Saudi-US bond will last another 75 years, says US State Department spokesperson

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Illustration by Luis Grañena
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US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 February 2020

Saudi-US bond will last another 75 years, says US State Department spokesperson

  • Saudi Arabia's reforms usher in new era for both countries, says US State Department spokesperson

RIYADH: The Saudi-US relationship has spanned 75 years and will last for another 75 years, US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus told Arab News on a recent return visit to the Kingdom.
Ortagus was sent to Riyadh as deputy US Treasury attache in 2010 and lived in Saudi Arabia for almost two years.
“It’s funny what a difference 10 years makes. It doesn’t even seem like the same country,” she said.
One of the most striking changes is that women are no longer obliged to wear abayas, the Islamic loose-fitting, full-length garment. Ortagus said that she was about to pack her abaya for the tour but realized there was no need for it.
The significance of the changes is easily lost on those living outside the Kingdom, she said.
“I think that’s a story many Americans don’t see. If you had not lived here 10 years ago, 20 years ago, you wouldn’t understand it the way that those of us coming back do.”
Catching up with old friends has given Ortagus a wider perspective on the new Saudi Arabia. “I was reminded of this at dinner last night by a prominent Saudi woman, who is happy and proud of the reforms. She made the excellent point that Saudi women have been strong, capable and educated for a long time,” she said.
The woman told Ortagus that Saudi women want their peers in the US to understand them, not feel pity for them.
“Saudi women are not in need of being rescued,” Ortagus said, adding that American women also fought for decades to win the right to vote.

Growing through tough times
Reflecting on Saudi-US ties, Ortagus said: “We went through a really tough time in our relationship after 9/11. What eventually grew out of that was one of the most robust counterterrorism relationships in the world.”
The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 also led to tensions between the two countries.
However, “we haven’t shied away from talking about that and have continued to have a respectful dialogue on human rights,” she said.
Ortagus said that US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both acknowledge the Kingdom’s sovereignty.
“We never come to a country and say, you must do things our way. We never come to preach that. We recognize that there are a lot of things that we also get wrong in the US. But we also recognize that when we see a problem, a challenge or an injustice, we try to confront it. We try to change. We try to constantly evolve as a society,” she said.
The future looks bright for both countries amid reforms that are strengthening established links, especially economically, Ortagus said.
She said that the US welcomes Saudi Arabia’s help on Mideast issues. “We’d love the Kingdom’s help on things like the Middle East peace plan and vision that Jared Kushner has laid out. It may not be a perfect plan, but if we’re ever going to have peace in this region, it’s going to come from Saudi getting in and being involved, helping us and helping everyone in this process.”

Evil regime in Iran
As Iran continues its malign attacks around the world, using its proxies to destabilize the region, Saudi-US relations have to remain strong in the face of the threat from Tehran, Ortagus said.
“They have shown that no matter what challenges are put in their path, they are going to fund terrorism and continue their ballistic missile program.”
The US is familiar with Iran’s behavior, she said, adding: “We know the regime wants to destabilize Saudi Arabia and its neighbors. We are very aware of that.”
The Trump administration is the first since President Reagan’s administration three decades ago to stand forcefully against the Iranian regime.
She added that this is the first time in decades that the regime in Iran has been told no. “They’re not going to behave in ways that will destabilize the region, and threaten the US and its allies,” she said.
Commenting on joint security and the fight against terrorism, she said that the Kingdom remains the most important US ally in the “maximum pressure campaign against the regime in Iran.”


Kids going stir-crazy in isolation? Here’s how to keep them occupied

Updated 41 min 1 sec ago

Kids going stir-crazy in isolation? Here’s how to keep them occupied

  • Saudi mothers relate challenges in keeping their children from getting bored amid nationwide lockdown

RIYADH: School’s out for the foreseeable future, but every child’s dream is every mother’s worst nightmare. With nowhere else to go during the day, and most entertainment venues in the city cordoned off, mothers are discussing how the crisis has affected them, and more importantly, what they’re doing to control it.

Dr. Marwa Elagra, an assistant professor at REU, told Arab News about how she and her three children (4th grade, 1st grade, and nursery) were coping with the new social distancing policy and the challenges it posed for their education.

“In the beginning, during the first few days, their schools weren’t yet prepared for the sudden shutdown. It took them almost a week to prepare themselves,” she said.

Despite a somewhat bumpy beginning, things are starting to pick up. 

“They have virtual classes now, and interactive livestreaming with a certain schedule. They can follow up with their teachers, just like in a real classroom. They also send videos that students can watch at any time,” she said.

However, she struggles with getting the children out of “vacation mode,” and convincing them that they still need to study.

“That’s the main challenge in all of this. It’s quite difficult to control the kids around the house, especially since you can’t take them out. They’re jumping around all over the place. They’re doing their homework, but their brains just aren’t in the zone for it,” she said.

They (children) have virtual classes now, and interactive livestreaming with a certain schedule. They can follow up with their teachers, just like in a real classroom. They also send videos that students can watch at any time.

Dr. Marwa Elagra, assistant professor

She hopes that things return to normal soon, or at the very least that a clear plan for the future will emerge after the proposed isolation period is up.

“I hope it doesn’t last for long, especially for primary classes. It is difficult to continue online; they need to interact with their teachers. It is a great pressure on us as moms, we can’t fulfill the role of teachers who are more experienced with children. I am in the academic field myself but I don’t have experience with kids,” she said.

She also has concerns about what these decisions could mean for her children’s academic future and hopes everything will be resolved soon.

“Are they going to give the kids exams or they will end school without them and just count the first term results? Are they going to stop and continue earlier at the beginning of the next academic year? This unclear vision of what will happen is creating the panic between most moms,” she said.

She also has advice for mothers going through the same thing. 

“Have more patience, support and encourage your kids to do more reading, and not only academic reading. Look at the positive side and make use of this long vacation in increasing the knowledge and skills of your kids,” she said.

Dr. May Al-Khudhairy, dean of the College of Applied Medical Sciences at Riyadh Elm University, is making the most of the time she is spending at home with her four children.

“I love having them home because during the week they get home so late that I don’t spend enough quality time with them. I’m even reconsidering all their after-school activities. I’ve forgotten how this time is precious and we need to savor it as long as possible,” she said.

With colleges across the country closed until further notice, Al-Khudhairy is also working from home, a situation that makes it easier to supervise her children and make sure their schoolwork gets done. 

“We sit outdoors and work parallel. The older kids will do their school assignments, and the youngest does her simple Pre-K activities that I find online, from sites like Storynory and Pinterest,” she said.

She recommends that mothers try to keep children occupied with tasks that can be both informative and entertaining. 

“We bake brownies and cupcakes and do experiments, like creating slime at home. Anything to keep busy. They paint, and every day they change it around. And of course, we wash our hands a zillion times a day,” she said.