Exclusive: Italy’s foreign affairs undersecretary sees ‘political solution’ to Yemen crisis

“The visit confirms our deep historic friendship between Italy and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Italian undersecretary of state for foreign affairs tells Arab News in an exclusive interview. (AN photo by Adnan Mahdali)
Updated 13 March 2017

Exclusive: Italy’s foreign affairs undersecretary sees ‘political solution’ to Yemen crisis

JEDDAH: Italy is working alongside Saudi Arabia to find an end to the ongoing conflict in Yemen, said Vincenzo Amendola, undersecretary of state for foreign affairs. As a non-permanent member of the United Nation’s Security Council (UNSC) starting this year, Italy is working on pushing efforts to find a political solution to this conflict.

In a recent two-day visit to Riyadh and Jeddah, the Italian undersecretary of state met with the UN special envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed and the Secretary General of the GCC Abdullatif Al-Zayani in Riyadh.
“The meeting was to confirm our common work on creating a political order in the Middle East that is now shaken by conflict,” Amendola told Arab News in an exclusive interview during his visit to Jeddah. He added that Italy is coordinating with the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Yemen.
“We are deeply involved in finding a political solution to this conflict,” he said. “We think that the base is already clear in the Kuwait dialogue when the UN proposed a solution that unfortunately the Houthis did not accept.”
He added that his country stands for political negotiation. “There are no other means,” he said. “The other means cost much more, especially cost human lives … the main way out for the conflict for Italy is always the political negotiations. So on the base of the work of the UN resolution, the Kuwait negotiations and the GCC proposals … we will work a lot in the Security Council to help the GCC (Gulf Council Countries) to go out from this conflict.”
He pointed to the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) support of Italy’s role in political negotiations during the Italian foreign delegation’s visit to the OIC’s headquarters in Jeddah.

Syrian refugee crisis
Italy along with the rest of Europe is creating a human corridor to move the most vulnerable Syrian refugees from refugee camps in Lebanon by flights “so they don’t risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean,” said Amendola. “We think that Syrians are one of the communities in terms of refugees that are suffering the most.”
Italy has received 1,000 Syrian refugees, which the Italian diplomat said, “is not a large number.” But he said he believes that Europeans should continue to help Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and all the countries that are hosting the refugees. Having escaped a conflict in their country, Syrians have a status of protection and inclusion. But many of them want to go back Syria once the conflict is over.
“So what we have to do is not only to host them in Europe or in Italy, but to stop the conflict and to have political solution that can provide us the possibility to rebuild the country and give them hope and possibility to stay safe,” said Amendola.

Italian efforts in Libya
Italy was the first country to reopen its Embassy in Libya in January 2016. The Italian efforts that to a large extent are shared with the Kingdom, according to Amendola, is to find an internal Libyan political agreement based on the UNSC Resolution 259 that is the framework for the political accord.
“Everyone has to work inside the country (through) the embassies or outside like all the friends in the region to help the Libyans set up their political agreement,” said Amendola.
Libya has been fighting to liberate the country from terrorist organization in the battle of Sirte and there are still ongoing operations in Benghazi, he said.
“The role of the regional actors is to bring the unity of the Libyan leadership. Our stress is to be in force all together to find a stable unity for the country,” he added.
The instability in Libya has created an environment for illegal migration from Africa to Europe. According to the Italian diplomat, 90 percent of migrants coming to Italy are from Africa escaping poverty and conflicts in their countries especially on the west coast of the continent and the horn of Africa.
He urged treating the problem from the roots and having a long-term political and economical investment that Europe could work on to help Africa. “Our proposal that we are working on in the European Union (EU) is that we invest in the countries from which the migrants are running away… This could also be a possibility of a common cooperation with the GCC to help the African countries to stand up and help their own development.”

Cultural exchange
The Italian diplomat underlined the importance of cultural exchange in the time of conflict. Showing harmony despite ethnic or religious differences in the time of Daesh is vital. He said the Middle East, especially around the Mediterranean, takes pride for being full of differences, culturally, religiously and ethnically, even within one country.
“If we see countries like Iraq, Lebanon, Syria… historically (they) were places of differences and they were living together,” he said, adding the best counter-narrative against a terrorist organization like Daesh is to show the differences and that dialogue is possible at cultural and religious levels.

Italian-Saudi economic collaboration and Vision 2030
Saudi Arabia is Italy’s first economic partner in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, said Amendola who discussed launching the Saudi-Italian joint commission to boost the collaboration at an economic and business level.
“We saw in the Vision 2030 (that) Italy could be a partner,” he said. “Our economical system and our entrepreneurship can be partner for this project.
Enhancing the small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) is part of the Vision, Italy believes it can contribute in that sector being a country where SMEs form the largest segment of its GDP (gross development product).
“Within the Vision 2030, Italy can offer development of small medium-sized enterprises in terms of exchanging and creating a local economical infrastructure here (in Saudi Arabia) for SMEs,” he said.
He said that despite Italy being the top MENA economic partner, Amendola would like the Italian Embassy and consulate to do much more in terms of joint work with the Kingdom, not just in terms of trade, but also in terms of proposing some Italian business partner working from inside the Kingdom.
He added: “This means creating employment, prosperity and joint venture with local actors. It’s not just a question of selling and trading goods. But for us it’s also a question of coming and producing a “made in Italy” and not just selling a “made in Italy.”

How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

Dr. Fatima Alakeel, cybersecurity expert. (AN photo)
Updated 20 March 2019

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.”