RIYADH: The outgoing Italian ambassador to Saudi Arabia has described the last four years in the Kingdom as remarkable, calling them a “social revolution.”
Luca Ferrari was reflecting on his time in the country, from the changes he witnessed firsthand to the political relations between Italy and Saudi Arabia.
“These are the four years of the most remarkable event in Saudi Arabia, which is a social revolution,” he told Arab News. “There’s also an economic one and a political one, but I think the strongest element is the social evolution.”
He said the younger generation was taking control and imposing their own way of life on the Kingdom, saying this development exceeded expectations.
“I see the younger generations in Europe who are always crying for the state to do something. Here I see the younger generations in Saudi Arabia taking things in their own hands and just building up and moving on.”
Last year’s Formula E event in Diriyah was a moment when the Kingdom changed dramatically, he added, while his favorite cultural event in Saudi Arabia was the performance of Italian opera star Andrea Bocellia at the Winter at Tantora Festival in AlUla.
“That was quite remarkable, because the setting of this dramatic theater in the middle of the desert created by Italian architects in AlUla,” he said, speaking of the theater which is set between volcanic mountains and Nabataean ruins. “It was stunning.”
I see the younger generations in Saudi Arabia taking things in their own hands and just building up and moving on.
Luca Ferrari, Italian ambassador
His second cultural highlight was Milan’s La Scala making its debut in Riyadh in June, when the symphony orchestra from the world-famous opera house treated 3,000 people to an hour of beautiful classical music.
The show opened with a surprise performance of the Kingdom’s national anthem by Saudi opera singer Sawsan Al-Bahiti, who received a standing ovation for her rendition.
The orchestra was conducted by maestro Pietro Mianetti, and featured performances by soprano Francisca Manzo and tenor Ricardo Della Sciucca.
“It was packed,” said Ferrari. “They played some of the best pieces of Italian concertos and opera. It was very well done. It wasn’t an embassy event. It was something by the Saudis for the Saudis.”
Italian visitor numbers to Saudi Arabia were increasing thanks to the introduction of a new tourist visa, with holidaymakers going out and about in Riyadh and elsewhere. There was also an increase of Saudis heading to Italy and the ambassador said he was happy about those numbers too.
“You know, it takes very little time to get a bad image, but then it takes a long time to make a bad image better. And Saudi Arabia had a bad image because it was a very closed country. Nobody knew anything about it. And so, you allowed those who were against you to speak, to badmouth this country without reacting. Now that you’re opening up, just by the fact that you’re opening up, I mean, this is beyond the response. Maybe some problems were true, but most of them were not.”
People will discover Saudi Arabia for themselves and spread the word, he added, although it could take as much as a generation. “Saudi Arabia’s image will change. Saudi Arabia will change, and I think only to something better.”
Another transformation was many Saudis staying put instead of traveling overseas for their holidays. “Everybody was here, because there was so much to see and to do in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, everywhere. There is a lot to do in the country. I could testify that 80 percent of my Saudi friends are all here and I see them every day. Last year or the year before they were all away.”
The ambassador said he had visited different parts of Saudi Arabia and had a lot of fun.
“I think they (Saudis) should be proud of their country. They should be proud of their changes. They should never sell themselves short. You can be open-minded and still maintain your traditions and one thing does not impede the other. And that’s very, very important. Yes, it has a future ahead. You’re a very young country and young people are thriving, and they have a long future in front of them.”
His next posting is in China.