World celebrates Saudi National Day

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Emirates flight EK 813 prepares for departure for a special one-off A380 service to Riyadh. (Courtesy Emirates)
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Pilots of Emirates flight EK 813 wave as they prepare for departure for a special one-off A380 service to Riyadh. (Courtesy Emirates)
Updated 23 September 2018

World celebrates Saudi National Day

DUBAI: From Dubai to Beirut to New York and Washington, D.C., Saudi National Day was celebrated outside of the Kingdom on Sunday as a show of patriotism by Saudis abroad and as a sign of friendship by countries around the world.

The Dubai airline operated a special one-off A380 service, known as EK 813 and EK 814, on Sunday to the capital city of Riyadh, touching down at King Khalid International Airport at 3:30 p.m. The return flight was scheduled to depart at 6:50 p.m.

A YouTube video from Emirates also showed crew handing out scarves embroidered with the countries’ flags, as well as white roses, to passengers while boarding the A380 aircraft.

 

The Burj Khalifa was illuminated with the Saudi flag last night, while the Nasdaq Tower’s electronic billboard in New York’s Times Square was lit up with photos of King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the flags of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 

The images were posted by Nasdaq Dubai, the UAE-based operation of the New York equities exchange, on Twitter with the message: “Best wishes from #NasdaqDubai to #SaudiArabia on the occasion of the 88th National Day.”

 

 

In Lebanon, Pigeons’ Rock, also known as the Rock of Raouché, located in the sea of the western capital of Beirut, was lit in the colors of the Saudi flag. The rock, one of the most important Lebanese monuments, was lit during a ceremony attended by the charge d'affaires of Saudi Arabia, Waleed bin Abdullah Bukhari, along with a crowd of dignitaries, including the Mayor of Beirut.

In Washington, the Saudi embassy’s National Day bus toured around the capital on the weekend inviting people to its celebrations on Sunday in National Harbor, Maryland.

In the UAE’s capital, the General Command of Abu Dhabi Police decorated 88 of their cars - one for every year being celebrated – with the flags of Saudi Arabia and the UAE and the words “Together Forever.”

The UAE’s airlines got in on the game. Emirates operated a special one-off A380 service on the routes EK 813 and EK 814 on Sunday to the capital city of Riyadh, touching down at King Khalid International Airport at 3:30pm. Crew handed out scarves emblazoned with the countries’ flags, as well as white roses, to passengers boarding the aircraft.pic.twitter.com/U36yYpxE8T

Etihad said it was using the only Saudi A380 pilot in the world, Wesam Sameer Al Najjar, to fly its Year of Zayed plane to Jeddah with the UAE’s Captain Ahmed Almalood.

In the UAE, children at some schools dressed in green and sang the anthems of both countries, carrying both of their flags. In the evening, there was a Saudi National Day celebration at La Mer beachfront in Dubai that featured a supercar parade, traditional Saudi dancers and, of course, fireworks.


UK ambassador reflects on five ‘big years’ in Saudi Arabia

Outgoing UK Ambassador Simon Collis speaks during an interview with Arab News in Riyadh. (AN photo by Saleh Al-Ghanem)
Updated 27 January 2020

UK ambassador reflects on five ‘big years’ in Saudi Arabia

  • Gap between perception and reality of Kingdom, says Simon Collis

RIYADH: Britain’s outgoing ambassador to Saudi Arabia said it has been a privilege to be in the country for the last five years and witness the changes in the Kingdom firsthand.

Simon Collis joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1978 and has been an ambassador in Iraq, Syria and Qatar. He has also held senior diplomatic positions in Bahrain, Tunisia, Jordan, Dubai and India.
His diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia began a week after King Salman came to the throne in January 2015. A personal highlight was performing the Hajj in 2016 with wife Huda.
The five years that we’ve been here have been five big years, not only for us but five big years ... in the history of Saudi Arabia and certainly in the relationship with the UK,” he told Arab News. “It’s been just a wonderful time.”
He said there used to be concern about the role of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, known as the Mutawa’a or religious police, and its unchecked power.
“There were people that would be nervous about it. There was no music in public places, there was no mixing in restaurants. In 2015 no one would have imagined just how much these changes would be, first with (the reform plan) Vision 2030, then economic, and also social changes, women driving, the removal of the guardianship laws across pretty much everything, and the balancing role of the Mutawa’a.”
He welcomed the government’s emphasis on developing the entertainment and cultural sectors, calling it a “tremendous story,” and said he had enjoyed witnessing the Kingdom’s transformation.
“To see the enthusiasm in a young country, I think a lot of these new sectors, creative entertainment, on top of the existing ones like education, have been a delight to see. Of course, it’s not finished yet. I think this period, these five years, will look like a big moment in the history of the Kingdom.”
Changes in the Kingdom have attracted interest — and greater visitor numbers — from overseas.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Simon Collis joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1978 and has been an ambassador in Iraq, Syria and Qatar.

• He has also held senior diplomatic positions in Bahrain, Tunisia, Jordan, Dubai and India.

• His diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia began a week after King Salman came to the throne in January 2015.

• A personal highlight was performing the Hajj in 2016 with wife Huda.

The country is gaining a reputation for hosting massive events featuring the world’s biggest names including boxing match Clash On The Dunes pitting Britain’s Anthony Joshua against Mexican-American Andy Ruiz Jr, the electronic dance music festival MDL Beast featuring David Guetta and Steve Aoki, and concerts from K-Pop megastars BTS and Super Junior.
The ambassador said there was a gap between the perception of the Kingdom and the country’s on-the-ground reality.
“In any country, there is a gap between the perception that the image that exists in the world, and the reality that you find. This is true of any country. That gap between the perception and reality has been bigger in relation to Saudi Arabia than to any other country that I’ve lived in. So, the result is once people visit and they see for themselves, then they change their overall perception. They change their minds, and this is a very powerful thing.”
Tens of thousands of UK nationals visit the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah every year to perform Hajj and Umrah, but the reasons to visit the country are increasing.
Collis said that 43,000 people from the UK had taken advantage of a new e-visa system launched last October to visit Saudi Arabia, the highest number in the world.
“Every year we’ve seen the number of Saudi nationals visiting the UK increase, now it’s coming the other way,” Collis said. “With a population of less than 70 million, and it’s the No. 1 country visiting Saudi Arabia more than any other country, I’m very proud of that. I would say that of the hundreds and thousands of British people who I have met visiting Saudi Arabia for the first time, every single person I have met has left with a more positive (outlook) than the one that they arrived with. So, more visits must mean more people have a better idea of the realities of this country, society and its people.”
Collis said he had met many Saudis and forged friendships with them. People in the Kingdom had integrity and were straightforward, and the ambassador had special praise for the younger generation saying there was a “natural enjoyment” when he sat with them to talk. They were very aware, he added.

NUMBER

43,000 - people from the UK had taken advantage of a new e-visa system launched last October to visit Saudi Arabia, the highest number in the world.

His regard for young Saudis is evident. He launched the Alumni Awards, which recognize Saudi students who have returned to the Kingdom, excelled and succeeded in their professions or made an impact in their communities. With more than 100,000 Saudis studying in the UK over the last 10 years, the program will be developed in order to increase engagement with them once they return to Saudi Arabia.
The national and global awards initiative is aimed at showcasing the impact and value of a UK higher education, and winners and finalists are leaders in their fields.
“The Alumni Awards are fun. What the award looks at, whether it’s an entrepreneur or professional or social category, it’s not what did you do in the UK with your studies, it’s when you got your qualification, what did you do in Saudi Arabia when you came back. How did you use it? It’s about what use you put it to, not what you get, but how did you use it to further your own career, your life and that of your community and others around you,” Collis said.
Collis is succeeded as the UK’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia by Neil Crompton, who takes up the role next month.