Growing Greek-Saudi business ties build on history 

Exports from Greece to Saudi Arabia and vice versa have played a prominent role in the flowering of their commercial relationship. (AFP/File Photo)
Exports from Greece to Saudi Arabia and vice versa have played a prominent role in the flowering of their commercial relationship. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 26 March 2021

Growing Greek-Saudi business ties build on history 

Exports from Greece to Saudi Arabia and vice versa have played a prominent role in the flowering of their commercial relationship. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Greek engineering expertise is bringing Saudi Arabia closer to its Vision 2030 goals, cementing historic ties 
  • Greek construction giants Salfo & Associates SA and SETE Saudia are just two players contributing to the Kingdom’s development

RIYADH: In recent decades, investors from Greece and Saudi Arabia have collaborated on a number of joint ventures, mirroring the positive trajectory of their engagement on political and diplomatic levels.

Exports from Greece to Saudi Arabia and vice versa have played a prominent role in the flowering of their commercial relationship.

Viewed through the prism of history, the multidimensional ties that bind Greece and Saudi Arabia today are a continuation of Greek-Arab relations that date back centuries. For proof, one need look only at the artifacts preserved in the Riyadh Museum for History and Archeology, including Greek coins, or drachmas, dating back more than 2,000 years.




The Jeddah Fountain is an awe-inspiring monument to Greek-Saudi friendship. (Photo by Tarek Emam)

More broadly, scholarly and architectural influences of ancient Greece can be seen to this day throughout the region, from Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Levant, to Mesopotamia, Iran and even India.

Through the trade links and conquests of antiquity, Hellenistic ideas blended with those of Arab and later Muslim thinkers, in everything from mathematics and medicine to astronomy and philosophy.

Back then, the Arab world traded in pearls and rare fragrances. Today, Saudi Arabia’s most important export to Greece is crude oil, while Greece has been a long-standing supplier of cotton seeds, metals, food items such as margarine, processed goods, nuts and fruits, and pharmaceuticals.

In 2020, Greek exports to Saudi Arabia were valued at $339.04 million while its imports from the Kingdom stood at $620.57 million, according to the UN Comtrade database on international trade.

Food items have always been an especially popular Greek export to Saudi Arabia, but few people are aware that Greece — home to so many ancient stone-hewn wonders — is also a major exporter of construction materials, including steel, stone, plaster and other building components.




This picture taken on January 11, 2020, shows a general view of Riyadh. (AFP/File Photo)

With Saudi Arabia’s expanding tourism sector and booming population, there are ample business opportunities for nations like Greece to share their expertise.

Greek companies are active participants in the Kingdom’s infrastructure development and expansion as it tries to meet its Vision 2030 goals — the reform agenda aimed at opening Saudi Arabia to the world and diversifying its economy away from oil.

At the fourth Future Investment Initiative forum held in Riyadh in February, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced an ambitious strategy to double the population of Riyadh from its current population of around 7.5 million people and turn it into one of the world’s top 10 urban economies by 2030.

Planners envisage a livable, human-centric city replete with green spaces, recreational facilities and an urban lifestyle designed to attract talented professionals from around the world to the biggest city in the Middle East.

The same was true in the 1970s, when the booming city needed the skills of a master-planner. The authorities called in Constantinos Doxiadis, an architect and urban planner, who had worked on several projects in his native Greece.

With Riyadh in the midst of oil-fueled economic and demographic growth, Doxiadis experimented with the idea of a US-style grid system, still in evidence in the Al-Olaya district of the city today.




A picture taken on March 16, 2021, shows a view of the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) in the Saudi capital Riyadh. (AFP/File Photo)

Saudi government officials have portrayed the latest “Riyadh Renaissance” as an integral part of the larger success of Vision 2030. This means more opportunities for infrastructure development in real estate, housing and mass transit for Greek companies specializing in these fields.

Among Saudi Arabia’s most ambitious plans beyond the capital is the creation of all new coastal resorts and “smart cities” — including the Red Sea Project and NEOM.

The Red Sea Project is a regenerative tourism destination along Saudi Arabia’s west coast and one of three mega-projects announced by the crown prince in July 2017.

The first phase of the project includes 16 hotels, providing 3,000 rooms across five islands, and two resorts on the mainland. Retail, entertainment and other commercial facilities will also be included in the first phase.

The Red Sea project, scheduled to be completed in 2030, will ultimately feature 50 hotels with 8,000 hotel rooms and around 1,300 housing units distributed over 22 islands. A yacht marina, entertainment centers and an international airport, along with public and logistical facilities, will be among the attractions.

NEOM, located in northwest Saudi Arabia, is being built with at a total investment of $500 billion. The aim is to make it a global center for technology and innovation, with hyper-connected communities living and working in an environmentally sustainable ecosystem that does not further pollute the planet.

Greek expertise in construction and smart structures is likely to be utilized in the implementation of these Saudi mega-projects. Construction industry leaders who have already collaborated closely with the Kingdom include Athens-based Salfo and Associates SA.




A man points at a map of the new Riyadh Metro in the Saudi capital on December 9, 2019. (AFP/File Photo)

Originally founded in 1994, Salfo deals in international consulting services and infrastructure projects. The company has offices in Cyprus, the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Eastern Europe, and a branch in Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom has hired Salfo to design smart car parks across its cities using the latest parking and payment technology.

SETE Energy Saudia for Industrial Projects Ltd. — or SETE Saudia for short — is another big player. It began work in the Kingdom about 40 years ago, first incorporated under the name of Petrola International.

The Greek-founded company started life in the 1940s as a shipping and trading concern. After establishing a strong presence in Saudi Arabia’s western region, it expanded into oil and gas, civil engineering projects, real estate and water treatment.

Over the decades, SETE Saudia has executed projects for the Kingdom’s mass transit network, which serves millions of pilgrims who travel to Makkah and Madinah every year.




Over the decades, SETE Saudia has executed projects for the Kingdom’s mass transit network, which serves millions of pilgrims who travel to Makkah and Madinah every year. (AFP/File Photo)

In 1985, SETE Saudia designed and built the iconic Jeddah Fountain — the tallest of its kind in the world — which shoots a jet of water 312 meters into the air at a rate of 375 kilometers per hour.

“Of all our achievements in the Kingdom over the past 30 years, the Jeddah Fountain is certainly the most visible,” Richard Bacos, then-chairman of the firm’s technical services, told Arab News in a 2005 interview. “It makes us feel very proud every day of every month of every year.”

The fountain remains an awe-inspiring monument to Greek-Saudi friendship on the Jeddah skyline.

CEO Marlon Saab said SETE Saudia is currently executing many joint projects in the Kingdom, including the development of community housing, the construction of marinas and renovations to water-treatment facilities.

“As the Kingdom diversifies its economy with Vision 2030, there are growth opportunities in several sectors,” he told Arab News.

“We hope to be part of this great country’s people and economy for decades to come.”


Saudi Arabia’s biggest gym chain swings to loss

Saudi Arabia’s biggest gym chain swings to loss
Updated 20 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s biggest gym chain swings to loss

Saudi Arabia’s biggest gym chain swings to loss
  • Operates 135 gyms in UAE and KSA
  • Pandemic has hit fitness sector hard

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s biggest gym chain swung to a first quarter loss as the pandemic forced the closure of thousands of fitness clubs worldwide.
Leejam Sports Company reported a net loss of more than SR6.9 million in the first quarter compared to a profit of SR6.2 million a year earlier, it said in filing to the Tadawul stock exchange where its shares are listed.
Overall revenues dipped by about a quarter over the period to SR148.5 million, it said.
Total gym memberships, personal training revenues and rental income fell by more than SR49 million as a result of gym closures in the Kingdom from Feb.5, 2021 to March 6, 2021, it said.
Meanwhile the need to apply precautionary measures in response to the pandemic reduced the number of members joining the clubs.
Leejam operates some 135 Fitness Time centers in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.


‘Many more airlines will go under’ Qatar Airways boss tells CNN

‘Many more airlines will go under’ Qatar Airways boss tells CNN
Updated 20 April 2021

‘Many more airlines will go under’ Qatar Airways boss tells CNN

‘Many more airlines will go under’ Qatar Airways boss tells CNN
  • Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al-Baker gave a bleak assessment of the challenges facing the industry as it struggles to recover the collapse in global air travel

DUBAI: Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al-Baker has warned that many more airlines will be forced out of business by the pandemic.
In an exclusive interview on CNN’s Quest Means Business, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al-Baker gave a bleak assessment of the challenges facing the industry as it struggles to recover the collapse in global air travel.
“By the time this pandemic is over, there will only be few airlines that are strong and will continue operating,” he said. “A lot of other airlines will go under. And this will continue to happen, because we have not seen the worst of it over yet.”
He said that returning the airline industry to full strength should be a key priority to boost the global economic outlook.


“If this pandemic prolongs for too long, this will completely destroy the world’s economy which is so dependent on airlines for delivering business, carrying freight around, and most importantly creating jobs,” he said.
The outspoken airline chief highlighted some of the safety measures adopted by the airline and its hub at Hamad International Airport in Doha.
These include high-tech temperature sensors, ultraviolet disinfectant processes, and mask-wearing on flights.
He also spoke about the process of asking the company’s shareholders – the Qatari government – for a cash injection during the pandemic, “I couldn’t just jump the queue and go and tell my boss, the ruler of my country, that our situation is so dire, and this is what we need. Because I am sure there were a lot of other people in the queue before me telling him the same thing.”

The CEO also spoke about access to vaccinations and mitigating the risks amid the slow roll out of vaccines in some countries. He told Quest, “It will be a problem for the aviation industry. And we will have to work a way within this risks that we will have to take. But we will have to do things, we'll have to put processes, we'll have to put systems in place to mitigate that risk.” A resurgence of the coronavirus in many countries in recent weeks is threatening to quash some positive signs that had been slowly emerging from the sector. At the same time many passengers are reluctant to fly even where permitted, because of safety concerns and confusion over the different vaccination, testing and quarantine requirements of different countries. Industry body IATA has been trying to address that challenge with its trial Travel Pass initiative aimed at informing passengers about what tests, vaccines and other measures they require at their destinations.

Eni helps UAE emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah look for natural gas

Eni helps UAE emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah look for natural gas
Updated 20 April 2021

Eni helps UAE emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah look for natural gas

Eni helps UAE emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah look for natural gas
  • Eni is already present in Ras Al-Khaimah operating Offshore Block A

DUBAI: Italian energy giant Eni is helping the UAE's northernmost emirate explore for gas.

Its Eni RAK unit has struck an exploration and production agreement with Ras Al-Khaimah Petroleum Authority, the Italian company said in a statement.
The agreement relates to "Block 7" which covers an area of 430 square kilometers. Eni RAK will act as operator of the block with a 90 percent participating interest and Ras Al Khaimah’s national oil company RAK Gas as a partner, with a 10 percent stake.
"Block 7 represents an under-explored acreage in a complex thrust belt geological setting, similar to that of the recent discovery of Mahani in the adjacent Sharjah Emirate," Eni said in a statement.
"The newly acquired 3D seismic will allow the joint venture to assess the geological setting of the area and eventually unlock its hydrocarbon potential. The presence of the existing gas processing facilities in the emirate would also allow a rapid development of any discoveries."
Eni has been involved in a number of gas finds in the Middle East in recent years, most notably in Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean where the discoveries have ushered in dramatic economic transformations.
Eni is already present  in Ras Al-Khaimah operating Offshore Block A where, after an initial geological and geophysical study period, preparations for drilling operations have started, it said.
The company holds the largest exploration acreage among the international oil companies present in the UAE covering more than 26,000  square kilometers.


UAE extends key parts of $13.6bn economic support plan until mid-2022

UAE extends key parts of $13.6bn economic support plan until mid-2022
Updated 20 April 2021

UAE extends key parts of $13.6bn economic support plan until mid-2022

UAE extends key parts of $13.6bn economic support plan until mid-2022
  • Move will help banks offer new loans
  • Part of wider response to pandemic

The UAE Central Bank has extended key parts of its 50 billion dirams ($13.6 billion) economic support plan until mid-2022.
Under this extension, financial institutions will still be able to benefit from a zero-cost liquidity facility covered by a guarantee of 50 billion dirhams until June 30, 2022, it said in a statement on Tuesday.
The extension decision enables banks to provide new loans and financing to individual clients, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and other private sector companies affected by the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The extension of the targeted economic support plan will provide continuous support from the financial system for the sectors adversely affected by the pandemic,” said Governor Khalid Al-Tameemi.
“This comes as part of support for the recovery phase, in line with the Emirates Central Bank’s mandate to ensure Financial and monetary stability in the Emirates,” he explained.
The Targeted Economic Support Plan is a comprehensive program that covers all measures taken by the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates in response to the coronavirus pandemic.


Saudi Arabia reduces US bonds holdings by 27.9% in 2021

Saudi Arabia reduces US bonds holdings by 27.9% in 2021
Updated 20 April 2021

Saudi Arabia reduces US bonds holdings by 27.9% in 2021

Saudi Arabia reduces US bonds holdings by 27.9% in 2021
  • Saudi Arabia’s investments in US Treasury bonds included $105.98 billion in “long-term bonds”

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia reduced its holdings of US Treasury bonds to $132.9 billion by the end of February, down by $2.2 billion on a monthly basis, Okaz newspaper reported.
Saudi Arabia has reduced its holdings by 27.93 percent during the last 12 months to $132.9 billion by the end of February of this year.
The Kingdom maintained its 14th position among the largest holders of US bonds in February 2021.
Saudi Arabia’s investments in US Treasury bonds included $105.98 billion in “long-term bonds,” representing 80 percent of the total, and $26.92 billion in “short-term bonds,” accounting for 20 percent of the total.