complications.” 

It never crossed her mind to get another passport or residency permit, she said. “I learned that one’s dignity lies in their homeland. Wherever you go and however long you stay, you’ll always feel like an outsider. Even if you integrate in the community, you’re still an outsider,” she added. 

When asked what advice she would give youths, she said: “Have faith in Allah, and believe in yourself and that you were created to bring good to the world.”