‘We fully support Saudi stand on Yemen’

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Updated 20 October 2015

‘We fully support Saudi stand on Yemen’

RIYADH: Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guellah says the Kingdom played a crucial role in the Saudi-led coalition drive to restore hope, legitimacy and stability in Yemen.

“Saudi Arabia and Djibouti are close allies,” he said during an exclusive interview with Arab News. “The stand of our country was declared from the moment Operation Decisive Storm was launched for peace and legitimate rule in Yemen.”
He said: “Our support has always been in favor of the legitimate government of Yemen, led by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi even before the launch of the campaign.”
The president said he had sent a message through his ambassador in Yemen, “in which I expressed our firm support to the legitimate government against the coup carried out by the Al-Houthi militia.”
Spelling out his country’s stand in favor of the territorial integrity, security and stability of Yemen, and the entire region, the president said: “We are, of course, being affected by positive and negative events in Yemen. As you know we received thousands of Yemenis in Djibouti who had taken refuge to escape from the crisis.”
President Guellah said that he was the only head of state who visited Sanaa during the political crisis in response to the invitation of President Hadi to attend the signing of the agreement between the Yemeni political parties.
“So we are supporters of all prudent steps taken by the Kingdom as part of the Arab coalition to support the brothers in Yemen. I fully support King Salman’s brave action when he did not hesitate to support (what was) right and responded to the official request of the Yemeni people through the legitimate elected president to put an end to the coup staged by the Al-Houthi militias,” he said.
The following is the text of the interview:

Q: Mr. President, what are the main objectives of your visit to Riyadh?
A: This visit is to renew contact with my brother Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and discuss with him the latest political developments in the region and the world and coordinate efforts for the benefit of our region and our nation. It also marks an extension of our effort to promote cooperation in the bilateral field in trade, know-how and education, and push it forward for the benefits of our two peoples and the interests of the two countries.

Q: You know that terrorist organizations, led by Al-Qaeda, exist in Yemen and are conducting terrorist operations around the world. What is the role played by Djibouti in this context?
A: My country has contributed for a long time in the fight against terrorism in the region within the framework of international teamwork. And we continue this cooperation with the international community to combat terrorism and organizations that carry extremist ideas aimed at the destruction of the world and humanity, and abuse our Islamic religion. We sent our forces to stand with the Somali government in its fight against the anti-government terrorist organizations. This role will continue unabated for the protection of our country and our region, and the world. We will work with Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries to confront the extremists and highlight the bright side of the true religion, which calls for tolerance and justice. Muslims are affected more than others from these extremist ideas.

Q: Have you followed the stampede in Mina?
A: We already sent condolences to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman. We lost five Djiboutian pilgrims. We think of them and others who were killed in this tragedy as martyrs. The fact that these events naturally occur due to the great number of pilgrims, who meet at a specific time and move together in a narrow space together at the same time, and many of the pilgrims, unfortunately, do not adhere to the instructions unintentionally cause such accidents. But I must point out here that this stampede never detracts from the great role of the government of Saudi Arabia for pilgrims and visitors and the facilities being provided. Security, health care, food and transportation in addition to the great expansion of the Two Holy Mosques, with very sophisticated structures, were all in place. This painful tragedy must not be exploited for political purposes because it will not benefit anyone, but cause political tension between Islamic states.

Q: Can you update us on the current political and trade relationship between Saudi Arabia and Djibouti?
A: The relationship between us and the Kingdom in all areas has been and still is in full swing and prospering. Our political, security, unity and stability under the Arabian umbrella has been in place and growing since we gained our independence in 1977. We are working together to preserve the sovereignty of Arab countries against any foreign intervention. Saudi Arabia and Djibouti are together in all circumstances, and we understand each other. As for the economic ties, Saudi Arabia support is still in place either directly or through Saudi and Arab financial institutions. However, what we aspire to in the coming days is the further activation of trade exchanges. Djibouti acts as the bridge that connects the Kingdom with Middle Africa. We are in the process of establishing a Saudi-Djiboutian joint business council. This will be composed of businessmen in both countries. In the next few months, a Djibouti-Saudi joint committee will be held which will oversee the follow-up and implementation of what is agreed on and push those items which have not been implemented. It will seek to find ways and ideas that would help to develop the economic and development side between the two brotherly countries. Among the priorities that we hope to implement is to link the ports of Djibouti and Saudi Arabia and facilitate procedures that serve not only the two countries but also the Kingdom and the Middle African countries. We also want to seek beneficial cooperation in the areas of scientific research and renewable energy. Likewise, we also promote cultural, sports and educational cooperation and coordination.

Q:What about the role of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa region and the Middle East politically, economically and in security issues?
A: Our country enjoys several advantages such as its strategic location, security and stability. We are Africa’s gateway to the east. We are members of several regional organizations, such as the Common Market Organization for South Eastern Africa (COMESA) and New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). In the context of the Arab nation and neighboring Arab states, we are playing a pivotal role. We are keen that Saudi Arabia should be in first place as the main partner.

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.”