Saudi-French ties touch new heights

Saudi-French ties touch new heights
Updated 30 June 2016

Saudi-French ties touch new heights

Saudi-French ties touch new heights

Hard on the heels of the highly successful US visit, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman led another high-powered delegation to France. By all accounts, this trip has also been outstanding.
Strong and fruitful relations with the US are the bedrock of foreign policy. But ties with France are equally important and crucial. The French have historic connections with the Arab world. Relations between Riyadh and Paris strengthened almost 50 years ago. Back then, King Faisal and French President Charles de Gaulle in 1967 forged new ties. Ever since, those connections have only become stronger.
This became clear during the deputy crown prince's meetings with President Francois Hollande, Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. There was a genuine warmth and friendship in these encounters.
France and the Kingdom have the same stand on Middle East issues. Both countries want regional peace and stability. Both deplore the misery of Syria and agree that Bashar Assad cannot be part of any solution. Both agree that Moscow and Tehran have damaged efforts to end the Syrian conflict. Both see eye to eye on Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. And perhaps most crucially, both countries have been the victims of significant acts of terrorism.
Geopolitically Saudi Arabia and France are on the same sheet. In their experience of terrorism, they are on the same line. An effective Saudi-Franco security agreement has been in force since 2008. The Kingdom has shared its counter-terrorism expertise with its allies. France has been a significant beneficiary. Relations between the security forces of both countries are close. They present a united front against the terror menace. French Sen. Nathalie Goulet this week spoke for fellow legislators when she praised the Kingdom’s anti-terror role and called for even stronger bilateral ties.
The military connection is hardly less important. The Royal Saudi Air Force and navy fly French helicopters and the main warplanes are European Typhoons and Tornado jets. This defense connection is significant.
A key component of Saudi Vision 2030 is the development of a local defense sector. This will see a massive transfer of technology and expertise. It will provide jobs for highly-trained Saudi graduates. It will boost the Kingdom’s role as the major regional manufacturing power. The French were every bit as interested as the Americans in the significant opportunities available here.
What clearly impressed the French was that the deputy crown prince came in person to explain Vision 2030. He brought with him top-level ministers and officials. The delegation had answers to all the questions the French posed. It was made clear how the extraordinary ambitions of Vision 2030 will be achieved. The foundational role of the National Transformation Program was set out plainly.
The opportunities for corporate France to assist in the radical strengthening of the Saudi economy were obvious. It is ranked as the Kingdom’s eighth most important trading partner. It is the 15th largest customer for Saudi exports. French-Saudi trade reached 7 billion euros in 2015, with the Kingdom the world number one exporter of oil to France. It is equally significant that France is the third biggest investor in the Kingdom. Its investments currently stand at $15.3 billion. By the same token, three percent of Saudi investments are in France. Gulf Cooperation Council investments in France are no less compelling. Some 30 percent of GCC’s overseas commitments are in the French economy.
These figures demonstrate the opportunities for both countries. Prince Mohammed has cleared the decks for foreign investment. Strategic overseas investors are essential for Vision 2030. The private sector’s share of the economy will increase from 40 percent to 65 percent in the next 14 years. That will only be achieved through the participation of foreign companies. This is being encouraged by benign regulation, fast-track bureaucratic processes, a clear commercial code, attractive incentives and competitive tax codes.
The Kingdom takes seriously its responsibilities as a member of the World Trade Organization. Foreign companies can arrive and work on their own account or in partnership with Saudi businesses. Participation in the Kingdom’s bond and equity markets is open to the world’s largest fund managers.
In the wake of the deputy crown prince’s successful US tour, officials have been busy ironing out the details of deals. That process is now being repeated in Riyadh and Paris. The genius of these two personal visits is that they have unlocked the enthusiasm of two of the Kingdom’s most important geopolitical partners. The Americans and French have been galvanized by the ambitions of Vision 2030. They are now busy organizing their own participation in it.


Editorial: Iran must not go unpunished

Editorial: Iran must not go unpunished
Updated 16 May 2019

Editorial: Iran must not go unpunished

Editorial: Iran must not go unpunished
  • Arab News argues that while war is always a last resort, an international response is a must to curb Iranian meddling
  • US strikes worked well when Assad used chemical weapons against his people

The attacks on Tuesday by armed drones on Saudi oil-pumping stations, and two days beforehand on oil tankers off the coast of Fujairah in the UAE, represent a serious escalation on the part of Iran and its proxies, should the initial conclusions of an international investigation prove to be accurate. 

Riyadh has constantly warned world leaders of the dangers that Iran poses, not only to Saudi Arabia and the region, but also to the entire world. This is something former President Obama did not realize until the Iran-backed Houthis attacked the US Navy three times in late 2016. The recent attacks on oil tankers and oil pipelines were aimed at subverting the world economy by hitting directly at the lifeline of today’s world of commerce. Tehran should not get away with any more intimidation, or be allowed to threaten global stability. 

It was in 2008 that the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz called upon the US to “cut off the head of the snake,” in reference to the malign activities of Iran. Nearly a decade later, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman referred to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the “new Hitler of the Middle East.” We are in 2019 and Iran continues to wreak havoc in the region, both directly and through its well armed proxies. Crown Prince Mohammed was therefore clearly correct when he argued that appeasement does not work with the Iranian regime, just as it did not work with Hitler. The next logical step — in this newspaper’s view — should be surgical strikes. The US has set a precedent, and it had a telling effect: The Trump strikes on Syria when the Assad regime used Sarin gas against its people.

We argue this because it is clear that sanctions are not sending the right message. If the Iranian regime were not too used to getting away with their crimes, they would have taken up the offer from President Trump to get on the phone and call him in order to reach a deal that would be in the best interests of the Iranian people themselves. As the two recent attacks indicate, the Iranians insist on disrupting the flow of energy around the world, putting the lives of babies in incubators at risk, threatening hospitals and airports, attacking civilian ships and putting innocent lives in danger. As the case always is with the Iranian leadership, they bury their heads in the sand and pretend that they have done nothing. Nevertheless, investigations indicate that they were behind the attack on our brothers in the UAE while their Houthi militias targeted the Saudi pipelines.

Our point of view is that they must be hit hard. They need to be shown that the circumstances are now different. We call for a decisive, punitive reaction to what happened so that Iran knows that every single move they make will have consequences. The time has come for Iran not only to curb its nuclear weapon ambitions — again in the world’s interest — but also for the world to ensure that they do not have the means to support their terror networks across the region. 

We respect the wise and calm approach of politicians and diplomats calling for investigations to be completed and all other options to be exhausted before heading to war. In the considered view of this newspaper, there has to be deterrent and punitive action in order for Iran to know that no sinister act will go unpunished; that action, in our opinion, should be a calculated surgical strike.


Editorial: Two thumbs up, Mr. Trump

Editorial: Two thumbs up, Mr. Trump
US President Donald Trump speaks during the Arabic Islamic American Summit at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh on Sunday. (SPA)
Updated 05 June 2017

Editorial: Two thumbs up, Mr. Trump

Editorial: Two thumbs up, Mr. Trump

There was one topic that dominated the lobby of the Riyadh Marriott, where the media center for the Arab-Islamic-American Summit was set up: US President Donald Trump’s speech. Journalists from the Middle East, and those flying in from the US, seemed to all have the same question in the back of their mind: How bad would Trump’s speech be, considering his controversial pre-election rhetoric?
Not only did last night’s speech silence most critics — in this region at least — but it made it very clear that Trump will do what he thinks is right, no matter how harshly he is made to look like he is contradicting himself back home.
What matters to this part of the world is that we feared a president who would seek to divide us, but got one who last night talked about unity and how standing together will ensure we do not fail. We feared a president we were led to believe hates our values and culture, but we got one who sipped our coffee, joined us in sword dancing and told us last night that the US is not here to impose its way of life, but to offer us a helping hand if we choose to take it.
We thought that when Trump said “America First,” he meant we would be neglected and left to our misery. But it is his predecessor Barack Obama who did that when he opted to lecture and profess instead of adhering to his own red line when Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his own people.
What did Trump do? He fired back in less than 48 hours, and attacked a Syrian regime convoy a few days ago to make sure nobody thinks his administration is messing around. Trump is now off to Israel, and while he deserves two thumbs up for his Riyadh speech, all eyes will be on his negotiation skills to see if he can deliver what Obama and his other predecessors failed to achieve: A peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.


Editorial: For the sake of humanity, Russia!

Editorial: For the sake of humanity, Russia!
Russian Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vladimir Safronkov listens during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at U.N. headquarters, on Wednesday in New York City. (AFP)
Updated 06 April 2017

Editorial: For the sake of humanity, Russia!

Editorial: For the sake of humanity, Russia!

The horrible images coming out of Khan Sheikhun in Syria’s northern province of Idlib are both shocking and mind-numbing. The pictures of lifeless little ones in the arms of their parents and relatives are heart-breaking.
No words can describe this and other horrors that have been visited upon the innocent people of Syria by an inhuman and murderous regime.
This is not the first time the Bashar Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people. Nor most likely is it the last. The first time these weapons of mass destruction were used was in August 2013 in Ghouta.
The Assad regime was not held accountable for that, despite tough talk from the then-US President Barack Obama.
In contrast this time, the world seems united in its condemnation of the regime’s barbarous and abominable act. Nonetheless, there is one country that continues to stand by a dictator whose appetite for blood-letting and killing does not seem to have been slaked even now.
Russia maintains the attack came from opposition fighters. There is, however, clear evidence to the contrary. The attack was, according to the evidence, the result of an aerial bombing and only the regime has aircraft. The opposition has none.
It defies logic and good sense as to why Russia would stand on the wrong side of history. How many more Syrians need to die for the calculations in Moscow to change? More than 400,000 have died in the war and more than 5 million have been uprooted from their land and scattered to countries far and near.
The chemical attack is — as US President Donald Trump rightly said — an affront to humanity.
There has been far too much dilly-dallying at the UN. For much too long, the fate of Syrians has been held hostage to the deadly game of Russian roulette. The business of the veto must stop. And with it, the dance of death in Syria can also be stopped.
Russia must, for the sake of humanity, join the world in stopping the devil in Damascus from raining more death and destruction upon innocent people. 

 


Editorial: The stars are aligned for cinema in Saudi Arabia

Editorial: The stars are aligned for cinema in Saudi Arabia
The Saudi Film Festival in Dhahran was a huge success.
Updated 08 April 2017

Editorial: The stars are aligned for cinema in Saudi Arabia

Editorial: The stars are aligned for cinema in Saudi Arabia

A Saudi film festival concluded a few days ago in the Eastern Province of the Kingdom. In what was a magnificent display of local creativity and an appreciation of the beautiful art of movie-making, local producers, directors, actors and film fans all got together and enjoyed the wonders of the big screen together.
More importantly, the festival served as a reminder that Saudis — like anyone else in the world — can enjoy the magic of motion pictures and experience the thrills and chills of public screenings without any issues.
Of course, this was not the first festival of its kind in the Kingdom; such events have been organized more frequently over the past few years. However, there is no escaping the obvious question: If Saudis and foreigners can enjoy films at these local festivals, then why can’t the Kingdom simply open up public movie theaters, where both locally produced films as well as selected Hollywood blockbusters can be shown?
The ban on cinema in Saudi Arabia is a complicated matter. Technically, there is no law or religious edict (fatwa) that prohibits it and the disappearance of movie theaters (which used to exist up to the 1970s in some Saudi cities) is known to be a recent matter which crept its way into society.
This was possibly based on the “ijtihad” of some overzealous elements and the negligence of officials who may have not seen the matter as a priority... after all, to many people cinema is merely a pastime.
Could there have been an element of media control at that time as well? Possibly... although that argument, if it ever existed, was shredded to bits with the introduction of satellite television in the early 1990s and the Internet a decade later.
Yet today’s Saudi Arabia is incomparable with that of 1980s or 1990s. In fact, the pace of change occurring in the Kingdom is so fast that it is even incomparable to the Saudi Arabia of two years ago!
Yes, there are still plenty of social issues to fix. However, one cannot ignore that in the past six months alone, we have seen live concerts, mixed audiences, visit of Hollywood stars, the Kingdom’s first ever Comic-Con and more art galleries and film activities than perhaps ever before.
Naturally, credit needs to be given where credit is due, and the newly-formed and government-backed General Authority for Entertainment certainly deserves a round of applause for all its efforts to bring joy, laughter and magical moments to the Kingdom and paint a bright future which awaits us within Vision 2030.
Will there be those who are unhappy with a decision to re-open movie theaters? Of course there will be. However, nobody will be forcing them to change their mind or watch a film if they don’t choose to. We must remember that there were also those who opposed schools for girls and if it wasn’t for the late King Faisal and his stern and decisive approach to the matter in the 1960s, women’s education might have been delayed for decades.
Will there be a security risk of having people together in a public arena? Of course there will be. But would that be any more dangerous than attending a football match or flying on a plane?
On the other hand, we need only think of how such a step would allow a wider slice of society to be empowered, cultivated and exposed to this beautiful art form (not everyone can afford to fly to Dubai, Cairo or London to watch a film). Furthermore, we will be creating jobs and a brand new industry, not just for local filmmakers, but for everyone from ticket-booth attendants to ushers and everyone else in the supply-chain of the movie-going business.
We do hope to see cinemas opening soon; after all, the stars could not be any more aligned than they are now.


Editorial: Saudi budget 2017: short-term pain, long-term gain

Editorial: Saudi budget 2017: short-term pain, long-term gain
Updated 07 March 2017

Editorial: Saudi budget 2017: short-term pain, long-term gain

Editorial: Saudi budget 2017: short-term pain, long-term gain

Saudi Arabia’s 2017 budget, announced today, will include some tough decisions which neither nationals nor expats living in the Kingdom are used to nor will find easy.
However, with the ongoing oil price crisis, Riyadh — which until today still relies mostly on the energy economy — had only one of two options: Fight or flight.
Rather than burying its head in the sand, praying for solutions and exhausting its reserves, the government opted for the more difficult of the two choices: To fight.
Believing that the best time to introduce reforms is when your back is against the wall, the Saudi leadership earlier this year announced an ambitious, yet undoubtedly challenging, set of reforms under the umbrella of Vision 2030. It was an overarching initiative spearheaded by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is head of the Kingdom’s Council of Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA).
Many Saudis believe in the vision and value its importance, particularly given that it was crafted after a series of focus groups and workshops, which included many representatives of the country’s population. However, there were those — mostly people who benefit from the status quo — who sought to brush off the reforms as either unattainable or unnecessary.
Of course, there is no question that, over at least the next two years, the majority will suffer from a financial pinch — and the criticism of the reform plans will now undoubtedly increase.
After all, citizens and residents of the oil-rich Kingdom are not used to paying a higher rate for energy prices; and of course, the impact does not stop there, as the domino effect will also mean price increases for goods and services; many of which will soon also be subject to a value-added tax (VAT).
Expats working in the Kingdom, who also began paying a higher rate on their entry/exit visas this year, will also be subjected to paying fees for as long as they work in Saudi Arabia. However, these fees are minimal and are in no way comparable those levied in the US or European countries, where not only a hefty income tax (reaching 50 percent in some cases) applies, but also taxes on energy, water, municipality or council services, property transactions, inheritance and even TV licenses.
Yet to say that these Saudi reforms were not necessary is simply ignorant. Numbers Arab News has reviewed with senior government officials over the past few days demonstrate a real “doomsday scenario” within less than five years if such reforms were not introduced as quickly as they have been.
The good news is that the 2017 budget, and the government’s budget-balancing act it aims to achieve by 2020, has assumed only the worst-case scenario. Things will be ever rosier if positive factors come to pass, such as the imminent oil output deal, and the eagerly-anticipated Saudi Aramco initial public offering.
We should not neglect to mention that the price hikes are going to be introduced alongside a generous government assistance program, the aim of which is twofold. It will both help Saudis on low incomes cope with the increased rates, while at the same time attempt to limit waste and rectify bad habits by offering incentives to citizens who cut down on their energy and water consumption.
The measures announced today come with a whole set of commitments designed so that the people of the Kingdom will begin seeing the results as soon as possible, and that a budgetary balance is achieved by 2020, paving the way for a sustainable economic future.
First and foremost, Riyadh has pledged full transparency on its projects and spending. Now, while some might be wary of Saudi Arabia’s dealing with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the reality is what better “seal of approval” could the economy get than working with the IMF and other such internationally-trusted entities?
What is interesting is that the pledge of being transparent is not only directed outwards, but inwards as well; even though the government does not actually have to make such promises. Among the reforms it intends to introduce is a public record detailing the achievements, KPIs and spending of different ministries and entities.
Will this succeed? Well, there have been many Saudi projects which were announced and never delivered; however, the majority of the ones that were fruitful had one thing in common: The involvement of the head of state himself.
A few days ago, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman addressed Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council and made it clear he is fully supportive of the reforms. He was also the first to subscribe to full transparency when it comes to the reality of what the various economic reforms will entail. As he said earlier this year, they “might be painful in the short run but ultimately aim to protect the economy from worse problems.”