INTERVIEW: Saudi pavilion at Expo 2020 is a glimpse into KSA’s future, says French politician

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Updated 14 November 2021

INTERVIEW: Saudi pavilion at Expo 2020 is a glimpse into KSA’s future, says French politician

Olivier Cadic French politician. (Supplied)
  • Senator Olivier Cadic, who represents French expatriates, said Saudi Vision 2030 transformed the country in the past 5 years

RIYADH: French politician Olivier Cadic no longer recognizes Saudi Arabia. During a trip to the Kingdom to prepare for a visit by the France-Gulf countries friendship group he chairs in the Senate, he said he is enthusiastic about the “profound evolution”  of the country since the launch of Saudi Vision 2030.

The senator, who represents French expatriates and has visited 99 countries during 410 official trips, said he was touched by the welcome he received in the Kingdom.
“This is the first time that a parliamentarian from the host country has been there to welcome me as soon as I get off the plane,” he said. “This fact has a unique meaning and indicates that the level of friendship between Saudi Arabia and France is at its optimum.
“I am grateful to the Shoura (Council) for its welcome, and the manner in which a French parliamentarian is treated. I will never forget them and I will never forget Saudi Arabia.”

We have two countries looking to reform. President (Emmanuel) Macron is also seeking to fundamentally reform France. Reforming a country is not easy.

Olivier Cadic, French politician

During an interview with Arab News en Francais at the Alliance Francaise school in Riyadh, the French parliamentarian discussed the cooperation between the countries in the cultural, economic and military fields.

Q Since your election in 2014, and as president of the France-Gulf countries group in the Senate, you have seen the launch in 2016 of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and its implementation.
Five years later, what are your conclusions?
A Five years after launching this vision, I do not think we can reach any conclusions. We can only have observations. We can tell that this is a growing process and a dynamic has kicked in.
I noticed the difference because the first time I came to Saudi Arabia was in 2015, and when I returned in 2019, I did not recognize the country. This is my first observation.




Senator Olivier Cadic with French Ambassador Ludovic Pouille at the gated district of At-Turaif, northwest of Riyadh. It is one of the Kingdom’s most-significant historical treasures. (Supplied)

I am returning in 2021 to prepare for the friendship group visit. I would have liked to come back sooner, but the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible to travel. What I perceive is an ongoing dynamic, a real internal revolution that takes into account the population of the Kingdom, which is a young population, and therefore I see a political will to be in agreement with its population, and that this energy will positively drive the country to new heights.

Q You have visited Saudi Arabia several times. What changes do you see?
A The first thing that stood out between 2015 and 2019 was that people’s demeanor has changed; I felt they were smiling more. It really surprised me.
Besides, I wanted my partner to come with me because the country has changed a lot since 2015 and I wanted to see this country through her eyes also, not just through mine. The change is really profound and when we had a first look we were surprised, as it was not very positive for her in 2015 and it was really important that she was by my side so that we can watch, together, this country change.

Q You are visiting the Alliance Francaise school in Riyadh. What developments you perceive in Franco-Saudi cultural relations?
A I come, for that matter, to observe certain programs in which France is invested. Obviously, the Alliance Francaise supports the Francophonie, the learning of French, which is the language of the Enlightenment, of Voltaire, of Rousseau, that carries the values of our country. It is of utmost importance that we can share our language and our culture.
With the friendship group, we also plan to go to AlUla because there is really a collective, common work on the site, where France is deeply engaged. We want to see in which way the work was done, and how the alliance of France and Saudi Arabia can help enhance this exceptional archaeological heritage. This is one of the many angles and it would be difficult to summarize them, since there are many projects that go in this direction. It shows the attachment of our two countries, these cultures that blend together so well.
There is, once again, a real evolution in Saudi Arabia to bring out this local culture, which I believe will shine. And if France can help in spreading your culture, then it would be a very beautiful gift of confidence that you are giving us, in allowing us to work with you on this marriage of our cultures.

Q What are the new forms of cooperation between France and Saudi Arabia taking place now?
A There is a lot of mixed cooperation. Some is of economic nature, at the corporate level, with significant investments by French companies in Saudi Arabia. An example that comes to mind is the investments in the energy sector that EDF (Electricite de France), which is investing an € 800 million in Saudi Arabia, can make. These are companies that are investing massively to help develop Saudi Arabia’s economy, to support the Vision 2030 project that truly carries the country.

Q What about military cooperation between the two countries?
A The first thing I would like to say is how affected France is to see these recurring attacks that Saudi Arabia is subjected to on a regular basis. I would like to say that our country stands alongside yours to fight against the aggressions it is suffering. That is really fundamental to me.
After that, obviously, we have a common work and collective issues in front of us.
We will certainly talk about the situation in Lebanon, which despairs us, as well as the Saudi government, I believe. However, we will have to find solutions. We cannot let down the Lebanese people who are suffering from this situation. We are now in extensive discussions.
We admire the announcements made by the crown prince at COP 26, such as Green Riyadh, for example, with this tree-planting project. There is here a vision of the future that emerges.
It has been five years now since (Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman) announced Vision 2030, whereas it has only been five weeks since the president of the Republic announced France 2030. So somewhere, (the crown prince) might have inspired us, too, in looking ahead to reform your country.




Olivier Cadic, French politician

We have two countries looking to reform. President (Emmanuel) Macron is also seeking to fundamentally reform France. Reforming a country is not easy. This brings us together in all areas and that applies for diplomatic decisions as well as defense decisions. There are proximities. We think together. We work together. We are never very far from each other to make the decisions.

Q How is Saudi Arabia perceived in France today?
A My role is to allow the French to go beyond the cliches. There is an intellectual laziness in thinking that Saudi Arabia looks like this or that. It is a view inherited from the past. In fact, we are talking about a country without knowing it.
My wish is that the French realize that the changes in the country are profound. We cannot judge. You have to come and see this country, meet its people … (I) invite the French to come along with me to meet this country and to help it, to stand by its side, because I believe that Saudi Arabia may need France to help it succeed in its goals.
But France also needs the Saudis so it can move forward and, therefore, we must put all the cliches behind us, look at each other and work together. I think, given what Saudi Arabia is doing, the French will be in awe of the projects here in Riyadh, but also across the country.
What I wish is for the French to come here and discover this country.

Q Where will Saudi Arabia be in 10 years?
A It all depends on how this pandemic will be defeated in order to be able to say where the country will be in 10 years. I think the country will surprise very much for a good and simple reason: I visited Saudi Arabia’s pavilion at Dubai Expo 2020 and I saw that it was the most visited of the 190 pavilions in the expo. This shows that there is an interest in your country.
In this pavilion are precisely displayed the vision, the projects on which the Kingdom is working. So if you want to know what Saudi Arabia will be like 10 years from now, let me give you a tip: Go visit the pavilion at Dubai Expo.

Saudi sports minister follows up on preparations of Kingdom’s F1 race

Saudi sports minister follows up on preparations of Kingdom’s F1 race
Updated 03 December 2021

Saudi sports minister follows up on preparations of Kingdom’s F1 race

Saudi sports minister follows up on preparations of Kingdom’s F1 race
  • The minister said that the Kingdom is proud of the work made by the hands of Saudi citizens, as well as Saudi companies

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal was briefed on the latest developments of the Formula One Grand Prix which will be hosted by Jeddah Corniche from Dec. 3 to 5, state news agency SPA reported.
“We have the privilege of hosting this huge sporting event, which represents a dream for all motorsport lovers, and this event would not have been witnessed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia without the grace of Allah Almighty and then the support and follow-up of the Crown Prince. We promise everyone better hosting to achieve the goals of the Kingdom's Vision 2030,” he said.
The minister added that the Kingdom is proud of the work made by the hands of Saudi citizens, as well as Saudi companies.
On Sunday, Makkah Governor Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, advisor to King Salman, was briefed on the latest preparations for the Saudi Formula One race.
Al-Faisal listened to an explanation by Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal about the 27-turn, 6,175-meter-long circuit, the second-longest track in F1 history. 
Prince Khalid, who is the president of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, confirmed the completion of the preparations for hosting the F1 race.


Frankly Speaking: France has a lot to learn from Saudi Arabia on combating terror financing, says Senate member Nathalie Goulet

Frankly Speaking: France has a lot to learn from Saudi Arabia on combating terror financing, says Senate member Nathalie Goulet
Updated 03 December 2021

Frankly Speaking: France has a lot to learn from Saudi Arabia on combating terror financing, says Senate member Nathalie Goulet

Frankly Speaking: France has a lot to learn from Saudi Arabia on combating terror financing, says Senate member Nathalie Goulet
  • Leading French politician and foreign affairs expert makes the comments as President Macron embarks on Saudi visit
  • Gulet gives her views on “Frankly Speaking,” the series of video interviews with regional and international policymakers

DUBAI: France and the rest of Europe can learn from Saudi Arabia’s approach to combating the financing of terrorism, a leading French politician and foreign affairs expert has told Arab News.

Nathalie Goulet, a member of the Senate of France and the country’s commission on foreign affairs and defense, said: “Saudi Arabia has its own place on the subject of fighting financing of terrorism, and they do it very seriously. It is matching international standards on the subject.”

Goulet, who recently returned from a visit to the Kingdom for meetings with senior policymakers about the campaign to halt terrorism finance, highlighted Saudi initiatives with Etidal, the center for combating extremist ideology, as well as actions by the Saudi Central Bank, and financial intelligence services.

“In Europe and especially in France there has sometimes been a kind of bad habit to link Saudi Arabia with the financing of terrorism and we have to break this image and what is now purely fake news,” she added.

Nathalie Goulet noted that the Muslim Brotherhood was still playing a significant role in terrorism funding in Europe.

Goulet, speaking just before a visit to the Kingdom by French President Emmanuel Macron, gave her views on “Frankly Speaking,” the series of video interviews with prominent regional and international policymakers and businesspeople.

In a wide-ranging interview, she also spoke of the rising threat from the Muslim Brotherhood and its role in terrorism finance, the volatile relationship between France and Algeria, and the reforms in Saudi Arabia under the Vision 2030 strategy.

On terror funding, she contrasted the practice among the Muslim community in France, where zakat donations are made in cash and therefore harder to control, with the situation in the Kingdom.

“Saudi Arabia put in place a system to prevent any collection of zakat by cash. Everything is by banking transfer to a special NGO and that is very useful, very clever, and also very, very safe.

“On collecting zakat, Saudi Arabia can be an example for us because we are absolutely unable to track the money and, at the same time of course, most of the zakat is giving (money) for good purposes. But sometimes it’s not and we try to ban cash as much as possible. Saudi Arabia is giving us an excellent example,” she said.

Frank Kane hosts Frankly Speaking: Watch more episodes.

She noted that the Muslim Brotherhood was still playing a significant role in terrorism funding in Europe and pointed out the organization’s influence in the Islamic community and within humanitarian organizations.

“First of all, they have a lot of humanitarian actions but then they use the same money to sponsor terrorism all over Europe. We have to ban those people, definitely. Austria already banned the Muslim Brotherhood from Austria; Germany is on the way. France – not yet – but I am pushing them a lot,” she added.

Goulet hit out specifically at the role of the Islamic Relief organization, which she alleged had been aiding terrorism finance, supported the terror-designated Hamas organization in Palestine, and claimed its executives had been responsible for spreading anti-Semitic messages on social media.

“So, what we have to do is track the money and then try to ban any financing for those people. We have to check and have strong investigations into how they collect money and what they are doing with this money, and we have to stop any terror financing absolutely,” she said.

Statement by Islamic Relief Worldwide

Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) categorically denies funding terrorism and also denies any support for Hamas. As a registered charity regulated by the Charity Commission of England and Wales, IRW is independently audited on behalf of governments, UN bodies, and other significant institutional donors several times a year. Between 2009 and 2019, the organization underwent over 500 internal and external audits which found no evidence of using funds for anything other than saving lives and contributing to the global humanitarian agenda in line with the important humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, and independence.

We have stringent checks in place to ensure that money only goes to where it is needed – helping the most vulnerable. We routinely screen all trustees, senior management, staff, volunteers, partners, and contractors to ensure they have no links to proscribed groups or entities of any kind.

IRW rejects and condemns terrorism and believes that all forms of discrimination – including anti-Semitism – are unacceptable. Regrettably, there have been historic cases of individuals falling short of our values, but these have been dealt with firmly and swiftly, and the individuals involved are no longer with the organization. Following these past incidents, the Charity Commission of England and Wales conducted a fact-finding review last year which concluded that we had responded thoroughly and appropriately. In addition, an independent review was conducted by the former UK Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC, which found that the organization was not institutionally anti-Semitic.


You can find a link to the Independent Commission report here.

You can find the Charity Commission’s statement on the completion of its fact-finding review here.

The Kingdom’s resolve in tackling the funding of terrorism was an example of the positive changes taking place in the country under the Vision 2030 reform plan, which was having a profound effect on life in Saudi Arabia.

“When you see the difference on the streets, the way that the youth is happy in the country, and when you see the development, it is clear that something has happened. And it’s the Vision 2030 of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman which has brought it about and will bring such a lot of hope in the country,” Goulet added.

On French foreign policy toward Muslim countries, she thought that the issue was complicated by France’s colonial history. “It’s always very emotional,” she said.

With regard to Algeria, France’s former colony, relations with which have been strained owing to comments made by Macron, and some visa issues, Goulet expected the situation to improve, adding that “links with Algeria are very strong.”

On Lebanon, a country Macron has visited several times in attempts to help it through its intensifying crisis, she said the Lebanese people should look to a new political generation to repatriate the proceeds of corruption held in overseas havens, rather than seeking financial bailouts from countries such as France.

However, she spoke out against French policy in Lebanon with regard to Hezbollah. “The government for the last 15 years has been treating Hezbollah in a very strange way – like there is a political Hezbollah and a military Hezbollah, and we have to ban the military Hezbollah to discuss with the political Hezbollah.

“But the reality is that there is just one Hezbollah. Just as there is one Hamas, there is one Hezbollah, there is not one military and one political. It’s the same terrorist group,” she said.
Goulet was also critical of attitudes toward Arabs and Muslims within France. A recent Arab News survey with YouGov showed that 64 percent of French people had a negative impression of the minority groups.

“I think it’s a fact unfortunately and it’s because of the major political leaders surfing on the wave of populism right now. It’s something which will help them collect votes,” she added, referring to the presidential elections in France next year.

“We also have the yellow vests (movement) and street agitation, along with conspiracy theories, and everything is boiling in the same pan to produce something that smells very bad.”

Goulet, who is a member of the Centrist Union political grouping in the French Senate, was disparaging of the presidential prospects of Eric Zemmour, the rightwing populist who recently gained ground in opinion polls.

She said: “I think these things will collapse soon. It was just like a small fire. His campaign will collapse. That is not France, I mean that cannot be France. I mean this guy is a pure populist. He has no team and I hope he will run out of money soon and then will disappear in the trash because he doesn’t deserve anything else but trash.”

The politician expressed hope that relations between France and Britain – under increasing strain since Brexit and the arrival of the government of Boris Johnson – could improve but noted that the “misunderstandings” in Anglo-French affairs went all the way back to French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte.

With regard to the latest flashpoint – the migration of refugees across the English Channel – Goulet said the situation was “unbearable,” but pointed out that higher levels of social benefits were available to refugees in the UK compared to France and other EU countries.

“I know for sure that Britain attracts emigrants because it’s easier for them to live there and have some subsidies and help. So, maybe one of the keys is for Britain to be more restrictive regarding migrants so it doesn’t look so attractive – maybe.”


Cybersecurity conference a hit with young Saudi programmers

Cybersecurity conference a hit with young Saudi programmers
Updated 03 December 2021

Cybersecurity conference a hit with young Saudi programmers

Cybersecurity conference a hit with young Saudi programmers
  • Children from across the country met to exchange ideas and experiences and to enter competitions

RIYADH: The three-day @hack conference, a cybersecurity event held in Riyadh, attracted adults and children alike. Kids from across the country met to exchange ideas and experiences and to enter competitions.

Faisal Al-Qahtani, an 11-year-old who enjoys coding games, told Arab News: “I started programming when I was nine. I watched some tutorials online to improve my coding skills, and now I use software like Unity, Visual Studio, Blender, Audacity, and many other programs.

“I think this conference should not be limited to cybersecurity. I met new people, and I learned more about programming,” Al-Qahttani said.

Another 11-year-old, Abdulaziz Al-Odan, said he came to @hack to learn more about programming and to meet like-minded enthusiasts. “I heard that there are a lot of competitions here, like Catch the Flag and Bug Bounty,” he said. “But I was lacking a team, so I came here to meet people and now I have completed my team.”

Al-Odan first discovered his talent for coding through Satr — a free Arabic platform for learning programming languages. “I created an account on the platform and learned about Java scripts, and now I have my own scripts,” Al-Odan said.

Ayedh Al-Qahttani, 14, told Arab News that he became interested in hacking when his Sony account was hacked a year ago, which caused him huge problems.

“The hacker who took (control of) my Sony account used social-engineering techniques. I went straight to YouTube to learn about hacking, and I believe that researching is important to develop skills,” he said.

He praised the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones for creating the @hack event. “They gave us this beautiful opportunity to attend such a conference. I learned from many people, and I got to meet my team. I hope we see @hack next year,” he added.


OIC chief, Russian envoy discuss ways to strengthen ties

OIC chief, Russian envoy discuss ways to strengthen ties
Updated 03 December 2021

OIC chief, Russian envoy discuss ways to strengthen ties

OIC chief, Russian envoy discuss ways to strengthen ties

JEDDAH: The secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Hissein Brahim Taha, received the permanent representative of Russia to the OIC, Ramazan Abdulatipov, in Jeddah on Thursday.

Both parties valued the ties that connect the Islamic world and Russia and explored more ways to strengthen fruitful dialogue and cooperation between the organization and the Russian Federation in various fields.

Earlier, Taha met a number of foreign envoys to Saudi Arabia. They congratulated the new OIC chief on taking office last month and discussed their countries’ relations with the organization. 


Saudi authority holds workshops to combat corruption

Saudi authority holds workshops to combat corruption
Updated 03 December 2021

Saudi authority holds workshops to combat corruption

Saudi authority holds workshops to combat corruption

RIYADH: The Oversight and Anti-Corruption Authority, in cooperation with various government agencies, organized several workshops and awareness programs between Nov. 28 and Dec. 2, with the participation of a number of specialists.

Workshops were held in the ministries of defense, interior, and foreign affairs, in addition to the Saudi Electronic University.

This series of workshops, awareness programs and initiatives, in cooperation with the General Bureau for Auditing, seek to protect integrity, combat corruption and enhance the principle of transparency in work environments.