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.”

Worshippers flock to reopened Prophet’s Mosque for Friday prayers

Updated 34 min 58 sec ago

Worshippers flock to reopened Prophet’s Mosque for Friday prayers

MADINAH: Hundreds of thousands of worshippers attended the first Friday prayers to be held at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah since the gatherings were suspended to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

The green light for the resumption of the prayer meetings came as part of a plan to gradually reopen the Kingdom’s mosques while ensuring worshippers and visitors adhered to preventive measures.

A ban on access to the Rawdah remained in place and only groups of worshippers numbering up to a maximum of 40 percent of the mosque’s capacity were being allowed entry.

Precautionary measures also included the allocation of specific doors for the entry of worshippers, the installation of thermal cameras, removal of all carpets so that prayers could be performed on the marble, sanitization of the mosque’s floors and courtyards, periodic opening of domes and canopies to ventilate the mosque, and the removal of Zamzam water containers.

The Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah will be closed after evening prayers and reopened one hour before dawn prayers. Parking lots will operate at 50 percent capacity and a media awareness campaign has been launched to highlight safety procedures at the holy site.

Medical teams have also been stationed at the main entrances to the mosque in cooperation with the Ministry of Health.

Elsewhere in the Kingdom, worshippers also flocked to perform Friday prayers at mosques amid strict health measures.

On May 31, Saudi authorities reopened all mosques for prayers, except in Makkah, as part of the Kingdom’s plan for a gradual return to normal life.

Last week the minister of Islamic affairs, dawah and guidance said that the country’s mosques were ready to welcome back worshippers, following his field trips to check that necessary preparations had been made.

All worshippers must still maintain a distance of 2 meters between rows, wear masks to enter a mosque, and Friday sermons and prayers have been limited to a maximum of 15 minutes.