Focus KSA | Building Bridges: A Conversation with David Dumke

Published: July 27, 2014

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Editor’s Note:

In 2012 the University of Central Florida (UCF) established the Prince Mohammad bin Fahd Program for Strategic Research and Studies to “advance public awareness and knowledge about the United States-Saudi Arabia relationship, including bilateral relations, security, culture and the economy.” The program is a partnership between UCF and the Prince Mohammad bin Fahd University (PMU) in Al Khobar. One example of the work undertaken by the program is its oral history project “The American Experience in Saudi Arabia,” which was profiled by SUSRIS in April. [Link]

Focus KSA recently spoke with the program director David Dumke about the Prince Mohammad program objectives and accomplishments as they build bridges of understanding between Americans and Saudis. Today we provide a transcript of the Focus KSA session with Mr. Dumke along with the video from our conversation. You can also find the video from the visit of Prince Mohammad bin Fahd to the University of Central Florida and his remarks in 2013 on the occasion of the program’s Web site launch.


Focus KSA is a series of video programs providing conversations with specialists and decision makers who provide timely insights into important issues and topics in the Saudi-US relationship and developments in Saudi Arabia and the region. Focus KSA is produced jointly by the Saudi-US Trade Group ( and the Saudi-US Relations Project ( Focus KSA features include live, interactive Webinars and one-on-one video interviews. You can learn more about the monthly schedule of Webinars and the ad hoc sessions at the Focus KSA page on ( There you will also find an archive of Focus KSA videos and transcripts. Audio files are available in the archive and as Podcasts on iTunes.

[In September Focus KSA will feature a panel of distinguished specialists talking about the Saudi Arabian stock market and the recent announcement that it will open up to foreign institutional investors.]

Follow SUSRIS on Twitter @saudius


Mr. David Dumke is Director of the Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd Program for Strategic Research and Studies at the University of Central Florida. He was interviewed by Patrick Ryan, Director of the Saudi-US Relations Project ( on July 16, 2014 from his office in Orlando, Florida.

Focus KSA: A Conversation with David Dumke
Director, Prince Mohammed bin Fahd Program for Strategic Research and Studies
July 16, 2014

[Focus KSA] Good day. Welcome to Focus KSA. I’m Patrick Ryan, Director of the Saudi-U.S. Relations Project, We have a special program for you today. We’re going to be talking with David Dumke. He’s the Director of the Prince Mohammed bin Fahd Program for Strategic Research and Studies at the University of Central Florida.

Just a reminder, Focus KSA is a special project in association with the Saudi-U.S. Trade Group, and I work with, and we’re pleased to bring you these features. We do a regular monthly Webinar and have occasional special editions, special projects, and special guests, and today we have with us David Dumke, as I mentioned director of the Prince Mohammed program at the University of Central Florida.

Welcome David. Thanks for joining us today.

David Dumke300[David Dumke] Thank you, Patrick. I really appreciate you having me on.

[Focus KSA] We’re happy to have you, and to learn something more about the Prince Mohammed bin Fahd Program for Strategic Research and Studies. Why don’t you give us an overview of what the program is about there at the University of Central Florida?

[David Dumke] Well, we started this program about a year and a half ago, and it’s the product of a partnership between the University of Central Florida, which a lot of people don’t know is the second largest university in the United States with 60,000 students and growing. We’ve seen the quality of our academics improve over time at UCF.

The one area that our president really wanted us to work on was improving international relations, particularly with the Middle East region. So on one of our trips we went over to Saudi Arabia. We were able to develop a partnership with Prince Mohammed bin Fahad University, which is a private school in the Eastern Province, in Al Kobar.


Click for the Focus KSA conversation with David Dumke.


PMU, our partner, is looking for some of the educational benefits and experiences of UCF. We, in turn, are looking to learn from them. One of the ways we thought we would do that is by setting up a program which could facilitate understanding in the Kingdom as well as here about the nature of relations and a lot of issues that aren’t necessarily political but are very important like educational partnerships. Obviously the economic partnerships have existed for a long time, cultural ties, and other things.

We’re located in Orlando and we were joking earlier about Mickey Mouse and Disney, but in fact we have one of the best tourism programs in the world and the United States. Tourism, as you know but a lot of people don’t know, tourism is a growing industry in Saudi Arabia, for example. So as a partnership, how can we work with private sector universities and government institutions to try to help on issues that may not be recognized in something like tourism.


Click for video of Prince Mohammad bin Fahd at the University of Central Florida.


[Focus KSA] Well you certainly have carved out a great niche in a great location there. As you mentioned it’s a great place to attract participation from those in the Kingdom, and I think our readers and viewers are very familiar with the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, which has brought tens of thousands of Saudi students for higher education into the United States, and has brought students all over the country. Less well known are efforts like yours to do major programs like the Prince Mohammed bin Fahd program there. We know how the King Abdullah program provides higher education for Saudi students. You mentioned the University of Central Florida wanting to expand its international program. So can you tell us how being involved in this it benefits the local university there?

[Dumke] Well I think first of all we live in a truly global atmosphere. There’s a lot of clichés about global connectivity, but they’re very true. These are said because they’re true. This goes from our leadership on down.

Orlando has become an international city and our assets include the tourism industry, but they also include some other things. For example, this is also an area very vital to the space industry. The space industry has done a lot of research in renewable energy, for example, and water.

So we try to look at what we have in needs in Florida as well as the greater United States and try to match them with some of things going on in the Kingdom, and build programs that way. So one of our big initiatives last year, which is ongoing, I’m happy to say, is that we did a conference on water. This is an area obviously of critical importance to the Kingdom. There’s always been water shortages. You’ve seen aquifers that are nearly dried up but you’ve also seen great investment from the Saudi government and from academic institutions in the Kingdom towards water research.

Saudi Arabia now – and this again surprised a lot of people – has become a real leader in water, in desalination – not just through old technologies, by using energy, by using fossil fuels to convert water but to become an innovator in solar desalinization, for example.

Florida has a water shortage. A lot of people don’t understand. We’ve misused aquifers, for example. So you do something that’s based on a concrete issue, but has applicability both in the Kingdom and here. That’s just one example. There are a lot of examples too, and you know this well both from your service and with all the visitors you’ve interviewed and other initiatives going on. There is still a huge knowledge gap as to what is actually going on in a place like Saudi Arabia, what we’re doing in the United States, what partnerships actually exist, and where we can find more reason to work together.

[Focus KSA] Well it’s great that beyond the campus you’re making connections between those in Saudi Arabia in the area of water and other challenges, and those in Florida and elsewhere in the states to build bridges between Saudis and Americans in these areas where we have mutual interest.

Can you tell us specifically about some of the programs and projects that you have going on. I know there’s an oral history project – you can maybe fill us in on that and some of the other works that you have either on the table or on the drawing board?

Prince Mohammed bin Fahd Program pmbf-ucf-logo

[Dumke] Sure. It’s interesting that you also mentioned the King Abdullah Scholarship Program. We’ve been blessed with a lot of Saudi students at UCF. There’s no problem with the atmosphere and climate coming over here. It’s actually a draw.

A good thing that’s happened to our university is even before the scholarship program was established we had a number of Saudi graduates and other graduates from the GCC region. Word of mouth and reputation has led more to come.

Higher education is big business. The King Abdullah Scholarship Fund hasn’t just been great for the Kingdom and its future but it’s been very beneficial to universities, and UCF is part of that.

We actually mentioned oral history projects. We’re trying to look at things — that first of all, some of them are not new ideas. I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel when you don’t have to. So one oral history project we have going on is — Florida is also the home of a great deal, a number of retirees. One thing we’re doing right now is we’ve tapped many of these retirees who are former Aramco folks and others who have worked in the Kingdom – we did this through word of mouth, we did this through a variety of existing Saudi-related programs to get the word out — and we have had Aramcons and others who are willing to go on tape to talk about their experiences there, and of course the Saudi history over the last five, six decades is a pretty fascinating one in terms of growth and development.

We’re getting some of these stories on tape — we’ll start posting one a month on our website — that are telling stories about their time in the Kingdom, how they got there, their impressions – very rich stuff. Aramco themselves have done this before, as have some others, but we want to do this as a new variation of that, and get it while we can. It’s an asset that’s relevant to Florida but also relevant to what we’re trying to do. At the same time, back to the King Abdullah Scholarship Program – we had a young Saudi woman who was attending our events regularly and had helped us with some ideas, and she came up with an idea of doing a – it’s not history yet, it’s current – but interviewing some of the Saudi students who are here at UCF about their experiences of going to college in the United States. What this is doing for their lives. What they think this will mean for the Kingdom going down the road. So we’ve got two different oral history projects, and again these are things that came to us pretty easily, but we think the information that’s going to be presented on these will be pretty valuable going forward.

[Focus KSA] To be sure. Let me remind our viewers that this is Focus KSA, a project of the Saudi-U.S. Trade Group and, the Saudi-U.S. Relations Information Service.

We’re talking with David Dumke. He’s the Director of the Prince Mohammed bin Fahd Program for Strategic Research and Studies at the University of Central Florida. David is also one of the early contributors to the Saudi-America Forum, which was a project that eventually became [See also: “A Snapshot of the U.S.-Saudi Political Relationship.”] He’s also a specialist in Middle East affairs. He worked on Capitol Hill. And I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity to talk a little bit about current developments and his perspective on U.S.-Saudi relations.

Any last thoughts David on the Prince Mohammed bin Fahd program, anything that we didn’t cover that you’d like people to know? Things that our viewers and readers may be able to become involved with? Anything coming up they should know about?

[Dumke] Yes, we have a website. You just look up University of Central Florida Prince Mohammed program and it will easily lead to what we’re doing. We have a newsletter we like to distribute. We’re always open to ideas, and again it’s not the team that I work with – I think they’re a very good team – but it’s not just our ideas. It’s ideas that are coming to us from people with direct experience on this, and we like to implement those, so we encourage them to come. We have regular speakers who come to Orlando. We’ve done things in Washington. We’ve done things abroad.

pmbf-ucf-program2 khaled almaeena samar fatanyClick for PMBF-UCF program videos

We just look forward and are looking for more opportunities. So I just leave it at that, and that’s my plug, so I appreciate that. And yeah, any questions you have I’ll be happy to talk about the Kingdom and the region.

[Focus KSA] We’ll be able to keep our readers and watchers on SUSRIS informed over time as you have new programs and events.

Let’s take advantage of having you on the screen here from I guess today’s not so sunny Florida but we’re pleased to have you with us. As I mentioned, David, you were one of the early essayists of the Saudi-American Forum, which became SUSRIS back in 2003, and you have experience on Capitol Hill, and since then you have seen as well as anyone the evolution of developments in the Kingdom – reform and modernization, the evolution of the relationship with the United States, the increasing role of Saudi Arabia in regional affairs and global affairs.

Can you just take a minute to reflect on what you’ve seen over the last ten years in the relationship and the developments in the Kingdom, the things that strike you as most noteworthy?

[Dumke] The last ten years obviously hasn’t been the easiest time to measure the U.S.-Saudi relationship. It’s not just U.S. and Saudi actions, you’re dealing with a rough neighborhood. I don’t want to go off target but what happened in Iraq with the initial invasion, what our American intentions were at the time have not played out.

You’ve had the Arab Spring — a lot of events that have happened have had good and bad consequences. I would say a lot of bad consequences, first of all, but in terms of the impact of the U.S.-Saudi relations, it’s really been mixed reactions.

I’ve listened to a lot of commentators and people I have a great respect for saying the relationship has never been so tense between Riyadh and Washington and that there have been more misunderstandings lately. All that’s true on the one hand. On the other hand there have been some unintended consequences that are not necessarily bad, and I particularly look inside the Kingdom right now.

The United States and Saudi Arabia, particularly on the economic side, were very close for a long time but it really has been a relationship that was based more on energy and less on a lot of other things. I think one development over the last ten years — because the nature of global energy, the developments inside the U.S., developments inside the Kingdom — is energy is one component of this relationship on the economic side but certainly not the only one.

We’ve mentioned the King Abdullah Scholarship Fund. Educational ties are huge and it’s actually big business. That’s an area that is going to pay off dividends into the future because, as we’ve seen in the past, the more Saudis who are educated in the United States that builds a core of future business leaders, future academic leaders, and government leaders who have a familiarity with the American system.

The United States does need to take some steps to understand Saudi Arabia better. It’s through programs like this one and a lot of other efforts to understand the opportunities that exist. We’re dealing with young Saudi leaders in all walks of life, all walks of economic life, who are familiar with our systems to build up a natural core of connections.

I also think there’s been negative implications after 9/11. That led in some ways to a lot of Saudi soul searching. On the economic side particularly that we’ve got to diversify our relationships. There are some Americans who say that’s led Saudi to have closer relations with Moscow and Beijing and India, a lot of different countries. I say that’s a very positive thing. Positive for Saudi Arabia because diverse relations show a maturation process for a state that is less than one hundred years old. That can also be a good thing for the United States. If you have a good friend in Saudi Arabia there’s a lot of trilateral initiatives both culturally, economically, politically that can have great benefit.

So I think we’re going through a lot of problems because of Iraq, because of crises in the region, because of the Arab Spring – all true – but that over time can lead to some closer relations and changed relations and modernized relations. So I’m more positive than negative in terms of the U.S.-Saudi relationship going forward.

[Focus KSA] That’s a great summary of ten years in three minutes – I appreciate that. We appreciate you taking time to talk with us about the Prince Mohammed bin Fahd program at the University of Central Florida. We’ll be happy to share updates with our viewers and readers in the future so we can to keep them connected with what you’re doing, and we’ll certainly steer them towards your website and your calendar, and keep them up to date. Any final thoughts that you’d like to share?

[Dumke] Well, Patrick I’d just like to thank you for talking to us. Obviously it’s important for us to get awareness of our program out there. We’re always looking for partnerships with other organizations or individuals, so we thank you for talking to us today.

[Focus KSA] Terrific, thanks. We’ve been talking with David Dumke. He’s the director of the Prince Mohammed bin Fahd Program for Strategic Research and Studies at the University of Central Florida, and this has been Focus KSA. Have a good day.

Mr. David Dumke is Director of the Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd Program for Strategic Research and Studies at the University of Central Florida. He was interviewed by Patrick Ryan, Director of the Saudi-US Relations Project ( on July 16, 2014 from his office in Orlando, Florida.


About David Dumke
Director, Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd Program for Strategic Research and Studies

David Dumke300An experienced Middle East specialist, Dumke writes regular columns for both Al Ahram Weekly and Saudi Gazette. He has worked on regional projects in a number of fields, including politics, business and academia. He also brings a background in entrepreneurship, having established numerous firms serving specific needs, whose clients, partners, and collaborators include governments, NGOs, business organizations and private-sector entities. Dumke was a Regional Advisor for Goddard Global, an international strategic communications firm. In that capacity, he worked directly with Egypt’s political transition, including that country’s first democratic presidential election in 2012. He also served as a consultant on foreign policy, energy and trade for the The Livingston Group, one of Washington’s prominent, bipartisan government relations firms. His principal responsibility was working with the Egyptian Ministry of Defense. Dumke is a regular participant at regional political and business conferences and forums. He has written extensively on the American political process and foreign policy. He has also published several analytical pieces on congressional policymaking vis-à-vis the Middle East, including “Congress and the Arab Heavyweights: Questioning the Saudi and Egyptian Alliances” in Middle East Policy, and A View from the Inside: Congressional Decision-making and Arab-Israeli Policy (Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, 2006). Dumke previously served as an aide to House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Michigan), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Michigan). He received a B.A. in History, Political Science and Russian Studies from Indiana University, where he was a teaching assistant on the U.S. Congress, and an M.A. in Muslim-Christian Understanding from Georgetown University.

David Dumke Contact Info: email:

Source: UCF.EDU


About the Prince Mohammad bin Fahd Program for Strategic Research and Studies

The Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd Program for Strategic Research and Studies, which is supported by the Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University Annual Fund, was established in 2012. The program is jointly administered by the Global Perspectives Office and the Department of Political Science in the College of Sciences at the University of Central Florida (UCF).

The program sponsors or co-sponsors public presentations by distinguished scholars and practitioners, an annual forum, student fellowships and research activities – all at UCF. The program seeks to advance public awareness and knowledge about the United States-Saudi Arabia relationship, including bilateral relations, security, culture and the economy.

The initiative reflects a partnership between UCF and Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University (PMU), a private university in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, that enrolls about 5,550 men and women. The university offers programs in areas such as engineering, computer science and information technology; has an executive MBA program and is planning a college of medicine. Many of the school’s courses are taught in English.

The PMBF Program benefits from input from the two Universities as well as an Advisory Board composed of members designated by UCF and PMU. Additionally, a small staff works hard to help the PMBF Program grow. While we have already had some events that highlighted different aspects of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, please stop by again to receive updates on what is to come.

Source: PMBF-UCF

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