Perception at odds with reality of generous Saudi humanitarian support for Ukraine

Special Perception at odds with reality of generous Saudi humanitarian support for Ukraine
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KSrelief has funded humanitarian support in Poland, aiding the millions of refugees fleeing Ukraine. (SPA)
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Ukrainians cross the border from Ukraine to Poland at the Korczowa-Krakovets border crossing on Feb. 26, 2022, as Russian forces invade their country. (AFP)
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Young girls and other refugees from Ukraine wait for the bus after they crossed Ukrainian-Polish border in Medyka, southeastern Poland on April 8, 2022. (AFP)
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Refugees from Ukraine's Odessa arrive at a railway station in Przemysl, southeastern Poland, on April 6, 2022. (AFP file photo)
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KSrelief chief Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah visiting Poland’s Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases, which is supporting refugees in Warsaw. (Supplied)
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Updated 15 August 2022

Perception at odds with reality of generous Saudi humanitarian support for Ukraine

Perception at odds with reality of generous Saudi humanitarian support for Ukraine
  • Kingdom’s track record belies lack of recognition of its donations for displaced Ukrainian refugees
  • A $10 million aid package has just been signed off by the UNHCR, WHO and Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief 

JEDDAH: The perception that Saudi Arabia is not helping Ukrainians affected by the war with Russia is completely at odds with the reality. 

The firmness of the Kingdom’s commitment to supporting refugees and resolving the conflict has been evident since the outbreak of hostilities. Aid pledges have been matched by donations that are already making a big difference.

A $10 million Saudi humanitarian package for war-displaced Ukrainians has just been signed off by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Health Organization and Saudi Arabia’s leading humanitarian aid agency.

About half of the $10 million grant has been allocated for distribution through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief).

In April, King Salman directed KSrelief to provide this amount of support for immediate assistance and give “urgent medical and shelter aid” to Ukrainian refugees, giving priority to those arriving in Poland.




KSrelief chief Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah visiting Poland’s Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases, which is supporting refugees in Warsaw. (Supplied)

Delivering on the Kingdom’s promise during his ongoing visit to Poland, Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, adviser at the Royal Court and supervisor general of KSrelief, also discussed the humanitarian situation with Polish, UNHCR and WHO officials, according to a Saudi Press Agency report.

It said Al-Rabeeah visited several health establishments and facilities, taking time to speak to some Ukrainian refugees who had fled to Warsaw from their war-torn country.

“Thank you very much, and thanks to the center for helping us. The situation is as you can see,” a Ukrainian resident of a refugee center told Al-Arabiya news channel.

“All of us came from Ukraine, and we were in a very bad way. Thanks to you, our situation has improved. Thanks a lot, and we wish peace to the whole world.”  

At the Poland-Ukraine border, Al-Rabeeah lauded the collaboration between the WHO, KSrelief, and the Polish government. “We highly appreciate the partnership with the WHO. Our work together has made great support to refugees and those in need here and elsewhere,” he said in a video released by WHO Poland.

KSrelief has donated funds to support the critical response efforts for Ukrainians in Poland, with the delivery of emergency medical supplies and equipment benefiting more than 1 million people in need.

The Kingdom’s support for Ukrainian refugees is an extension of its well-known humanitarian efforts in more than 85 countries, yet several reports have hinted that Saudi Arabia has picked sides in the conflict because of its ties to Russia as a fellow OEPC+ member.

Despite the political and humanitarian initiatives taken by the Kingdom, urging all parties to come to the negotiating table to resolve the conflict through dialogue and diplomacy, the Kingdom’s efforts have been viewed with skepticism in some quarters.

A March report by the Wilson Center, a US government-linked public policy think tank, claimed that Saudi Arabia “has decided to side with Russia” and “chose Putin over Biden,” accusing the Kingdom of playing political games to keep oil prices high.

The remarks came despite the Kingdom’s repeated offers to both mediate between the warring parties and increase oil production along with neighboring Gulf countries.




Millions of Ukrainian refugees suddenly left their country in February after Russian troops invaded. (AFP)

The differences between the Western and Arab positions on the question of how to end the war have not stopped either side from addressing the humanitarian emergency.

For its part, Saudi Arabia has reiterated that though ending the ongoing war in Ukraine is no easy feat, the Kingdom has treated the issue just as any ongoing crisis in the region, stressing that human suffering is the same in all conflicts and that violence is not the solution.

In March, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Kingdom was ready to exert all efforts to mediate between the two nations.




Saudi Arabia has sent millions of dollars in humanitarian aid for Ukrainians forced to stay in evacuation centers in Poland. (AFP photo)

In May, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss the crisis.

Less than a week later, Prince Faisal bin Farhan met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov during the latter’s visit to Riyadh, where he underscored the importance of reaching a political solution to achieve security and stability for all involved.

Though scant details on Lavrov’s visit and meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council ministers were released, the trip was still misinterpreted as evidence of Saudi Arabia’s support for Russia, even though the Kingdom and other Gulf states had opted to stay neutral, treating the war in Ukraine in “a fair context” and providing aid to the needy.

In June, Prince Faisal bin Farhan clarified the Kingdom’s position further: “Our stance as Gulf countries regarding the Russian-Ukrainian crisis is unified,” he said on June 1 during a speech at the opening of the 152nd session of the Ministerial Council of the Gulf Cooperation Council.




Millions of Ukrainians were forced to leave their country since February after Russian troops invaded. (AFP photo)

“Today we had two fruitful meetings with the Russian and Ukrainian ministers, during which we stated our unified stance regarding the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and its negative consequences, namely the food security of the affected countries and the world.”

Saudi Arabia’s decision to remain neutral and prioritize humanitarian engagement during the war also ought to be viewed in the context of public opinion. In a recent Arab News-YouGov poll, of the more than 1,000 Saudis who were asked for their opinion, 14 percent blamed US President Joe Biden for the conflict while 21 percent blamed NATO.

While a high number of Saudi respondents expressed skepticism about NATO’s involvement with the conflict, 41 percent of Saudis said they did not know or were not sure who was to blame.

Throughout the conflict, more than 40 countries, organizations, and individual donors have made pledges and commitments, some of which have made their way to the 6.3 million refugees fleeing Ukraine as well as those who remained. But there is a striking gap between pledged and delivered support.




In this April 9, 2022, photo, Ukrainian refugees fleeing war stay at a gymnasium in Tijuana, Mexico as they await permission to enter the US. (AFP)

Thus far, most Western governments have given priority to military assistance over humanitarian aid.

According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, the US has pledged $23.8 billion in military aid, the highest amount to date, but has allocated a comparatively modest $8.9 billion to humanitarian assistance.

According to the center, that number has since increased but by a relatively small percentage. Similarly, the EU pledged $12.3 billion in military aid but just $1.4 billion has been siphoned for humanitarian response and aid packages.

Since the outbreak of the conflict, Western and Arab governments have been under no illusion that the need for a resolution of the conflict is no less pressing than addressing the humanitarian emergency.

Last month, President Biden visited Jeddah and met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The two sides discussed several topics of concern, including energy, security and the crisis in Ukraine.




King Salman bin Abdulaziz meets with US President Joe Biden, witnessed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US State Secretary Antony Blinken at al-Salam Palace in Jeddah on July 15, 2022. (SPA)

Soon after Biden left the Kingdom, Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs, spoke to CNBC to set the record straight. “We have said from the very beginning, we supported the UN General Assembly Resolution and the inadmissibility abuse of force, about the sovereignty of nations and respect for that,” he said.

“We have called for a peaceful resolution to this; stop the fighting and get to the negotiating table and work out your differences peacefully.

“The concern that we have is that escalation on one side leads to escalation on the other side and before you know it, things are more likely to spin out of control and we all pay the price.”

For good measure, Al-Jubeir said: “We’ve reached out to both Russia and Ukraine. We’ve urged them to move towards a ceasefire settlement and their conflict peacefully. We continue to be engaged with them as are a number of other countries, and our hope is that they will be able to recognize that it’s better to argue across the table from each other than fight across the battlefield, because of the unintended consequences of war and conflict.”

Meanwhile, when it comes to humanitarian giving, Saudi Arabia’s pledges continue to be matched by its actions.

On Friday, accompanied by Saad Al-Saleh, the Saudi ambassador to Poland, KSrelief’s Al-Rabeeah visited the UNHCR’s warehouse facilities in Rzeszow in Poland. They jointly inspected the aid already provided as part of the Kingdom’s $10 million grant to support Ukrainian refugees.

 

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History, mystery and magic as first Ancient Saudi Arabia’s Festival wraps up

History, mystery and magic as first Ancient Saudi Arabia’s Festival wraps up
Updated 26 November 2022

History, mystery and magic as first Ancient Saudi Arabia’s Festival wraps up

History, mystery and magic as first Ancient Saudi Arabia’s Festival wraps up
  • Festival gave ancient landscapes a new lease of life

KHAYBAR: Past, present and future came together as the inaugural Ancient Kingdoms Festival drew to a close with a series of dramatic events showcasing three historic oases of the northwest — AlUla, Khaybar and Tayma — for a modern audience.

The festival, launched on Nov. 11, was the first of its kind to focus entirely on the sites, which were at the crossroads of culture in ancient times, and also centers of influence and wealth.

By focusing on a range of events, including cultural performances, workshops and sightseeing opportunities, the festival gave these ancient landscapes a new lease of life, with many of the activities expected to continue after the festival’s close.

A spectacular show lit up the night sky as 1,450 drones formed shapes while an orchestra played music by UK composer Matt Faddy. The show will continue until Dec. 15, 2023.

FASTFACT

A spectacular show lit up the night sky as 1,450 drones formed shapes while an orchestra played music by UK composer Matt Faddy. The show will continue until Dec. 15, 2023.

Visitors to Khaybar can still explore the mysterious prehistoric stone structures on foot, or by car or a 20-minute helicopter excursion, hovering over the old and new.

“We made this festival to reflect the stories behind all the ancient civilizations that lived around or in these three places,” Abdulrazzag Alanzi, a local storyteller and tour guide, told Arab News.

Alanzi used to visit his cousins in Khaybar as a child and still recalls hearing stories about the region going back centuries.

“I used to love reading a lot of fictional stories and also a lot of old stories, and when I heard about something that happened in this area many years ago, it always fascinated me. This is what pushed me into this line of work, tourism,” he said.

“AlUla, Khaybar and Tayma have a lot of historical stories and a lot of information that we need to show the world.”

Fahad Aljuhani, a storyteller who describes the area as the “greatest living museum,” also came to the area as a child to connect with his cousins — and to discover hidden treasures.

“I’m a ‘Rawi’ and ‘Rawi’ in English means a storyteller. Now we are on an island that floats on a sea of rock which is Khaybar. I used to come to Khaybar and visit my relatives, and they would tell us a story about the tombs and the oasis, and I didn’t have the chance to visit them until now,” he told Arab News.

Aljuhani said that 5 million years ago, hundreds of volcanic eruptions occurred simultaneously in the area.

“If you feel the rocks, they seem to generate heat from within, similar to those who choose to watch over the land today and tell its many-layered stories,” he said.

Tour guide Enass Al-Sherrif told Arab News that she is excited to see people, including those from around the Kingdom, taking the time to learn about their past.

Al-Sherrif describes her job as the best she could ever have.

“I am really proud and honored. And I want to show you and make you feel the experience, how we transformed this place into an amazing destination for others to come and visit us,” she said.

The festival and its extended program aims to shed light on the legends and legacies of ancient times in the Kingdom’s northwest region, allowing visitors to explore and learn about the “largest living museum in the world.”

It is two years since AlUla began reopening heritage sites to domestic and international tourists with its pioneering Winter at Tantora program, which lasts until March.

While the Ancient Kingdoms Festival wrapped up on a chilly day on Nov. 27, many of the visitor experiences will continue well beyond the festival period, with some available year-round.

“The northwest Arabian Peninsula is the jewel in the heritage crown of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a source of fascination for a global community of archaeologists and researchers. Their discoveries shed new light on the societies that endowed the region with such relics of the ancients, preserved in wonders of prehistoric geology, art, and historical architecture that reveal important truths,” the Royal Commission for AlUla, which hosted the event, said in a statement.

The commission plans to host the Ancient Kingdoms Festival annually. Further details are available on its website.

 


Little Riyadh opens to the public

The well-known danish juice bar and coffee shop Joe & the Juice opens in little Riyadh zone. (Supplied)
The well-known danish juice bar and coffee shop Joe & the Juice opens in little Riyadh zone. (Supplied)
Updated 26 November 2022

Little Riyadh opens to the public

The well-known danish juice bar and coffee shop Joe & the Juice opens in little Riyadh zone. (Supplied)
  • Little Riyadh is open daily from 7 a.m. until 1 a.m.

RIYADH: A new entertainment zone was added to Riyadh Season on Saturday with the opening of Little Riyadh, which offers visitors a range of activities, including live music, yoga sessions, and crafting workshops.

Situated next to The Groves in the Diplomatic Quarter, Little Riyadh also houses a number of dining options, including Parker’s, which bills itself as a “French restaurant with an American touch,” and the first Riyadh branch of the well-known Danish juice bar and coffee shop Joe & The Juice.

Little Riyadh is open daily from 7 a.m. until 1 a.m.

The third Riyadh Season now includes 15 entertainment zones: Boulevard World, Boulevard Riyadh City, Winter Wonderland, Al-Murabaa, Sky Riyadh, Via Riyadh, Riyadh Zoo, Little Riyadh, The Groves, Imagination Park, Al-Suwaidi Park, Souq Al-Zel, Qariat Zaman, Fan Festival and Riyadh Front.

Throughout the season, the various zones will play host to concerts, exhibitions, firework displays, theatrical performances including Cirque du Soleil, and sporting events including the Riyadh Season Cup between Paris Saint-Germain and a combined team from the squads of Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr, and WWE shows.

 


Artist spotlight for Saudi Arabia’s ‘lost treasure’

Founder of Mono Gallery, Momen Al-Muslimani, explains the untitled work of Fahad Al-Hajailan. (Supplied by Mohammad Fattal)
Founder of Mono Gallery, Momen Al-Muslimani, explains the untitled work of Fahad Al-Hajailan. (Supplied by Mohammad Fattal)
Updated 26 November 2022

Artist spotlight for Saudi Arabia’s ‘lost treasure’

Founder of Mono Gallery, Momen Al-Muslimani, explains the untitled work of Fahad Al-Hajailan. (Supplied by Mohammad Fattal)
  • Four years after his death, galleries honor Fahad Al-Hajailan’s legacy

RIYADH: He was a pioneering Saudi contemporary artist who exhibited abroad in exhibitions and biennales, but whose name was rarely heard at home.

Now, four years after he died alone and surrounded by his beloved works of art, Fahad Al-Hajailan is at last getting the recognition he deserves.

Mono Gallery, in collaboration with Naila Art Gallery, has revived his work with a “Al-Hajailan in the Mirror” exhibition commemorating the artist’s lost legacy.

Visitors examining the untitled work of late Saudi fine artist Fahad Al-Hajailan at Mono Gallery's 'Al-Hajailan in the Mirror' exhibition, in collaboration with Naila Art Gallery. (Photo by Mohammad Fattal)

Al-Hajailan, who died in 2018, was a founding member of the Riyadh Fine Art Group, a member of its advisory committee, and a pioneer in Saudi contemporary art.

He exhibited globally in shows and biennales in the US, China, the UK, Tunisia, France and Germany, but was all but unknown in the Kingdom, failing to gain the attention directed at headlining contemporary artists, such as Ahmed Mater, and Ayman Yossri.

With culture and creativity in the spotlight as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reforms, Mono Gallery decided to revive one of the country’s “lost treasures.”

Visitors examining the untitled work of late Saudi fine artist Fahad Al-Hajailan at Mono Gallery's 'Al-Hajailan in the Mirror' exhibition, in collaboration with Naila Art Gallery. (Photo by Mohammad Fattal)

Momen Al-Muslimani, the gallery’s founder, told Arab News that Al-Hajailan “was kept almost in the shade. No one knew how powerful he was at the time, 10 years ago.

“If someone is appreciative of an artist, first of all, they would buy his art at a general price, never trying to squeeze him or take advantage. There are a lot of art-lovers who are passionate collectors in the Kingdom. They should have run toward him 10 years ago, creating books, literature, (doing) interviews.”

FASTFACT

Four years after his death, galleries honor Fahad Al- Hajailan’s legacy.

According to Al-Muslimani, who was a close friend of Al-Hajailan, the artist never received the recognition he deserved.

Al-Hajailan spent most of his days in his studio, “painting away his emotions,” according to Al-Muslimani, who suggests the artist’s abstract style and poetic use of color reflect the mystery, sadness and sense of loneliness in his own life.

Visitors examining the untitled work of late Saudi fine artist Fahad Al-Hajailan at Mono Gallery's 'Al-Hajailan in the Mirror' exhibition, in collaboration with Naila Art Gallery. (Photo by Mohammad Fattal)

In 2018, Al-Hajailan died of a heart attack at age 61, in the middle of the night, alone and surrounded by his unappreciated works.

“Artists need someone else to feel on their behalf, to speak on their behalf, to express who they are on their behalf, because they forget themselves. They are completely inside the piece of artwork they’re creating,” Al-Muslimani said.

Instead of pursuing a degree in fine arts, which he could not afford at the time, Al-Hajailan spent much of his career as an art teacher, as well as curating cartoon graphics for Al-Jazeera and Al-Riyadh newspapers.

Visitors examining the untitled work of late Saudi fine artist Fahad Al-Hajailan at Mono Gallery's 'Al-Hajailan in the Mirror' exhibition, in collaboration with Naila Art Gallery. (Photo by Mohammad Fattal)

Only after discovering works by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo did he realize that art did not have to be taught.

The true artist is never satisfied with his work, the gallery owner said, and this was the case with Al-Hajailan, who battled fatigue and hunger in a bid to create the ideal piece that would do his work justice.

“I’ve made this artwork, but I can do better. I can find more secrets in me,” Al-Hajailan would often say.

“The artist is most probably the only human on earth who does not have the choice to be an artist or not. He grew up having a pencil and a pen in his hand. He needs to draw; if he doesn’t draw, if he doesn’t paint, he would feel sick. And this is Fahad Al-Hajailan,” Al-Muslimani said.

Since his death, Al-Hajailan has been exhibited at the inaugural Diriyah Biennale and commemorated in Misk Art Institute’s Art Library book series.

Mono Gallery is presenting a timeline of his work, ranging from early pencil sketches in 1986 to the acrylic paintings of 2015.

“In Saudi contemporary art, we have a couple of pioneers — we can count them on by hand. One of them is Fahad Al-Hajailan. He is probably in the top three who people would never debate about. Everybody would speak with passion and love toward his art, his creativity. He is one of those treasures in the country.”

The exhibition runs until Nov. 28.

 


Who’s Who: Fawziah Al-Hoshan, general manager for Saudi Arabia at YOUGotaGift

Fawziah Al-Hoshan
Fawziah Al-Hoshan
Updated 26 November 2022

Who’s Who: Fawziah Al-Hoshan, general manager for Saudi Arabia at YOUGotaGift

Fawziah Al-Hoshan

Fawziah Al-Hoshan is the general manager for Saudi Arabia at YOUGotaGift, the Middle East’s leading marketplace for gift cards.

Her experience in human resources and rewards management spans over a decade.

In her career, Al-Hoshan has worked with multinational corporations and Saudi corporations. In addition to developing and driving employee engagement and well-being, Al-Hoshan bridges the gap between organizational direction and employee lifecycles and empowers people and institutions.

Al-Hoshan was responsible for launching YOUGotaGift in the Kingdom, selecting the team and fostering a performance-driven culture to enable the right talent to thrive. Using cross-functional team information and sales performance, she developed a go-to-market strategy for the company in the Kingdom and capitalized on the prevalent business opportunities and risks.

Before her current role, Al-Hoshan was an HR business partner at Olayan Group, an investment firm with an active global investment portfolio. She has also worked at PepsiCo as a total rewards manager. For localization and women empowerment, she received PepsiCo’s Chairman’s Award and PepsiCo Transformation Award.

Originally from Saudi Arabia, Al-Hoshan graduated from King Saud University with a business administration and management degree.

Al-Hoshan seeks to grow the YOUGotaGift team in Saudi Arabia and build new standards for convenience for consumers and businesses.

Last month, YOUGotaGift launched the HappyYou multi-brand eGift Card, a super gift card redeemable at all their partner brands in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and Egypt.

 


Saudi ambassador to Thailand sees ‘a prosperous and promising future’ for bilateral relations

Saudi ambassador to Thailand sees ‘a prosperous and promising future’ for bilateral relations
Updated 26 November 2022

Saudi ambassador to Thailand sees ‘a prosperous and promising future’ for bilateral relations

Saudi ambassador to Thailand sees ‘a prosperous and promising future’ for bilateral relations
  • Investment opportunities are many thanks to similar development priorities, Abdurrahman bin Abdulaziz Al-Suhaibani tells Arab News
  • He says the crown prince’s recent visit will contribute to accelerated steps for enhancement of bilateral and trade relations

BANGKOK: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Bangkok last week has opened not only a new chapter in Saudi-Thai ties but also new horizons in which officials and the people see a promising future for both kingdoms.

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Thailand were officially restored in January this year, during Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s trip to Riyadh, when the two countries agreed to appoint ambassadors for the first time in over three decades.

The crown prince arrived in Bangkok as a guest of honor at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit hosted by Thailand on Nov. 18-19 and became the first Saudi official to make such a trip.

“It was the first visit at the level of the Kingdom’s leadership since the establishment of relations between the two countries in 1957,” Abdurrahman bin Abdulaziz Al-Suhaibani, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Thailand, told Arab News.

In welcome messages, many Thais wrote it was an “honor” for them to see the Saudi crown prince in their country. (SPA)

“It will move the relations of the two countries to broader horizons and a prosperous and promising future.

“It will also contribute to accelerating steps that will enhance bilateral, economic and trade relations between the two countries by exploring potential investment opportunities in light of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and the development priorities of Thailand.”

The crown prince’s meetings with the Thai leadership have yielded numerous memorandums on energy, investment, tourism, anticorruption efforts and the normalization of diplomatic relations.

When the crown prince arrived in Bangkok, he was officially received by the country’s top leadership and royal family and unofficially by many others, especially from the younger generation, who took to social media to welcome him and set up online fan clubs.

In welcome messages, many Thais wrote it was an “honor” for them to see the Saudi crown prince in their country.

“I think Thai people are looking and are expecting more cooperation with Saudi Arabia,” Abdurrahman bin Abdulaziz Al-Suhaibani, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Thailand, told Arab News. (Supplied)

Photos and videos from the visit went viral and made the rounds with captions such as “Warm welcome, Prince,” “This is what people in the country (Thailand) want,” “Happy: Thai-Saudi relations are very close after 32 years,” “Long live MBS.”

“The relations now seem to be on the right track and will grow stronger and more comprehensive in the coming period,” Al-Suhaibani told Arab News.

“The Saudi embassy will focus on implementing and following up on the agreements and memoranda of understanding that were signed during this historic visit.”

Tanee Sangrat, director-general of information at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs and soon-to-be Thailand’s ambassador to the US, told Arab News that the visit was “closely watched and followed by the Thai people in Thailand and around the world.”

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s trip to Riyadh in January. (Shutterstock)

He said: “We look to Saudi Arabia as a country that has great potential. The crown prince and prime minister is very widely well respected by our people.

“I think Thai people are looking and are expecting more cooperation with Saudi Arabia.”

With the restoration of ties with Saudi Arabia, Thailand has found not only a new powerful partner in navigating volatile energy markets and energy transition, but also, as many have said, a “gateway” to the Middle East, where Thailand’s presence is not very strong.
 

 

The restored relationship would give not only Thai exporters but also investors more access to opportunities in the Gulf and beyond.

“This is a big, big issue for Thailand. Saudi Arabia is a critical partner in the Middle East,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Bangkok-based Institute of Security and International Studies, told Arab News.

“That is a gateway for Thailand to re-engage and re-enter Middle East markets. Without the Saudi Arabia relationship, a lot of doors were closed. Now, more doors will be opened.”

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Bangkok last week. (Supplied)

Suppalerk Aramkitphotha, a business development professional, saw the crown prince’s visit as a “great opportunity.”

“We are very glad that we have this opportunity,” he said, citing the business prospects between Thailand and the Middle East that would now be facilitated.

Jirayut Srupsrisopa, the founder of the first Thai fintech startup to notch up a valuation of more than $1 billion, said he was glad that the Saudi crown prince visited Thailand and new bridges were built.

“Now we can do so much more between Thailand and Saudi Arabia. We can work with Saudis for the future of energy, the future of green hydrogen or future growth in other aspects like the digital economy,” he told Arab News, adding that there would also be opportunities such as medical tourism.

Thailand, where healthcare services are well developed, already has agreements with countries such as Kuwait and Qatar for receiving patients. A deal with Saudi Arabia is likely to be a part of the two countries’ relations going forward.

“We are famous for medical tourism,” Jirayut said. “Everyone can come here, have a nice holiday, nice beach, nice mountains, nice hotels, nice services. And they can get their teeth done. They can recover. They can have a health checkup here at a fraction of the cost elsewhere.”

But there is much more to the renewed ties than business opportunities.

Referring to the potential role that culture can play in cementing the re-established Saudi-Thai relationship, Ambassador Al-Suhaibani said: “There are many similarities between the two countries, particularly in hospitality, generosity, friendliness and, most importantly the richness of culture.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Thai Prime Minister witness the exchange of several MoU between Saudi Arabia and Thailand. (Supplied)

“This will encourage us to strengthen relationships and communication between our people, as well as to promote constructive dialogue in many aspects of social, cultural and religious (life).”

This kind of exchange is what Thais have waited for a long time.

Voralak Tulaphorn, a marketing professional, said a Saudi presence is something that was missing from the multicultural landscape of Thailand for a long time.

“Saudi Arabia and (Thailand) actually have rich cultures, and with rich cultures it would be nice to have exchanges in everything from food and nature to fashion and handicrafts.”

For her, what holds the greatest promise as a means of bringing Thais and Saudis together is an appreciation of each other’s cuisines. Food is a good way to win hearts and spread cultural influence.

“I think people love Thai street food,” Voralak told Arab News, adding that she hoped that soon Saudi restaurants would start emerging in Bangkok. “We would love to taste Saudi Arabian food too.”