British Council director lauds Saudi ‘warmth, hospitality, affection’

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At the ALumni Awards with HMA Simon Collis
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Ramzan with Arab News Editor-in-Chief, Faisal J. Abbas. (Supplied)
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The British Council director during a trip to AlUla, organized by the Royal Commision of AlUla.
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Amir Ramzan
Updated 25 September 2019

British Council director lauds Saudi ‘warmth, hospitality, affection’

  • Amir Ramzan: The Kingdom ‘has probably changed more in the past three years than the last 30’

RIYADH: The outgoing country director at the British Council in Saudi Arabia has praised the “warmth, hospitality and affection” he experienced during his three years in the Kingdom. “I’ve been lucky to meet so many different people from the rich fabric of Saudi society, which has turned into numerous friendships that I cherish and will take with me,” Amir Ramzan, who will be the council’s new country director in Pakistan, told Arab News.
“I’ll certainly miss my amazing team at the British Council who work so hard to fulfil our purpose by creating friendly knowledge and understanding between the peoples of the UK and Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“We do this by making a positive contribution to the UK and the countries we work with, creating opportunities, building connections and engendering trust,” he added.
“It has been a time of unprecedented change in Saudi Arabia over the past three years,” Ramzan said. The Kingdom “has probably changed more in the past three years than the last 30, and I feel very fortunate to have been here to experience it and to support Saudi Arabia through our work in education and culture.”
He recalled that within a month of arriving in Saudi Arabia, he attended in Jeddah “one of the first public dance/music performances in the Kingdom” with Faisal J. Abbas, editor-in-chief of Arab News.


• Amir Ramzan began his career at the British Council in 2000 as a teacher in Syria. Prior to becoming country director in Saudi Arabia, he worked for the council in Iraq and Nigeria.

• In Iraq, he was instrumental in securing funding for, and delivering major projects in, education, including a far-reaching, EU-funded reform program.

• Ramzan also worked on expanding the council’s Active Citizens program, which works closely with civil society organizations in Iraq to deliver crucial services to vulnerable children and women.

• In Saudi Arabia, he was responsible for three teaching centers in Riyadh, Jeddah and Alkhobar, and led the council’s programs to engage young Saudi men and women in the arts, education, science and sports.

Ramzan also recalled the “elation” he witnessed due to the lifting of the ban on women driving.  
“Cinemas, concerts and sports events have all contributed to a much more colorful and vibrant society,” he said, adding that the British Council faced the challenge of “deciding where to prioritize our efforts in such a fast-changing environment.”
He said: “We decided that it was best to do it in consultation with our partners in Saudi Arabia. For example, education is a huge area and there’s work going on across the sector in Saudi Arabia.”

Ramzan with Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas.

This “made working out where the UK could best add value a bit of a daunting task,” he added.
During the crown prince’s visit to the UK in March 2018, a UK-Saudi education steering committee was established to foster cooperation in this field.
“We worked together to identify priorities for UK collaboration and took them forward. Without such mechanisms, it would’ve been a challenge,” Ramzan said.
“I see a bright future for students in Saudi Arabia. The educational reforms will ensure they are ‘future-fit’ in terms of skills and knowledge,” he added.
“The diversification of the economy is creating myriad new job and business opportunities in new sectors such as tourism, entertainment, renewables and much more,” Ramzan said.
“I was fortunate to visit AlUla recently, and I just know it’s going to become a huge magnet for tourism that will require a workforce to service the demand, as will the other projects being implemented across the country,” he added.
“I’d like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, Saudi Arabia and all the wonderful people my family and I met during our time here. It has been a great experience that we’ll relish forever,” Ramzan said.
“I hope to be a regular visitor to Saudi Arabia in the coming years, so I look forward to catching up with old friends then.” His successor is Eilidh Kennedy McLean, who led the economic and prosperity team at the British Embassy in Riyadh for the past two years. They worked closely together during that time.
“Eilidh knows the work we do well, which is partly what attracted her to apply for the role,” said Ramzan. “She’ll do a great job.”

Penguins and an ice rink to be part of Riyadh’s winter show

More than 300 trailers have been shipped from all over Europe to Riyadh for the English-style winter carnival. (AN photo/Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 9 min 35 sec ago

Penguins and an ice rink to be part of Riyadh’s winter show

  • More than 250 workers are busy setting it up in one of Riyadh’s busiest areas

RIYADH: Snow parks, penguins and ice-skating rinks are common winter attractions in cities with the weather to match — but Riyadh?

Still, there’s a first time for everything, and Riyadh Season is giving the Saudi capital the opportunity to prove it with the opening on Oct. 20 of Winter Wonderland.

More than 300 trailers have been shipped from all over Europe to Riyadh for the English-style winter carnival, and more than 250 workers are busy setting it up in one of Riyadh’s busiest areas.

The site, against the stunning backdrop of the King Abdullah Financial District skyscrapers, will accommodate up to 40,000 visitors a day. “It is challenging, but it is wonderful to be here,” events director Edward Mellors told Arab News. “We are really enjoying it. It’s nice to be involved in bringing such a big project to a country like this.”

As well as the snow park, the ice rink and the penguins, attractions include a Marvel excursion, with Iron Man and other superheroes from the franchise.

“We have been sourcing these rides from all over the world, getting them together and making lots of deals, getting them on ships,” said Mellors. “I can’t think of any one challenge that has been the biggest, but with all of them put together, it has been a mountain.”