‘Jeddah has left a lasting impact on me,’ says outgoing Italian CG

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Elisabetta Martini spent four years of diplomatic service as the Italian consul general in Jeddah. (Photos/Ziyad Alarfaj)
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Elisabetta Martini
Updated 20 December 2018
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‘Jeddah has left a lasting impact on me,’ says outgoing Italian CG

  • The minute that you bring a delegation to Al-Balad, the people, at least from my experience, the Europeans, they connect with Saudi culture
  • Martini is moving to Moscow and making the transition from consular affairs to political affairs

JEDDAH: It is rare to see Elisabetta Martini without a smile on her face — and with good reason. After four years of diplomatic service as the Italian consul general in Saudi Arabia, she has excelled in her community outreach through organizing business and cultural functions. Her smile is one that Jeddah has come to know well.
She spoke to Arab News about her time in the Kingdom, as well as offering advice to women looking to pursue a career in foreign diplomacy.
“I came here not being a specialist in the Middle East, neither did I study Arabic. The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is very keen on having officials that can work in different environments. We have very few specialized diplomats, as we tend to diversify our roles. I was dealing more with European affairs and diplomatic affairs, and I think this gave me a fresh look on what would be my challenge coming to Saudi Arabia,” she told Arab News. The late King Abdullah died 10 days after Martini was appointed, so her arrival coincided with a critical time for the Kingdom. She described that period as a new reality for the country but, as she was not an expert, she came with no preconceived ideas.
“I was energetic, determined, and serious enough to lead a diplomatic mission in a challenging country, but in a period that we knew was on the edge of a transformation program even before the death of the late King Abdullah. It was evident that Saudi Arabia was a country that would emerge very soon as a very active community player in the region.”
Martini maintained this energy and determination throughout her four-year stint, participating in some of the historic reforms. There were cultural, promotional and commercial events.
“We contributed to promoting the lifting of the ban on women driving by organizing an event with the most luxurious Italian brand vehicles. We were involved with musical events. We organized an exhibition of movie costumes designed by the four-time Oscar winning Milena Canonero. It was another very challenging exhibition.”
Those were some of the cultural events that came to mind, she added. More recent initiatives included a photography catalog, featuring images from Al-Balad and Mada’in Saleh.
She was optimistic about the Kingdom achieving the goals outlined in its Vision 2030 reform plan. Italy had been devoted and dedicated to helping in the journey, she said, and there were encouraging signs of change.
“But these can only go hand in hand socially and politically to give civil society and people more chances to have an impact. This was the marvelous case when, in December 2015, I assisted for the first time in having ladies vote in municipal elections. I think this was maybe even more of an enthusiastic time than when women were allowed to drive. Having these ladies engaging in social and political activities, and campaigning for the chance to become a member of the municipal council was something really remarkable and I think this can be the path that Saudi Arabia will continue on. Together of course with all the social, entertainment, and private sector changes.”
Martini leaves with fond memories of Jeddah and said the city had left a lasting impact.
“As a young, energetic, and dynamic diplomat, I used to be very impatient. Over here, you don’t have to give in to the narrative of ‘Bukra Inshallah’ but at the same time, if you try to mix the ‘Inshallah’ attitude with an active will and determination to do things and create, actually the mixture is very good, and you can learn that achieve, one needs to be patient. So as a takeaway, I would say working and being able to be more patient because only when you analyze patiently, with the ‘shwaya shwaya’ philosophy, this can sometimes be much more effective than only trying to impose something even to oneself. That would be my lasting takeaway. Trying to be more patient, but at the same time maintaining my motivation for the next project.”
When discussing aspects of Saudi culture — its traditions, landmarks, even famous restaurants — Martini holds a special place for Al-Balad in her heart.
“Every time I had an Italian delegation, I brought them to Al-Balad. The minute that you bring a delegation to Al-Balad, the people, at least from my experience, the Europeans, they connect with Saudi culture. Because they see Saudi’s history firsthand. This applies to Riyadh as well, with multiple UNESCO sites such as Ad Diriyah.
“Al-Balad though, really stole my heart some years ago and I keep going back especially during sunset prayer time. It’s one of the most breathtaking places. I was also fortunate enough to go twice to Madain Saleh, and that is another place that in my opinion is even better than much more famous UNESCO sites around the world. As far as food and restaurants are concerned, I love Al-Nakheel, a popular local restaurant where you can enjoy shisha, socialize, and now recently they are featuring live music. The food that I will miss the most though is manakish.”
For Martini, Jeddah is a diverse city and one that is similar to Naples.
“In my opinion, Jeddah is more similar to the southern Italian cities such as Naples. Firstly, because they both have beautiful seas. Also, because both have a beautiful historical and cultural centers that need to be explored more. It’s a popular area not in terms of being popular, but because it consists of lower socio-economic classes. Actually, this fact is what gives it a much higher sense of authenticity and genuineness. Both cities share quite a few similarities, but at the same time both have plenty of untapped potential. They both have a beautiful port and a very lively and genuine historical center.”
Regarding a career in foreign service, Martini had advice for young students, especially women, who aspire to follow in her footsteps.
“I’m honored to have been labeled as a role model for young professional ladies that aspire to start a diplomatic career, but actually what I would like to say is that I myself follow other role models because as ladies, we should never be completely satisfied with what we have achieved. Of course, we need to be proud, and the improvements are great, but we need to keep on dreaming bigger.”
Martini is moving to Moscow and making the transition from consular affairs to political affairs.
“It’s a new challenge in another very interesting country — both politically and commercially. We have strong relations with the Russian Federation and I’m very excited for the challenge. Career-wise, it will be a very important step because as I said before, my real aim as a diplomat is to diversify as much as possible my experience so that in the future, I may have a broader picture of international affairs.”


Pakistan appoints new ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Ambassador Raja Ali Ejaz assumes his new role on Monday. (Supplied)
Updated 37 min 46 sec ago
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Pakistan appoints new ambassador to Saudi Arabia

  • Prior to this appointment he served as the consul general of Pakistan in New York

JEDDAH: Raja Ali Ejaz, a career diplomat, assumed his responsibilities as ambassador of Pakistan to Saudi Arabia on Monday. 
Prior to this appointment he served as the consul general of Pakistan in New York. He also served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Islamabad as director general (United Nations) from January 2013 to January 2014. 
He previously held the post of director in the Office of Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (2004-2006), as desk officer for India (1996-1998) and desk officer for South East Asia and the Pacific (1991-1992). 
He has served at various overseas assignments at the Embassy of Pakistan in Kabul (1992-1996), at the High Commission for Pakistan in London (1998-2001), the Embassy of Pakistan in Bucharest (2001-2004) and the Embassy of Pakistan in Mexico (2006-2012). 
He attended the Civil Service Academy in Lahore from 1990 to 1991.
Ejaz’s appointment to the Kingdom comes at a time when Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are trying to strengthen their diplomatic relations.
The two countries have traditionally enjoyed close military ties. Now, they are also building strong relationship in the areas of finance, commerce and investment.