‘Unity makes strength’ motto has shaped Belgium’s path
The date of July 21, 1831 — when Leopold of Saxe-Coburg swore his oath of allegiance to the new Constitution of Belgium and became the first Belgian king — is an important moment in Belgian history. Even though Belgian independence had been declared several months earlier in October 1830, our forefathers chose to celebrate National Day on July 21.
This year, our National Day happens to take place on the second day of Eid Al-Adha, adding more joy and festivity to the celebrations of the Belgian community in Saudi Arabia. I would like to extend my warmest wishes and sincerest congratulations to the Saudi people and all Muslims for a happy Eid Al-Adha and to congratulate all those performing Hajj.
With a large part of the adult population in the Kingdom being vaccinated, our hope of going back to a normal life and gathering at one table to celebrate with each other is moving one step closer to its full realization.
Certainly, national days are festive occasions in a nation’s calendar, but they are also an opportunity to take a look back at the path taken since independence and to build on the progress made, thereby setting the course for the future.
We Belgians had to rebuild our economy and sociopolitical structures from the ashes of the two world wars. Our motto, “Eendracht maakt macht/L’union fait la force” (unity makes strength), has shaped our pathway and determined Belgium’s endeavor to promote collaboration and consensus both domestically and internationally.
Shortly after the Second World War was over, Belgium emerged as the beating heart of Europe. Its capital city, Brussels, styled itself as the symbol of European unity and was consequently chosen to be the capital of the EU and a center for international decision-making, as it also hosts, among others, the headquarters of NATO.
On June 26, 1945, my country became one of the 51 founding members of the UN, signing the Charter of the United Nations and the Statute of the International Court of Justice. Since then, Belgium has served six times as a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council.
Over the years, the leaders of the Saudi Arabian and Belgian royal families have fostered a well-built and far-reaching bilateral collaboration through state visits. These visits contributed to people-to-people, state-to-state and business-to-business relations. Our ties of friendship were first established in 1919, when a young Prince Faisal stopped at the sorrowful scenes of the Flanders Fields to ponder the devastation caused by the First World War and pay tribute to the innocent lives lost during the war. His thoughtful gesture paved the way for future collaboration between Belgium and Saudi Arabia.
Belgium inaugurated a legation in Jeddah in 1954 and followed that by appointing its first ambassador to the Kingdom in 1963.
Over the years, the leaders of the Saudi Arabian and Belgian royal families have fostered a well-built and far-reaching bilateral collaboration through state visits.
In 2017, I was honored to be appointed as the first female resident ambassador to Saudi Arabia. I have been welcomed cordially and with open arms, and I knew that I was arriving at a remarkable time in the modern history of the Kingdom. The significance of this period stems from the enormous development that the country is undergoing on various levels. I am privileged to witness this change first-hand and to work closely with zealous Saudi friends to build bridges between our two kingdoms.
Today, both our kingdoms strive to achieve the spirit of true partnership in economic and international affairs, as well as in global issues such as peacemaking and international stability, sustainability and climate change. Belgium and Saudi Arabia work jointly in sectors of common interest such as healthcare, green hydrogen, transport and logistics. A successful example of this is Liege Airport, which was named the best cargo hub in the world in 2020. It last month signed a two-year commercial partnership with Saudia Cargo to increase cargo flights to and from the Belgian airport, which will in turn be connected to Saudia Cargo’s vast global network.
We have succeeded in maintaining our growth on many levels. In 2014, Brussels Airport became the first in the world to obtain CEIV Pharma certification from the International Air Transport Association because of its excellent pharmaceutical facilities and supply chain. During the challenging times of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Belgium has proved to be a true vaccine powerhouse. This is due to its years-long leading role in pharma and biotech, scoring high in all aspects of the biopharmaceutical value chain (including research and development, clinical trials, production, logistics and export) through a unique cluster of large and small companies, international players and new university spinoffs. The European Commission recently ranked Belgium as one of the best-performing countries in the EU when it comes to innovation.
Since January, 240 million coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines have been produced in Belgium and dispatched all over the world. The relationship between Brussels and Riyadh is strengthened through the vaccine trade. Saudi Arabia is a top destination thanks to the Kingdom’s purchase of more than 13 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, which is manufactured in Puurs, Belgium.
I am deeply humbled and profoundly honored to be at the forefront of working to further develop partnerships with different individuals and institutions in Saudi Arabia.
When I first arrived in Riyadh, I started an all-female basketball initiative together with my Saudi friend. Similarly, the Belgian Embassy is now a participating team in the Global Goals World Cup, an all-female football tournament that aims to promote the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Moreover, in recent months we have organized a number of (COVID-19 regulations-compliant) events at our embassy with a deep belief in the key role they play in bringing people together and building bridges between our countries. In October, for example, we hosted an event on breast cancer, and in January the Belgian Embassy in Riyadh was the backdrop for a fashion show organized by the iconic Saudi brand Lomar, which has a very passionate Belgian lead designer.
Please allow me to seize the opportunity of Belgian National Day to honor our strong Saudi-Belgian relations and partnerships. Our shared values are powerful points of departure for more collaboration and deeper bonds that will enable us to keep working together.
With these thoughts, I would like to express once again my congratulations on this special day and Hajj Mabrour and Eid Mubarak.
To end with, I would like to make reference to the floods that last week destroyed full towns and villages in Belgium and Germany, as well in the Netherlands and Luxembourg. We are very grateful to all those who expressed solidarity and have assisted our emergency services. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families.
• Dominique Mineur is the ambassador of Belgium to Saudi Arabia.