The 3rd US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum in Los Angeles brought together over a thousand officials, business people and others to discuss the trade and investment opportunities available in the Kingdom. The forum highlighted the U.S.-Saudi commercial and trade relationship and how U.S. companies can participate in Saudi Arabia’s expansion. It also provided a unique platform for American and Saudi executives to establish new and lasting business ties.
Among the highlights of the Forum were the keynote remarks from a host of top Saudi and American leaders. Today SUSRIS provided a transcript of remarks from James Smith, US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He was followed to the podium by Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Saeed, advisor to the Royal Court of Saudi Arabia. Dr. Al-Saeed took the opportunity to comment on Ambassador Smith’s remarks, the personal story of his travels throughout the Kingdom. Among the destinations in Smith’s recollections was Qassim Province, widely regarded as the most conservative region within the Kingdom:
“And if you go south of there you find Al Qassim, the center of the Najd, which is known by many as the most conservative part of Saudi Arabia. When you visit Qassim, the towns of Buraida and Unaizah you find yes, there’s the most conservative part of Saudi Arabia, but also the most liberal. In fact, Qassim is the New Hampshire of Saudi Arabia, because it’s libertarian. In Qassim you can be whatever you want to be and it’s nobody else’s business. And they embrace that.”
Ambassador Smith’s comparison of Qassim to New Hampshire seemed to amuse many in the audience and served as a segue for Dr. Abdulrahman’s opening remarks. He commented on the service of Ambassador Smith, who is reaching the end of his posting in Riyadh before turning to developments in the Kingdom. SUSRIS presents our transcript of Dr. Abdulrahman’s keynote address here for your consideration.
Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Saeed
US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum
Los Angeles, California
September 17, 2013
Good evening. Mr. Ambassador, dear friends, ladies and gentlemen.
I don’t know how I can top that, but one thing I’m sure of, lots of friends of mine will wonder now about that New Hampshire thing.
Mr. Ambassador, dear friend. You have been a very good friend to my country and our people, and in the time that you spent there you made lots of friends and you’ve been helpful in a lot of ways, so thank you for that. I think I express the feeling of everyone here. Thank you.
Another thing, the last two years we’ve seen a spate of books and reports on Saudi Arabia, most of them have unfortunately missed the point, the point that you have so eloquently stated this evening. Most of what has been published was unfortunately highly speculative, repetitive and spotty. Absent is this patient search for the truth, the search that guided men like Ameen Rahani [phonetic] and others who have spent time and went into the different parts of the country searching for its soul and for the facts of life of Saudi Arabia as you have just mentioned them.
I just wanted to point that out, because I thought many of my friends here, many of our businessmen who will go to Saudi Arabia need to see for themselves and hopefully not be blinded by some of the publications that we have seen lately.
Ladies and gentlemen, during the two days we have – during these two days we have heard many heartwarming ideas, facts and statistics about the progress being made in my country, Saudi Arabia, and the prospects for cooperation with the American people, especially the business community in this great state. I shall attempt not to belabor these points, but in the few minutes given to me I would like to address some of the questions you may have raised, and hopefully correct some of the false impressions laid out by pundits and so called experts on Saudi affairs.
So let me start with number one. Recently the Pew Global Project examined the views of Arab and Muslim nationals on world leaders. It found that confidence in the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah, and I quote, “Is the highest in Jordan and Egypt, where positive views of the Saudi monarch are widespread.” Roughly nine in ten Jordanians, ninety-two percent that is, expressed faith in King Abdullah. In Egypt the figure is eighty-three percent, in Pakistan sixty-four percent, and in Tunisia sixty-one percent, and in Nigeria fifty-five percent. That such respect is not limited to the Saudi people sends a powerful message at the time and in the region when several other leaders have experienced hardship often, unfortunately, violently expressed.
Two. A friend of mind, someone that you probably know, Anthony Cordesman, a highly respected student of international affairs and a stout observer of Middle Eastern affairs at the Center of Strategic and International Studies, CSIS, in Washington, has noted that Saudi initiatives and reforms reflect, and I quote, “A century of Saudi government investments at precisely the priorities that form the core demands of protests in places like Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia as the focus of social justice has been a key to most of the current events in the Middle East.” He observed, and I quote, “That Saudi leaders do not simply talk about reform and progress. They have made massive expenditures on every critical aspect of social welfare.”
This was originally a very long speech, but after I heard Ambassador Smith it’s going to be much shorter so that you can have your dinner. I’m aware that most of you need to catch a plane and go home so I’ll make this as short as I can.
However, a couple of things deserve a quick mention.
The Saudi media – and this by the way is an observation I heard from many foreign representatives, including Western ones – is vibrant with critical and bold discussion of issues that in the previous times were the province of private discussion. Some even suggested that the media has gone too far in this pursuit and celebration of this open environment. Also, National Dialogue has touched every sector of our society, creating together with the media a greater latitude for national discourse and expression.
Also a matter that deserves some mention here in our discussions, and one that matters to friends and prospective investors and business partners, is the seriousness with which the judicial system has been reformed. Clearly the time does not permit a full discussion of this highly important development, but one can point out that more specialized courts and clearer laws, rules, and regulations are either being implemented or are on their way to implementation. Suffice to say that considerable resources have been allocated for the task of upgrading and streamlining the judicial system and the judicial process. In fact, approximately $8 billion has already been earmarked for training and remedial purposes by the King Abdullah initiative to upgrade the judicial system. Hundreds of new judges are also joining the system now.
Allow me finally to touch on a subject of special pride for the Saudi people. The exceptional success of our rehabilitation program has been noticed and praised by many world leaders. A high official described this success to the chief editor of Newsweek International, and I quote, “As a little reported success story.” Many potential recruits to the extremist camp have joined the ranks of good citizens, and as a result of this success, and thanks to the allocated efforts of men and women in our security system and in the Ministry of Interior in particular, and last but not least a long list of people from all walks of life who have made this possible. This is important to hear. The streets of Saudi Arabia today are among the safest in the world.
On a different note, Saudi Arabia’s approach to international relations is based upon principles of cooperation, mutual respect, and the pursuit of peaceful coexistence, as exemplified by the King Abdullah initiative for the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Finally, I would like to end these quick remarks with an excerpt from an article that appeared recently in the Gulf News published in the United Arab Emirates. The author of this study, an Indian scholar by the name K. Ravindran wrote, and I quote, “Saudi Arabia is now the toast of every business gathering that has a focus on the Middle East. Report after report is putting the Kingdom in the top slot in terms of growth potential, business confidence, domestic demand, favorable demographics, retail dynamics, infrastructure development, construction boom, and imaginably every activity that has a baring on economic progress.” He goes on in describing this, but – and I’d like to quote some figures here. “Saudi Arabia clearly leads the Middle East infrastructure development spending for years to come and probably for a decade ahead. The numbers mentioned in this regard are mindboggling. Four hundred billion dollars is already committed to infrastructure, $100 billion in transport and logistics, $120 billion for development of the King Abdullah Economic City alone, another $500 billion in energy, logistics, and education by 2020. One hundred thirty billion dollars for mass housing and social welfare.” I would like to add to this shining assessment a fact well-known to many of you – the return of hundreds of thousands of Saudi men and women trained in the world’s best universities. We create a great pool of talent from which we can all benefit.
I have just finished reading a book that has just appeared in libraries. It’s written by Lee Kwan Yew, the founder of Singapore, and he talks about Saudi universities, in particular KAUST University, and the things he mentioned there are beautiful.
But at any rate, one more question that I think we need to address is the progress achieved by women in Saudi Arabia. Today, in this beautiful gathering, we have Dr. Selwa Al-Hazzaa, who is a wonderful eye surgeon and chief who heads hundreds of women in the King Faisal Specialist Hospital, and now a member of the Shura Council. And I think that is a point that many of our detractors missed in the writings that I have earlier alluded to.
Thank you very much. I could have said a lot more, but I know that it is time to have dinner, and for most of us to go home. Good night, thank you very much.
[Transcript by SUSRIS.com]
Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Saeed
H.E. Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Saeed is an Advisor at the Royal Court. He is also Chairman of the Board for King Abdulaziz Library and Foundation for Humanitarian Studies in Casablanca, Morocco, and Director General of the Center of Specialized Studies.
Dr. Al-Saeed has delivered lectures in numerous international forums, such as the Council on Foreign Relations, Georgetown University, the University of Beijing, and other international universities. His articles have been published in foreign and regional magazines and newspapers such as Newsweek, The Christian Science Monitor, China Daily, Le Figaro, and Financial Times. Dr. Al-Saeed has been active in promoting a balanced view of Arab-American relations and works with leaders in a variety of fields.
Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Saeed holds a B.A. in Political Science and an M.A. in Human Relations from Kansas University, and a Ph.D. in Political Sociology from the University of Missouri.
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