How a royal visit to a Frisco shipyard cemented US-Saudi relations

Left photo: Stephen Bechtel Sr., Prince Faisal bin Abdul Aziz , Abdallah Balkhair and Ebrahim Alsulaiman Alaquil aboard Bechtel’s shipyard in 1944 San Francisco, California. (Via social media) Right Photo: An employee walks in a phosphate storage facility in the Maaden Aluminium Factory  in Ras Al-Khair Industrial area near Jubail. (File photo)
Updated 29 March 2018

How a royal visit to a Frisco shipyard cemented US-Saudi relations

JEDDAH: It was 1944, World War II was coming to an end, and Stephen Bechtel Sr. was welcoming a young Saudi prince to his shipyard along the shores of San Francisco Bay.
His name was Prince Faisal bin Abdul Aziz and he was the future heir to the Kingdom’s throne. The meeting led to a 75-year business relationship based on friendship, loyalty and trust between Saudi Arabia and the US.
Onboard Prince Faisal surveyed construction of ships and marine tankers being built during the war. Notes were taken, and three years later in 1947, King Abdul Aziz invited the heads of Bechtel Corporation to Riyadh to put ink to paper on a host of lucrative construction projects.
Following a successful refinery expansion in Ras Tanura, Bechtel began work on a coastal railroad, a deepwater pier along Jeddah’s port, and a power plant in the capital. Bechtel built all three without incident, the first of many successful projects that would transform Saudi Arabia in the decades that were to follow.
“I cannot help but foresee tremendous possibilities pointing toward potentially the biggest development of natural resources ever undertaken,” Bechtel said in 1947.
At that time, his company had been working in the Kingdom for three years.
Saudi Arabia was only a decade into its discovery of oil, and daily production was approaching 250,000 barrels — and climbing. The Kingdom had found the natural resource that would lead it to becoming an economic superpower, and with this newfound wealth, modernization was in order.
The Bechtel Corporation offered a large-scale, efficient, project-management construction company to play a role in this rapid change.
Demand for oil rose in the aftermath of World War II, and Saudi Arabia needed a way to transport that oil to European markets. The Saudi royal family, happy with the construction work of their new American business partners, presented them with the blueprint for the Trans-Arabian pipeline. At the time, it was the largest oil pipeline in the world. Bechtel completed it in 1950 — an impressive 750-mile pipeline in only three years.
Even more remarkable, this project included a standstill period in 1948 during the first Arab-Israeli War. The pipeline began in Saudi Arabia, crossed through Jordan and Syria, and ended in the port of Sidon, south of Beirut, Lebanon. Maximum oil capacity surpassed 500,000 barrels per day — an unprecedented amount at the time. The project required the importation of 265,000 tons of pipe and the construction of 1,200 miles of new roads.
Perhaps the most significant statistic was the 1,600 Americans who worked alongside the 1,200 Saudis. A mutual cooperation of understanding, vision and trust with a common goal.
After multiple visits to see King Abdul Aziz, and on understanding his grander vision for developing Saudi Arabia, Bechtel Corporation was commissioned to build airports, hospitals, hotels, piers, power plants, railways, radio towers and oil facilities around the Kingdom.
Bechtel’s reputation for quality construction work in Saudi Arabia began to spread throughout the Middle East and Africa. The company began building oil refineries in the UAE and Yemen, constructing pipelines between Iraq and Syria, as well as installing power plants in Egypt. Each completed project would earn subsequent contracts in the region.
Stephen Bechtel’s relationship with Prince Faisal, which started in 1944, would come full circle in 1973 after he became king. He invited Bechtel to discuss diversifying the Saudi economy away from solely petroleum-based revenue.
Bechtel advised King Faisal on the potential for using gas from the Kingdom’s oil fields to generate electricity. As a result, new industrial cities at Yanbu on the Red Sea, and Jubail on the Gulf coast, brought electricity to residents for the first time.
Bechtel also built King Khalid and King Fahd international airports in Riyadh and Dammam respectively.
Bechtel’s most lucrative year for signing contracts with Saudi Arabia was 1976 as they revealed plans for their grandest project to date. The Jubail Industrial City project would be the single largest commissioned project-management contract ever attempted by a construction company.
Bechtel spent more than 20 years constructing the industrial and manufacturing site along Saudi Arabia’s Gulf coast, at a cost of more than $40 billion. Saudi Arabia’s petrochemical industry had finally found a home.
Some 370 million cubic meters of sand was excavated as Bechtel transformed barren dunes into Jubail Industrial City. The city is now home to the world’s largest producers of petrochemicals.
Additional factories, an airport, residential homes, hospitals and clinics, mosques, a swimming marina and a five-million gallon desalination plant were subsequently built to support those working there.
Bechtel worked with their Saudi counterparts through thick and thin. During the First Gulf War, Bechtel provided unwavering support by managing the largest recovery of spilled oil in history, and in the process, protected Saudi drinking water facilities.
In the late 70s, Bechtel was accused of being complicit in the Arab boycott of Israel. Bechtel denied the charges and continued project management work within the Arabian Gulf.
Some 75 years since it first started working with the Kingdom, Bechtel is now involved in the mining and metals sector in Saudi Arabia, as well as building the Kingdom’s first metro system in Riyadh, a contract worth $10 billion.
Stephen Bechtel Jr. first visited Saudi Arabia with his father in 1948. He has since returned on many occasions through the years, acknowledging that: “The single most impressive change is not physical, but rather the improvement in the style of living of the average person in Saudi Arabia, the education, the health care. I attribute this to the philosophy and leadership of the royal family, and I’m proud that we could play a supporting role.”
His son, Riley Bechtel added: “From our very first job in the Kingdom, we learned the importance of honoring their culture and beliefs and conducting ourselves in a way that made us welcome in their community. We’ve never stopped working to be good citizens in Saudi Arabia.”
Currently, Bechtel is the largest construction company in the US and the eighth largest privately owned American company with a 2017 revenue of $33bn.
Much of Bechtel’s success though, was initially achieved through establishing a friendship and trust with the Saudi royal family. A bond that was first formed through a prince’s visit to a San Francisco shipyard in 1944.
Foreign laborers working at a Riyadh metro station construction site on a suspended bridge in the Saudi capital. (AFP/File photo) 

Stan Lee’s work was introduced to the Arab World in the 70s — and his fanbase has grown ever since

Updated 37 min 9 sec ago

Stan Lee’s work was introduced to the Arab World in the 70s — and his fanbase has grown ever since

  • The wise-cracking, smart-mouthed godfather of contemporary comic books died on Monday, aged 95
  • I’ve been in this business so long dealing with fans that I can really tell within a couple of days of receiving the fan mail whether or not we're on the right track: Lee

Stan Lee, Marvel Comics’ legendary creator of super heroes and super villains, has left behind an enduring legacy for all ages — including for fans in the Middle East.

The wise-cracking, smart-mouthed godfather of contemporary comic books, who died aged 95 on Monday, created outcasts, misfits, super heroes and extraordinary characters from all walks of life, who found their way into almost every home in the world.

Lee wanted his characters to be “real,” have problems, girlfriends, children, alter-egos, crushes, and to fight with each other; all the while trying to find a place in society like everyone else. In doing so, he won the comic genre success among children, teens and adults alike.

“They’d be fallible and feisty and, most important of all, inside their colorful-costumed booties, they’d still have feet of clay,” Lee once said of his creations.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Arab world was introduced to some of the comics published by Marvel through Behind the Universe (Ma Wara’a Al-Kawn), an initiative by Bizat Al-Rih in Lebanon. With a passion for visual tales and storytelling, editor-in-chief and Lebanese author Henry Mathews oversaw the translation process.

The magazine began with tales of science fiction, bringing in stills from “Star Trek” to tell the story to readers, before moving on to bigger Marvelverse characters that were thriving at the time such as “Spider-Man,” “The Hulk,” “Spider-Woman” and “Fantastic Four.” Later, an additional story was added to the collection, Japanese manga “Grendizer,” which was then animated and became a classic for Arab generations in the 1970s and 1980s.

@huda4comics is an Instagram account that has become a home for comic lovers who wish to relive their childhood by acquiring pieces from the past. They provide customers with collections of translated comics in Arabic and make it easier for people to find them by simply visiting their page rather than looking for stories that have ceased production, such as Behind the Universe.

Huda spoke to Arab News about her collection: “I’ve been collecting these specific publications (Behind the Universe) through many sources. Some I’ve gathered while traveling, others I’ve acquired through sellers online throughout the Arab world.”

Asked whether these rare publications’ value will rise with the death of Lee, Huda said: “I don’t think Arab fans will be affected by it. I think pieces that have been signed by Stan Lee himself, first and limited editions, and original art collections, will be affected by his passing, but not Arabic publications.”

Growing up, Huda had no interest in such collections, but as an adult she became passionate about providing fans with a place where they could get their hands on these rare treasures.

Riyadh-based Naif Alkhairallah, author of “Black Bonds,” got to know about super heroes through “Sesame Street,” which used to feature a sketch of “Spider-Man,” while the first comic book he read was a translated version of “Grendizer” on Behind the Universe.

“Since then, I have become fascinated by the world of super heroes and comic books,” he told Arab News in Jeddah’s first Comic Con in 2017, where he had a book launch.

Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, creator of “The 99” and an award-winning entrepreneur and clinical psychologist, shared his memories and thoughts on the influence Stan Lee had on the world of comics in the Middle East. “I had lunch with Lee in the summer of 2007 in Beverly Hills, and had a really nice discussion about the work I was doing and the influence of ‘X-Men’ on ‘The 99’,” he said.

“I could connect with him because I had hired the former head of marketing, the former publisher, and the former editor-in-chief of Marvel — they were all working for me at the time. It was my way of attracting Western talents and my passport into the world of Stan Lee and former Marvel executives,” he said.

Having a team that had worked alongside Lee in some of Marvel’s most successful comics surely had an invaluable influence on helping to create and realize the grand vision of Al-Mutawa’s “The 99?”

“Absolutely. These are the writers that I used for ‘The 99.’ They’d worked on ‘Iron Man,’ ‘Spider-Man,’ ‘X-Men.’ One of them was involved in the creation of ‘Deadpool.’ One of my original artists who created the first iteration of the character guide of
‘The 99’ was the same person who did the original ‘X-Men.’ So I would
say definitely the influence was there — both stylistically in the creation of the characters, as well as ideologically,” he said.

With a career that spanned decades, he was instrumental in creating some of the most iconic TV and movie characters. Marvel movies conquered Hollywood, with more than $12 billion in global sales. The witty creator took any chance he could to make cameo appearances in every Marvel movie until his death.

Lee’s influence on the comic scene in the Arab region is very evident.

With more up-and-coming comic creators than ever, Lee’s work has shown that it can stand the test of time. Na3am, a new media company, launched a comic “Saudi Girls Revolution” and “Latifa,” Saudi Arabia’s first female comic super hero game.

In an interview earlier this year, Lee told Arab News that he was pleased by the number of fans that had flocked to the Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai. Although he never visited the Middle East, he said that his fanbase was beyond his expectations.

“It’s incredible that they have one out there,” he told Arab News. “They’ve always treated me kindly and with the utmost respect. They are an A-class show.”

When asked whether Marvel would introduce a Middle Eastern super hero on the big screen, Lee had no doubt it would happen. “It’s only a matter of time,” he said.

Abdulrahman Alhaidari, comic fanatic and instructor at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah, said that he got into comics when he was very young, before he learned to read. He found the details of the drawing and the epic events that took place in the stories mesmerizing.

“Stan Lee was a legend among all fans of pop culture. We all loved his short appearances in all late Marvel movies, and he really showed us how humble and funny he is in his appearances in ‘The Big Bang Theory’  show. 

“It takes a special character to have all that fame, power, glory, wealth, and yet to remain a down-to-earth, friendly person. I guess he showed us what a super hero he was. He will surely be missed by his fans all over the globe.”