Roosevelt’s grandson says US president and King Abdul Aziz built legacy of friendship

Hall Delano Roosevelt continues his grandfather's legacy as chief executive of the US-Saudi Arabian Business Council. (AN_Photo)
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Updated 14 February 2020

Roosevelt’s grandson says US president and King Abdul Aziz built legacy of friendship

  • Hall Delano Roosevelt believes there are big opportunities under Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 diversification strategy
  • FDR's grandson discusses with ancestral authority the multi-faceted topic of US-Saudi partnership

DUBAI: Policy experts have debated for 75 years about the underlying motive for the historic meeting in 1945 between US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and Saudi King Abdul Aziz on board the USS Quincy. Was it about oil? Was it about Palestine? Was it about sales of defense equipment? 

But Hall Delano Roosevelt speaks with an ancestral authority on the subject, at least from the American side. “It was about creating a relationship and a friendship with this new King, who had just spent quite some time, and resources, and blood, and effort to unite the Arabian Peninsula for the purpose of being a productive part of the world,” he told Arab News.

As FDR’s grandson, he should know. “Del,” as he is called in Washington DC, has devoted a significant part of his career to promoting US-Saudi partnerships, in business, commerce and finance, and spent many years in the Kingdom and the Arabian Gulf with his wife Jan.

Since last year he has been chief executive of the US-Saudi Arabian Business Council, the not-for-profit organization which aims to promote commercial ties between the two countries.

Roosevelt family folklore has an interesting tale about how the Quincy meeting came about. “We were told that His Majesty had met several Americans, but was still curious about their leader. Does he want to colonize us? Does he believe in God? So he wanted to meet with my grandfather for himself, before he met with Winston Churchill, and FDR jumped at that opportunity,” Roosevelt said.

The rendezvous left an abiding impression. “In my humble opinion, what endures now between the US and Saudi Arabia was really just a natural growth from the conversation that took place that day. Sure they spoke about oil, but they also talked abut agriculture, and about industry and manufacturing,” he said.

Saudi Arabia's first airliner was a Douglas DC-3 that was given to Saudi King Abdul Aziz as a gift by then US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (Getty Images)

Another tangible legacy of the meeting was the Saudi aviation industry, Roosevelt pointed out, after FDR gifted a DC-3 aircraft to the King — the first plane of the fleet that later became Saudia. “FDR was always trying to expedite processes and to keep government out of the way, so he had the aircraft boxed up in huge crates marked ‘agricultural machinery.’

“What endures today is the legacy of a bridge built between the two men, based on friendship, that resulted in business. FDR realized that here was a culture based on relationships, not strictly on numbers and commerce. If you build it on trust, commerce will follow,” he said.

The commercial imperative is still in place today, he believes, keeping things stable while governments try to deal with the political differences that may occasionally arise. “I’m a firm believer in peace through commerce. It’s the initial trust that allows for the friendship to grow. Even when one of them behaves poorly, the other one understands it and they work through it, just like you would in a marriage,” Roosevelt said.

Some analysts believe that the changing dynamics of the oil industry have fundamentally altered the US-Saudi relationship. In 1945, the US was the pre-eminent oil producer in the world, while the Kingdom had not yet fully tapped its vast reserves.

That situation reversed towards the end of the last century, when Riyadh became the leading exporter, only to flip back again in the past decade as the US shale revolution made America effectively self-sufficient in oil once more.

Roosevelt takes a long-term, market-oriented view. The new situation allows Saudi Arabia to sell its product to other markets, he said, and in any case it could all change again very quickly. “We’re feeling 10-feet tall now, but every four years we have a presidential election, and everything can change with a simple pen stroke. I just hope the people in the Beltway (Washington DC) get it right in 2020,” he said.

Roosevelt also hopes that another business proposition — the possible listing of shares in Saudi Aramco on a US stock exchange — does not fall prey to political chicanery. “This is an incredibly volatile year, tensions are running high, and things like this (a US listing for Aramco) can get caught up in the maelstrom of US politics,” he said.

But in any case, he insisted, the US-Saudi Business Council is not a political organization, and he has no idea how the presidential election will go. “For the first time in my life, and despite all the political DNA in my body, I have no clue,” he said.

The council exists to promote business ties, but surely there have been times when the complex geopolitics of the Middle East have deterred American businessmen from potential deals in the region?

“I’ve never had difficulty explaining to people here the case for expanding in the region. They all get the fact that there is a tremendous business opportunity.

“But in those conversations, usually after 10 or 15 minutes, they ask: ‘You’ve been there Del, you’ve lived there with Jan and your children have visited — is it safe?’ I know that question is coming,” he said.

“And I tell them truthfully that in all the years I’ve been in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other places, I have never experienced one moment of ‘attitude.’ I feel safer walking around there than in any major city in the West. There are no gangs, no drive-bys, no home invasions. You’re more likely to be assaulted by curiosity — are you from America or the UK? — and generosity,” he said.

He worked for years as the director of new business for the Alireza Group, one of the Kingdom’s oldest and biggest conglomerates, which taught him some big lessons in how to do business in the Kingdom and the region. “Work backwards. Don’t waste time bringing US companies to the Kingdom to see what gaps they might fill. First find the gaps, and then go to the US to fill that gap,” he said.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

“So many business conversations end in a handshake, and then there is no follow-up. That is how I see the council’s job — to be with you all the time until you make the sell. It’s no use doing business long distance either — you’ve got to put boots on the ground and make a commitment. So many US groups thinks it’s about planting the flag and walking away with a bucket of cash. Well, that does not happen,” he added.

Nonetheless, there are big opportunities, Roosevelt believes, under the Vision 2030 diversification strategy. He highlighted the tourism and leisure sectors as areas where American firms can bring expertise and commitment to Saudi Arabia, like the Qiddiya resort that’s being built outside Riyadh. “It’s twice the size of Disney World — amazing,” he said.

And, much like his grandfather 75 years ago, he gives a vote of confidence in the current generation of Saudi leadership to see through the strategy.

“I believe that they will achieve the Vision 2030, because they have a king who understands traditional society and a young crown prince who is the driving force with the new generation. Alhamdullilah,” he said.

Hosni Mubarak: Egypt's warrior leader left his mark on Middle East history

Mubarak in air force uniform in 1975. (AFP)
Updated 11 min 1 sec ago

Hosni Mubarak: Egypt's warrior leader left his mark on Middle East history

  • While some may disagree with Mubarak’s legacy, his love for the country that he ruled for 30 years cannot be denied
  • The Egyptian leader died at a Cairo hospital at the age of 91 following health complications

CAIRO: Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who passed away on Tuesday, ruled Egypt for 30 years. His rule began in a spirit of reform, with the release of political prisoners, support for the independence of the judiciary and the freedom of the press and a great deal of tolerance for his political opponents.

What is certain is that Mubarak’s role in the contemporary history of Egypt lies mainly in the military, as he belonged to a generation of warrior leaders. He was chosen by Gamal Abdel Nasser after the defeat of 1967, when he was a colonel, in order to rebuild the destroyed air force and prepare it for the victory of October 1973.
Some may disagree about Mubarak’s legacy, but it is unfair and transgressive to underestimate his value and role as a pilot.
I will not forget a comment, from a friend of mine from the Gulf, on the change he witnessed in the character of Egypt during the country’s rush to try Mubarak, and even execute him, after his fall. “The crisis that the Egyptian people suffer from is that, for the first time, they have lost their two most important characteristics: Patience and tolerance,” he told me.
I will also never forget the comment of an English friend during Mubarak’s trial, and his transfer from his home to the hospital, and from there to the courtroom cage that had been specially built for him, and then to prison. At that time, my friend wondered: “Didn’t Mubarak fight with the army one day?” I replied: “He even participated in three wars: The Suez war in 1956, the June 1967 war, and finally the October 1973 war, which was truly the most important victory in the history of the Arabs.” The man marveled at the insult Mubarak had to endure, saying: “Had he been in my country, the situation would have been different.”

He resigned as president in 2011, ushering in elections won by the Muslim Brotherhood. (AP)

For sure, Mubarak belonged to the generation of great warrior leaders, and that is an undeniable role that cannot be erased. At the same time, he was the ruler of Egypt for 30 years, and he is certainly subject to criticism, agreements and differences.

It is possible to explain a part of Mubarak’s behavior on the eve of his removal from power in order to preserve the blood of the Egyptians, and his decision to remain in the country, by saying that he was a leader who fought for the sake of Egypt. He did not kill tens of thousands or destroy cities to remain in power. He did not run away from the accusations leveled against him. Rather, he was tried in his country as a former president — acquitted in some cases and convicted in one — which gave a symbolic value to Egypt.
I still remember when he said to me with love and pride, after I interviewed him in 2009, how he preserved all of Egypt’s history and topography, and how he had visited all of its cities. He spoke with a real passion, one that explains why he did not leave the country when he abdicated.
The trials of the former president were not the most severe acts against him — that,  I think, was the moment when his successors decided to withdraw all the medals and decorations he had received from him. I think that was the most difficult moment.
Many believe — and I am one of them — that a politician’s accountability for his errors should be in political action. I do not agree that accountability and justice for what are deemed political errors should be meted out through the use of vindictive punishments.

His final years as president saw rising discontent against him. (AFP)

There are those who considered Mubarak’s reign as three decades of darkness and dictatorship, of looting, corruption and retreat, but it can be noticed that the number of these people has decreased significantly during recent years. On the other hand, there is a large sector that believes Mubarak made right and wrong decisions, and these people believe that, had Mubarak decided to withdraw from public life after the death of his grandson in 2009, and the surgery he underwent, he would have had a distinguished position in the hearts of the Egyptians. There is a third group that calls itself “Mubarak’s children.” These people find in their former president nothing but good, and their position was strengthened because of the way the Muslim Brotherhood ruled.
So, as we see, there are understandable difference in assessing Mubarak’s legacy. What was not understood, however, was the sweeping and overpowering attack not on Mubarak the president, but on Mubarak the fighter pilot — Mubarak the man.
God was merciful to him. He gave him the chance to see a large part of his rehabilitation after he suffered a lot during the long months following the fall of his regime in 2011. He was ultimately cleared of all charges but, more importantly, he began to talk again about the role of the air force. His memoirs, which he wrote when he was vice president, were published to show him as a military commander and a fighter pilot who fought for his country.
For many Egyptians, it seemed he had been helped through  divine intervention. He entered intensive care about a month ago. A few days before his death, he received the news that his sons, Alaa and Gamal, had been acquitted in their final case. And one of the last things Mubarak said, according to his lawyer, Farid Al-Deeb, after he learned of the news of the innocence of his two sons, was: “Praise be to God. Our Lord has done justice to us after so many years.”
People will always remember that Mubarak gave a real margin to political forces and the media throughout his rule. This was one of the reasons he remained in power for so long, and was not the cause of his downfall.

Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy is a critically acclaimed multimedia journalist, writer and columnist who has covered war zones and conflicts worldwide. Twitter: @ALMenawy