How Saudi-Greek bilateral relations have gone from strength to strength

Special How Saudi-Greek bilateral relations have gone from strength to strength
The ancient temple of Parthenon on the Acropolis hill in Athens is one of the many cultural attractions of Greece. (AFP)
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Updated 27 July 2022

How Saudi-Greek bilateral relations have gone from strength to strength

How Saudi-Greek bilateral relations have gone from strength to strength
  • The ties that bind the two countries are a continuation of centuries-old Greek-Arab relations
  • Relations have flourished in the last several years, resulting in the sealing of a large number of deals

RIYADH: When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives in Greece on Tuesday for talks with the Greek leadership, he will be building on already strong bonds of friendship and cooperation between the two countries.

The relationship is not limited to the political arena, but spans economic, commercial, investment, defense, security, cultural and tourism fields among others.

Even so, both sides continuously seek to identify new opportunities for cooperation with the aim of opening diverse fields of economic engagement, facilitating ongoing interactions between Saudi and Greek business sectors, and enabling commercial and investment partnerships within the framework of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan.

In recent decades, investors from both countries have collaborated on a number of joint ventures, and bilateral trade has played a prominent role in the flowering of their commercial relationship.

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.

Viewed through the prism of history, the ties that bind the two countries today are a continuation of Greek-Arab relations that date back centuries.

For proof, one need only look at the artifacts preserved in the Riyadh Museum for History and Archaeology, including Greek coins dating back more than 2,000 years.

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.

Both Saudi Arabia and Greece are endowed with rich cultural diversity, with efforts underway by both countries to preserve it and share it with the world.

Vision 2030 is based on a new philosophy to revive the Arab and Islamic heritage of the Arabian Peninsula, and to enhance Saudi Arabia’s contribution to culture, arts and global civilization.




The crippling debt crisis of 2009 onward brought Greece to the very brink of crashing out of the eurozone. (AFP)

Today, the Kingdom’s most important export to Greece is crude oil, while the latter has been a longstanding supplier of cotton seeds, metals, pharmaceuticals, and food items such as margarine, processed goods, nuts and fruit.

Another area that has united both economies is construction. In the 1970s, when the booming city of Riyadh needed the skills of a master planner, 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 city’s Al-Olaya district.

However, the Saudi-Greek relationship extends far beyond brick and mortar. In April 2021, Greece signed an agreement to lend the Kingdom a Patriot air defense battery, which was delivered in September that year, representing a major step forward in defense cooperation.

That same month, assistance provided to Greek authorities by the Saudi drug-enforcement agency led to the discovery of a huge shipment of processed cannabis at Greece’s main port of Piraeus.

According to some estimates, the seized narcotics had a potential street value of €33 million ($33.7 million). This sharing of intelligence marked a new chapter in expanding bilateral cooperation.

The following month, Saudi Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan landed in Athens on a two-day official visit to discuss aspects of cultural cooperation.

In September 2021, the Council of Saudi Chambers signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a Saudi-Greek Business Council to enhance bilateral trade and investment.

In October that year, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister, in Riyadh to discuss ways to strengthen bilateral relations.




Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (R) in the capital Riyadh in February 2020. (Bandar Al-Jaloud/Saudi Royal Palace/AFP)

Following the meeting, the two sides issued a joint statement agreeing to discuss establishing a joint investment fund, and to strengthen cooperation in a number of key sectors.

On defense and security cooperation, the two sides agreed to hold joint military exercises and maneuvers, and to coordinate and exchange expertise. They also agreed to cooperate on localizing technology and the military industries.

This was followed in December by the signing of a cooperation agreement in the field of maritime transport, with a view to developing commercial maritime navigation, increasing traffic of commercial ships and encouraging trade.

In January this year, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi minister of foreign affairs, met with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in Athens to discuss safeguarding the law of the sea and freedom of navigation.

They also reaffirmed their commitment to efforts to prevent Iran from gaining access to nuclear weapons.

In March, Saudi Arabia and Greece signed an MoU paving the way for innovations in renewable energy, including green and blue hydrogen, and the development of a fiber-optic cable network that will connect data from Southeast Asia to central Europe.

Between March 12 and 14, a Greek ministerial and business delegation visited Saudi Arabia, making a stop at AlUla, the Kingdom’s most famous UNESCO World Heritage site and the location of a major new tourism development.

The Saudi-Greek Investment Forum, held on March 13, showcased investment opportunities in both countries and resulted in hundreds of bilateral business meetings.

That same month, Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih headed a trade delegation to Greece to expand the strategic partnership and enhance investment and trade between the two countries.

“Our visit to Greece comes within the framework of the crown prince’s directives to strengthen and deepen the Saudi-Greek partnership, and to exploit the potentials and opportunities available on both sides in the economic, investment, commercial, cultural, tourism and other fields,” Al-Falih said at the time.

Further investments and strategic partnerships are expected to be announced during the crown prince’s visit to Athens.

 

 

FASTFACT

A brief history of modern Greece




Evzoni presidential guards walking in front of the parliament of Greece in Athens. (AFP)

 

The Greek War of Independence, which began in 1821, led to the creation of the modern Greek state, which was recognized by the Ottomans in 1829 and by the international community in 1830.

Greece’s territory grew between 1864 and 1947, and in 1981 it became a full member of the European Community, enhancing the stability of the country’s democracy and establishing it as a critical state in the Balkans and eastern Mediterranean.

Barely two centuries after the war of independence, Greece is viewed as a pillar of stability and prosperity for the wider region of southern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, and an EU member state. In recent years, Greece has instituted key infrastructural upgrades, including the digital state and new labor framework, transforming itself into a very competitive investment destination. Nonetheless, Greece has faced its share of internal and external crises.

For most of its modern history it has been deeply polarized, financially dependent and indebted to foreign creditors, and facing external threats. The debt crisis of 2009 onward brought the nation to the very brink of crashing out of the eurozone.

Greece was in the process of a slow return to growth after years of austerity when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. This coincided with another turbulent period in Greek-Turkish relations.

The two states have a long and troubled history. Indeed, modern Turkey was established on the back of a victory against Greek forces in the aftermath of the First World War. The participation of both states in NATO since 1952 has not eased relations since they each have outstanding issues concerning the Aegean Sea and Cyprus. The two disagree on the boundaries of their territorial waters and, in turn, disagree on the extent of their exclusive economic zones.

 

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Saudi podcaster amplifies voices of local, regional creatives

Hatem Alakeel in London where he launched season 3 of his podcast, Gems of Arabia, in partnership with Harrods. (Supplied)
Hatem Alakeel in London where he launched season 3 of his podcast, Gems of Arabia, in partnership with Harrods. (Supplied)
Updated 2 min 22 sec ago

Saudi podcaster amplifies voices of local, regional creatives

Hatem Alakeel in London where he launched season 3 of his podcast, Gems of Arabia, in partnership with Harrods. (Supplied)
  • Hatem Alakeel partners with Harrods to build a community of likeminded individuals, bridge generational gap

DHAHRAN: Hatem Alakeel is the most immaculately dressed Saudi podcaster with a heart of gold.

His podcast, Gems of Arabia, which aims to highlight “all the shimmering hidden gems of the Arab world,” recently launched its third season with a big change — he is partnering with world-famous UK-based luxury department store Harrods.

This is the first official Middle Eastern collaboration between Harrods, established in 1849, and an emerging podcast launched in 2021.

I’ve been doing this all my life, like being in a boarding school (in Europe) and being the ambassador to Saudi Arabia representing my country. I hope to continue with what I’ve been doing over the past years and change the perception-based stereotypes and elevate the Saudi culture and Arab culture.

Hatem Alakeel

“Harrods and Gems of Arabia are partnering on a podcast series, themed on bridging the generations through culture,” Alakeel told Arab News. “As two established institutions in their own regions, our podcast and Harrods hopes to facilitate conversations between guests who are excelling in their field, and to provide a bridge between both generations in both the UK and the Middle East.

“We are hosting these special editions of Gems of Arabia from inside Harrods, Knightsbridge,” he said.

A softly spoken and articulate host, Alakeel has found some of the most interesting UK-based Saudis and other Arabs to interview. The new season offers plenty of surprise guests from within the MENA region.

With 18 years of experience, Alakeel first started as a fashion designer with his label “Toby,” modernizing the traditional thobe, and has been elegantly sashaying into each endeavor he has embarked on ever since with his brand consultancy Authenticite.

Although Alakeel is proud of his Saudi heritage and his Jeddah roots, he is mostly based in Dubai. But no matter where he is geographically, he is always passionate about amplifying narratives in the region regardless of where they are from.

For the past four years, he has been writing an online column where he highlights change-makers in the region who are shaping the Saudi landscape in a positive way. He knew it was time to try a different platform to further amplify the voices of those individuals to build on the conversations, so he started the podcast.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The new season offers plenty of surprise guests from within the MENA region.

• Hatem Alakeel lived a significant portion of his life abroad, his mother constantly reminded him not to stray too far away from his heritage and to never compromise on his values.

• This is the first official Middle Eastern collaboration between Harrods, established in 1849, and an emerging podcast launched in 2021.

• For Alakeel, authenticity is the keyword. He is now trying to facilitate opportunities for local creatives to showcase themselves — without excluding Saudis living abroad.

That is something Harrods was attracted to.

“For me, Harrods has been an institution that I’ve always looked up to ever since I was a kid. It really has this kind of nostalgia feeling for me. I believe that the way we have been able to connect was through my podcast during my second season, which I did on the Saudi Cup — it was about heritage,” he said.

As Alakeel become recognized online and offline, he felt a sense of responsibility to help foster a thriving ecosystem for creatives in or from the region. He wanted to create the type of community that he wished he had when he was starting his career.

An un-ironic instagram influencer, he makes sure that his posts are both in English and Arabic. He also genuinely tries to bring out the silver lining in every situation.

The person who has been his anchor is his late mother, Seham Arab, who recently passed away.

Although Alakeel lived a significant portion of his life abroad, his mother constantly reminded him not to stray too far away from his heritage and to never compromise on his values.

His beloved mother’s scent lingers in Alakeel’s life — literally. Every night, he spritzes some of her favorite perfume onto his pillow so he can fall asleep to her memory. However, the bond between mother and son goes well beyond smell, which is known to be the strongest sense tied to memory.

She was the inspiration for his life’s work and the reason he began on his journey trying to uncover hidden gems and treasures within the Arab region. Alakeel calls her his first gem. She also introduced him to Harrods.

“My recollection of my first experience with Harrods was when I was in boarding school and my mom sent me a box of riding gear — it was shoes, a hat, and it was the most immaculate riding gear that I got, because I was horseback riding. So from there, it snowballed into me always going there and appreciating them. I was over the moon to have the opportunity to actually do something with them,” he said.

She would have loved his collaboration with Harrods and how he decided to approach the partnership.

“The approach that I proposed to Harrods is generational and cultural — there’s also a generational bridge that’s being built. And we need to recognize that a lot of the younger generation, Generation Z, for example, is very much inspired more than ever with vintage. Millennials were always so brand-obsessed,” he said.

“So, this is kind of the movement that I’m creating with the podcast — what we’re going to be doing with Harrods — is to highlight the generational bridges existing between both cultures. You know, an idea of how progressive Saudi designers are becoming, how much more exposed they are and how much more we need to kind of see where it’s heading. And this is the kind of conversation we want to have,” he said.

For Alakeel, authenticity is the keyword. He is now trying to facilitate opportunities for local creatives to showcase themselves — without excluding Saudis living abroad.

He wants to try to bridge the different generations that seem somewhat disconnected. A podcast felt like a natural progression to merge all of these elements together. It is a conversational vehicle that will allow different members of communities to express themselves.

It is all about creating a community and building it up.

“I’ve been doing this all my life, like being in a boarding school (in Europe) and being the ambassador to Saudi Arabia representing my country. I hope to continue with what I’ve been doing over the past years and change the perception-based stereotypes and elevate the Saudi culture and Arab culture,” Alakeel said.

Saudis, and indeed Arabs, have shopped at Harrods in London for generations. It is a trusted place to find curated and well-crafted goods. This season’s podcast promises the same.

“Harrods is partnering with game-changers in the local market; trailblazers, designers and entrepreneurs based in the Middle East. The goal is to build a community of likeminded individuals, to provide them with a global platform and wider network of contacts, while allowing Harrods to build relationships with and support the next generation of talent. Harrods’ partnership with Gems of Arabia is a perfect alignment and a brilliant example of this work, ensuring their position in these foreign markets is meaningful and built on cooperation,” Alakeel said.

Tap into season 3 of the Gems of Arabia podcast empowered by @harrods by connecting to @authenticite_by_hatem_alakeel.

 


Ahmed bin Saleh Al-Wasaidi appointed vice president of Saudi survey, geospatial information authority

Ahmed bin Saleh Al-Wasaidi appointed vice president of Saudi survey, geospatial information authority
Updated 9 min 49 sec ago

Ahmed bin Saleh Al-Wasaidi appointed vice president of Saudi survey, geospatial information authority

Ahmed bin Saleh Al-Wasaidi appointed vice president of Saudi survey, geospatial information authority
  • Al-Wasaidi has more than 25 years of experience in aerial surveying, remote sensing, and geospatial information

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s crown prince approved the appointment of Ahmed bin Saleh Al-Wasaidi as vice president of the General Authority for Survey and Geospatial Information, Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday.

The authority oversees work in the field of surveying, map production, geographic information, and marine surveying. It also produces and markets geospatial information and services.

Al-Wasaidi holds a MSc in Geospatial and Mapping Sciences from the University of Glasgow, Scotland and another Master’s degree in aerial surveying and remote sensing from the University of Twente, the Netherlands.

He has more than 25 years of experience in aerial surveying, remote sensing, and geospatial information.

Al-Wasaidi has previously worked at the Ministry of Defense and as a general supervisor of geospatial services and surveying at the GASGI.


Saudi coffee forum to review economic, social aspects of sustainability

Saudi coffee forum to review economic, social aspects of sustainability
Updated 15 sec ago

Saudi coffee forum to review economic, social aspects of sustainability

Saudi coffee forum to review economic, social aspects of sustainability
  • The forum will be discussing four main aspects through the talks: “Coffee as a National Wealth,” “Coffee: Culture and Society,” “Coffee and the Humanization of Environment,” and “Coffee and Health”

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture is organizing the Saudi Coffee Sustainability Forum in Jazan from Oct. 1-2 to discuss the value chain of Saudi coffee and relevant economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainability.

The forum is part of the activities of the 2022 “Year of Saudi Coffee” initiative, which is supported by the Quality of Life Program.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s largest consumers of coffee, and achieving self-sufficiency in its production, in accordance with the plans of Vision 2030 to diversify the country’s economy, is considered vital.

The forum will be discussing four main aspects through the talks: “Coffee as a National Wealth,” “Coffee: Culture and Society,” “Coffee and the Humanization of Environment,” and “Coffee and Health.”

The forum will include an accompanying exhibition to review the efforts and plans of stakeholders in the Saudi coffee field, in addition to several specialized workshops targeting workers in the coffee industry, including researchers, policymakers, labor market experts, environment experts and health and nutrition experts.

The Ministry of Culture, through this event, seeks to elevate the status of Saudi coffee as an icon of the Kingdom’s heritage, share relevant scientific research, activate cooperation with international stakeholders and benefit from their expertise, and address challenges and review best practices related to Saudi coffee and the requirements for its sustainability.

 


International Astronautical Federation elects first Saudi woman as vice president

International Astronautical Federation elects first Saudi woman as vice president
Updated 25 September 2022

International Astronautical Federation elects first Saudi woman as vice president

International Astronautical Federation elects first Saudi woman as vice president
  • The federation advances knowledge about space, supporting the development and application of space assets by promoting global cooperation

RIYADH: Aerospace engineer Mishaal Ashemimry has become the first Saudi woman to hold a leadership position at the International Astronautical Federation after being elected as one of the body’s 12 vice presidents.

Ashemimry was elected to the post at the world’s leading space advocacy body due to her enhanced vision for the development of the space sector globally, her contribution to the development and consolidation of the federation’s directions, and her role in strengthening the Kingdom’s leadership position in the aerospace sector, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The IAF has over 400 members from 71 different countries and they include leading agencies, space companies, industries, research institutions, universities, societies, associations, museums, and institutes.

The federation advances knowledge about space, supporting the development and application of space assets by promoting global cooperation.

As organizer of the annual International Astronautical Congress as well as other thematic conferences and workshops, the IAF actively encourages the development of astronautics for peaceful purposes and supports the dissemination of scientific and technical information related to space.


Saudi education minister signs MoU to support English-language teaching

Saudi Minister of Education Hamad Al-Sheikh. (SPA)
Saudi Minister of Education Hamad Al-Sheikh. (SPA)
Updated 25 September 2022

Saudi education minister signs MoU to support English-language teaching

Saudi Minister of Education Hamad Al-Sheikh. (SPA)
  • The cooperation aims to advance the work between the English Language Center at the Agency of General Education and the group, conducted last year as a part of a project to implement a sample of language curricula in 50 Saudi primary schools

MAKKAH: Saudi Minister of Education Hamad Al-Sheikh recently signed a memorandum with a US group specializing in providing language teaching books, materials and services.

The agreement, signed with CEO of MM American Publishing Group, Giannis Malkogiannis, is to support English-language teaching and learning, and is part of Al-Sheikh’s tour of American universities and research centers.

The meeting touched on cooperation between the Saudi Ministry of Education and the MM Group in providing English-language curricula. The group has previously provided English language curricula for the Kingdom’s schools, from the fourth grade to the twelfth grade. The group also owns a “binary logic” company that provides digital skills curricula and engineering curricula.

The two parties discussed supporting cooperation between the ministry and the MM Group in providing a vision for adding a specific course for languages or the STEM track, in line with best international practices.

The cooperation aims to advance the work between the English Language Center at the Agency of General Education and the group, conducted last year as a part of a project to implement a sample of language curricula in 50 Saudi primary schools.

“What the ministry strives to achieve in learning and teaching English is one of the successful steps in utilizing global expertise in this area,” Ahmed Asiri, an educational consultant and former director of the educational supervision department at the ministry in Taif, told Arab News.

“The US specialists in this field are familiar with and have very high experience in dealing with these age groups. They also have the needed requirements to pass their knowledge on through digital and intensive programs, creating a beautiful learning environment,” he said.

He added that the path taken by the ministry was in compliance with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

“Mastering English will be a helpful instrument to maintain the communication between societies. For instance, all international, cultural and economic relations in various aspects of life all share the same main tool, which is the English language,” he said.

Abdul Rahman Surti, educational supervisor at the ministry, told Arab News that the curricula by MM Publishing Group was considered one of the best educational series. “They were able to serve students, teachers and the entire educational process, and facilitated communication with parents through interactive CDs,” he said.

Surti, who is the author of “Creative Ideas for Teaching English Language,” said that more real-life examples were needed for Saudi students to boost learning.