From pilot’s g-suit to three-piece suit

Updated 29 July 2012
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From pilot’s g-suit to three-piece suit

The first time I met Prince Bander bin Sultan was in 1982 at the Naval Amphibious Base in Norfolk, Virginia. He was the Saudi defense attaché and was visiting some Saudi Navy ships before sailing to Saudi Arabia.
I met him two more times and it was very hard not to admire him.
He was born in Taif on March 2, 1949. In 1968 he graduated from the British Royal Air Force College at Cranwell, England. He had flown numerous fighter aircraft for the Royal Saudi Air Force.
He attended many postgraduate schools in the United States during his 17-year career. He took courses at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, and at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at Fort McNair in the Washington D.C. area.
Later on, he received a Master’s degree from John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington D.C. in 1980.
Prince Bander started to become a politician while wearing the air force uniform when carrying out special assignments during the debates between the US administration and Congress concerning the sale of F-15s in 1978 and AWACs in 1980 to Saudi Arabia.
In 1982 he was assigned to Washington D.C. as the Kingdom’s defense attaché. About one year later he was appointed the Saudi ambassador to Washington and presented his credentials to President Ronald Reagan on October 24, 1983.
In a very short time he became the dean of the diplomatic corps. His talent as a diplomat, his discipline as a former military man, his style, his sense of humor, his straight arrow approach to matters and unaccented English gave him an edge in the political field.
On one occasion I heard his name being mentioned even though he had nothing to do with the event in question.
It was during a visit by Irish Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams to the US in December 2001. So, what does the Irish politician has to do with Prince Bander? I heard the answer from an Irish politician who I met in Dubai many years later.
During the time Prince Bander was in Washington, he had more TV interviews than any other ambassador. And he used his talent as speaker to catch the ear of American audiences from every political party. His English was very clear and unaccented.
A short time later Adams was in the US to resolve some political issues and to gauge the US reaction to the IRA’s decision to stop its violent activities.
Sinn Fein needed the American public to listen to them. During one of Adams’ TV interviews, many in the audience had difficulty understanding the Irishman even though his native language is English. If memory serves me right, some of his speeches were subtitled because many Americans and other audiences couldn’t understand his Irish accent.
On the same US trip he announced his intention to visit Cuba. This decision wasn’t welcomed in America, England and Ireland.
Years later when I met the Irish diplomat in Dubai, he said many observers wished they could have had Prince Bander as the US media spokesman because of his English language capability and his public relations skills.
And, the diplomat added, it was embarrassing to see a Saudi prince being understood by the American audience in comparison to Adams, whose mother tongue wasn’t understood.
He also said he wished Adams had Prince Bandar’s experience in how to manage the Washington political minefield and avoid the Cuba fiasco.
Prince Bander had solved many issues and was able to do it in a very smooth way.
One of the most challenging issues was the Lockerbie incident. He gave guarantees at the time to the Libyan people and leadership that the country’s integrity would not be harmed regardless of the outcome of the mediation efforts. Many Libyan officials didn’t believe Prince Bander could deliver, but he did. And with the efforts of Saudi Arabia and South Africa, the Libyan people were freed from the agony of the incident.
Now Prince Bander has been appointed by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah as the new Saudi intelligence chief. With this appointment, the Saudi government will force many of the so-called expert analysts in Saudi affairs to re-examine their earlier analyses of Prince Bander.
We heard many reports and questions from the outside. Can any Saudi prince take a break from the work routine? Why can’t a royal take some time off to be with his family and children?
We saw some very popular papers in Europe ask the question: Where is Bander?
All they had to do is watch Saudi TV and they would see Prince Bander among other royals and officials chatting with each other when receiving the king.
If we Saudis can see him, then why can’t the Western think tanks see him? Prince Bander was never out of the Saudi political picture; isn’t he the new Saudi intelligence chief?

 


Fantastic four: Saudi women fly the flag for cycling

Updated 19 July 2018
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Fantastic four: Saudi women fly the flag for cycling

  • Saudi Arabia’s first women-only 10-kilometer cycling race was held in April 2018 at the King Abdullah City for Sports in Jeddah
  • More than 70 Saudi cyclists took part in the tour, including the four HerRide members

JEDDAH: Before Saudi Arabia’s women drivers there were Saudi women cyclists. Thousands of women around the Kingdom have taken to two wheels in the past few years, and groups of female cyclists are a common sight on city streets.

Now four young women have taken cycling to a new level by becoming the first Saudi female cycling team to join the Global Biking Initiative (GBI) European tour, an annual seven-day ride that highlights the sport and raises money for a range of charitable causes.

Sisters Fatimah and Yasa Al-Bloushi, Dina Al-Nasser and Anoud Aljuraid — founder members of the HerRide cycling group — joined hundreds of cyclists from all over the world earlier this month when the tour kicked off from Gothenburg in Sweden before heading through Denmark and on to the port of Hamburg in northern Germany.

More than 70 Saudi cyclists took part in the tour, including the four HerRide members. 

The dynamic HerRide team shares a passion for adventure, and a love of outdoor activities and sports. Fatimah Al-Bloushi, the team captain, told Arab News that when she started the group in July, 2017, “we were a group of amateur cycling enthusiasts and our idea was to train to be the first Saudi female team to participate in GBI Europe 2018.” 

This year was Fatimah’s second time in the GBI tour. Last year she was the first and only Saudi woman to take part in the event. 

“I want to empower Saudi women and encourage cycling,” she said.

Fatimah also enjoys skydiving, surfing, abseiling and climbing, and is also the first woman member of the Saudi Cycling Federation. In her hometown of Alkhobar, she organizes women’s gatherings twice a week to cycle together along the beachfront. She also volunteers to teach cycling for beginners. 

Like all sports events and tours, training plays a crucial role in preparing for the GBI tour. Team member Anoud Aljuraid, an accomplished hiker and technical climber, met Fatimah two years ago while climbing the Ol Doinyo Lengai, or “Mountain of God,” volcano in Tanzania.

“For me the challenge was sitting on the bike for up to eight hours while riding up to 100 kilometers a day,” Aljuraid said. “It was also hard to maintain a certain speed to reach the next destination or nutrition point on time, but my training helped me get over those challenges.”

Although the number of women cyclists on the streets of Saudi Arabia is growing, challenges remain for those joining the sport.

Team member Dina Al-Nasser lives in Riyadh and enjoys long-distance cycling as well as hiking and boxing. Her biggest challenge during the GBI tour was cycling alongside cars.

“I mostly trained at home, but it’s hard for me to train in areas where men usually train, such as Wadi Hanifa and Ammariyah,” she said. “However, I was able to get over my fear and by the third day on the tour I was riding alongside trucks and didn’t even notice.”

Al-Nasser said that cycling is challenging not only for women in Saudi Arabia but for professional cyclists in general.

“We hope that the streets will be more bike friendly, and that people can adopt the same infrastructure for cyclists that we have seen on the tour — such as special paved paths and traffic lights — here in the Kingdom,” she said. 

“Hopefully, cycling will become a lifestyle in Saudi Arabia and we will see people cycling to work one day.” 

The Saudi HerRide women’s team celebrate a challenging stage finish on the GBI European tour. (Supplied photo)

Despite the challenges, the HerRide team say they are hoping to join the next GBI tour. “It was a great experience to cross three countries by bicycle,” Yasa Al-Bloushi said. “Of course, we got some bruises and had falls here and there, but I look at that as a sign of accomplishment.”

The team members gained valuable skills from watching other riders during the tour. “I learned how to be a part of a team and to look out for each other. It was important to listen to my team-mates and focus on their needs,” said Dina Al-Nasser.

 Fatima Al-Bloushi said that the support of her team made her second tour more special than the first. “We knew each other’s weaknesses from day one and we always had each other’s back. If our energy levels were low, someone would provide nutrition. When our spirits were down, we had music to give us a boost, and when someone was nervous, we reminded each other to have fun,” she said.

“I experienced GBI twice. The first time I went alone and came back with a family of friends. The second time I went with friends and came back with family.”

The woman said the spirit of cooperation among cyclists on the tour was empowering. “What made this experience even more amazing, besides the beautiful scenery, was the quality of people we met,” said Fatima. “If we were struggling, they would pass by with a smile, give you a pat on the back and tell you that you were strong enough to push through — it really did make us feel stronger.”

 In future, the group plans to hire a professional trainer and offer cycling workshops for Saudi women. They also hope long-distance cycling events, such as the GBI, will one day be held in Saudi Arabia. 

“Under Vision 2030, I’m sure there will be a lot of local events for cyclists in the Kingdom, including women,” said Al-Nasser.

The four cyclists have some words of encouragement for Saudi women hoping to fulfil their dreams. “You will always find people who will give you negative comments, but as long as you are doing what you love and are not hurting anyone, just keep going,” said Al-Nasser. 

Fatimah said: “Two years ago I was looking to join a cycling team, but as a woman in Saudi Arabia I was unable to — now things have changed. My advice to all women out there is never say ‘no,’ always say ‘yes’ to opportunities.”