LONDON: Saudi women and youth have been heavily involved in the lead up to their country’s G20 Summit, and have thus been major beneficiaries of the chance for open dialogue and inclusive policymaking, according to experts.
The annual summit gives the Kingdom a chance to reaffirm the ties that have made it the West’s key partner in the Middle East for 75 years, experts said at an online event on Tuesday hosted by British think tank Chatham House and attended by Arab News.
Saudi leadership of the G20 has had a major impact on the Kingdom’s civil society, said Dr. Hanaa Almoaibed, research fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies.
Despite the challenges of holding the summit online, the G20 is “definitely a capacity-building process for a lot of young Saudis,” she added.
“Being involved in the political process, in the policymaking process for the first time for a lot of young professionals, is a huge insight into the way international relations works.”
In addition to the flagship summit of world leaders, Saudi Arabia has also hosted over 100 smaller meetings and events addressing a range of topics including the coronavirus pandemic, digital access in the workplace and climate change.
One of the major areas that the Saudi G20 secretariat has focused on, Almoaibed said, is women’s empowerment and providing a space for Saudi women and others to voice their hopes for their country’s future.
Instrumental in this was the W20, a specific group of the G20 focused on fostering gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.
“The W20 was exciting because it really involved women from all over the country,” said Almoaibed. “It was led by a local organization that was able to bring women from all over the country to open a national dialogue, discussing the things they’d faced that had prevented them from achieving what they wanted to achieve or their own personal goals.”
The value here, she said, is that “there was a lot of trust in that format — they were able to develop an action plan for women in the country based on the challenges they face.”
The G20 has also given Saudi Arabia a platform to reiterate why it has been the West’s key regional partner for 75 years, said David Rundell, former chief of mission at the US Embassy in Riyadh.
He added that in the face of hostility from some American politicians, the Kingdom can use the G20 Summit as an opportunity to refocus global attention on what has made the US-Saudi partnership so enduring.
“Saudi Arabia has been a strong partner of both Britain and the US for 75 years. In counterterrorism cooperation, Saudi Arabia has saved American lives. In global energy markets, Saudi Arabia has frequently stabilized supply and demand when political or natural disasters disrupt things.” Rundell said.
“I think it’s fair to say in the recent past Saudi Arabia has promoted a moderate form of Islam. But most importantly for Britain and the US is that Saudi Arabia remains a power that values and promotes regional stability. Those are reasons for continued engagement.”
The flagship G20 Summit, hosted by King Salman, will take place online on Nov. 21-22.