Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Seven wonders of the Kingdom
Why should Russian businessmen get interested in the Kingdom in the Persian Gulf? There are at least seven good reasons.
- The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is one of the fastest-growing and most stable developed countries in the Middle East — and it’s the most dynamic market in the Persian Gulf region. Russian Ambassador to KSA Oleg Ozerov, sure that the volume of mutual trade of 10 billion dollars is quite achievable.
- Saudi Arabia possesses huge financial resources. Its GDP makes up approximately 25 percent of the total GDP for all Arabic countries. Since June 2015, Saudi stock market is open to foreign investors. Its volume is estimated at 590 billion dollars — more than in all the Gulf countries combined. A Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) — is the 11th largest in the world.
- Saudi Arabia is the leader of the Arabic world, and it is a kind of trade gateway to the Middle East countries. In addition, the Kingdom is ranked second in the world after the US in terms of international money transfers, the total amount of which is equal to about 583 billion dollars.
- The private sector is well-developed, and public-private partnership (PPP) is common in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia provides all the conditions necessary for collaborations with Russia. The reciprocal visits of the nations’ leaders, as well as the contacts they developed, and a strong legal basis for Russian and Saudi economic collaboration have all contributed to this favorable atmosphere. KSA will invest 10 billion dollars to Russian investment projects through a partnership created by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RFPI) and the Saudi sovereign fund Public Investment Fund (PIF). The amount will be allocated for 4 – 5 years. Priority sectors for partnership will be infrastructure, agriculture, medicine, logistics, retail.
- The kingdom is the largest producer of energy resources. National oil company Saudi Aramco controls 99% of the country reserves, which is about a quarter of the world’s proven reserves. It has branches, joint ventures and subsidiaries in China, Japan, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore, UAE, USA, UK. It also cooperate with Russia. The company has its own tanker fleet.
- But at the same time Saudi Arabia has made great efforts to diversify its economy and keep pace with the era of high-tech.
- Finally, Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries in the world that is almost never exposed to the negative effects of global economic crises. It remains a stable monarchy that continues to conduct significant construction and infrastructure projects. At the same time, Saudi investors are very interested in the Russian market as well as its scientific developments and research.
Moscow and Riyadh: A palette of opportunities
In February 2016, Moscow and Riyadh will celebrate ninety years of diplomatic relations. The Soviet Union was the first non-Arabic country to recognize the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia back in 1926.
The succession has been observed: on September 17, 1990, modern Russia and KSA adopted a declaration proclaiming the renewal of diplomatic relations. In November 1994, the head of the Russian government, Viktor Chernomyrdin, visited Riyadh on his tour of the Countries of the Council on Collaboration of Arabic Countries of the Persian Gulf. During the visit, officials signed a general intergovernmental agreement on economics and trade. The document covered topics such as capital investment, science, technology, culture, sports, and youth policy.
Reciprocal visits by the Russian and Saudi leaders have become a propitious tradition for the relationship between the two countries. In November 2003, Abdallah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, at that time the successor to the throne (in 2005 – 2015, the King and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques), came to Moscow and had a meeting with President Vladimir Putin. The parties signed a number of agreements on oil and gas, science, and technology.
In February 2007, Putin visited Saudi Arabia. It’s an event worth considering in greater detail as the relationship between two countries began to center around strong business ties. Several agreements were signed at the meeting: an agreement canceling double taxation; a memorandum of understanding and collaboration in the field of culture; a memorandum of understanding and collaboration between the Foreign Trade Bank, Roseximbank, and the Saudi Development Fund; an agreement on collaboration between the Saudi Information Agency and the RIA Novosti Аgency; and an intergovernmental agreement on aircraft operations.
Plus, given the presence of Rosoboronexport representatives among the members of the Russian delegation, it’s likely that they also discussed collaborating in this field. As KSA officials have said, the Kingdom sees no obstacles to cooperation with Russia in any areas, including arms and atomic energy development.
During a meeting with representatives from Saudi business circles, Putin stressed that Russian companies, such as Lukoil and Stroytransgaz, actively work in the Kingdom. At the same time, the president of Russia suggested extending the “palette of opportunities” for bilateral collaboration in the metallurgical industry, atomic energy, and high-tech as well as joint participation in the development of transportation infrastructure. The parties also discussed the prospects of interaction in the field of space. Finally, Putin noted Russian business’s interest in an influx of investments from Saudi Arabia. King Abdallah, in an interview with Izvestiya, said that the two countries had “huge economic potential,” and he underlined the importance of a scientific exchange in educational and technical areas.
King Abdallah awarded the Russian president Saudi Arabia’s highest honor, which is handed to heads and leaders of foreign countries. At the presentation ceremony, the King said he considered President Putin an outstanding statesman and a fighter for peace and justice: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is reaching out a hand of friendship to Russia and believes that this friendship will be strong and long-lasting. We expect kindness and devotion from our friends, and in turn, we promise to give the same.”
The Kingdom also recognized the work of one of the members of the Russian delegation: the president of the Republic of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiev, was awarded the International Prize of the King Faisal for Tireless Service to the Cause of Islam and Muslims. The ceremony took place under the aegis of the King and in the presence of President Putin. According to some experts, it was a symbolic act: bilateral relations are mostly conditioned by the factor of inter-Russian Islam.
In short, the bilateral relations were given a new incentive.
Back in October 2002, an intergovernmental Russian-Saudi commission on economic, scientific, and technical collaboration was created. In May 2005, in Riyadh, the commission held its second session; the third session, in June 2010, was held in St. Petersburg. Since 2002, modeled on the Russian-Arabic Business Council, the Russian-Saudi Business Council (RSBC) was established.
RSBC together with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation regularly holds business forums and delegation exchanges. In October 2009, in Jeddah, there was an inter-regional exhibition: “Russia and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” In June 2010, in Moscow, there was an RSBC exhibition, “Arabia-Expo,” that Saudi companies took part in. In March 2011, in Jeddah, entrepreneurs from the two countries gathered for “A Week of Russian Business in Saudi Arabia,” in which more than seventy representatives of Russian companies participated as well as a delegation from Republic of Bashkortostan.
Сooperation on outer space is also developing. Since September 2000, Russian carriers have moved fourteen Saudi satellites out of near-Earth orbit and into space orbit. Since 2008, Roskosmos and the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, along with private-sector Saudi partners, have been working, in particular, on forming a legal agreement on various joint projects: on cooperation in the field of research, on the use of outer space for peaceful purposes, and on development and joint use of GLONAS.
At that time, mutual visits at the ministry level in the field of energy started.
Since 2008, KSA government officials decided to reduce wheat production, and starting from 2016, the Kingdom will not produce it at all. As a result, the Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation and concerned Russian companies started to develop opportunities for increased supplies of Russian grain to KSA as well as opportunities to attract Saudi investment to the agro-industrial complex. In December 2012, the two nations signed a contract forming the joint enterprise SAHO-MENA (Middle East & North Africa). Its aim was to organize supplies of Russian grain products, up to four million tons per year, to Saudi Arabia.
In December 2008, the representatives of the Bank of Russia and five Russian commercial banks, headed by the first deputy to the president of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, Aleksey Ulyukaev, visited Riyadh. In 2010, the two countries weathered the global financial crisis and recession thanks to ongoing mutual trade in 2008 and 2009. In the first half of 2011, Russia mainly exported base metals and products made from them, such as machines, equipment, vehicles, and instruments. (In 2010, agricultural products were exported as well). Russia’s main items of import at that time were chemical products, foodstuffs, and agricultural raw materials.
Now Russian companies Lukoil Overseas, Stroytransgaz, Globalstroy-Engineering, SC Company group EVROKOR (SAUDI EURACORE Co.), and PharmEco all have projects in KSA. In June 2010, at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, a delegation from Saudi Arabia — headed by the KSA General Investment Agency chief — held a number of meetings with Russian officials and businessmen. In May and June 2011, representative delegations of Saudi businessmen conducted a number of visits to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, and Ufa.
There was also an increase in scientific collaboration. A memorandum of understanding signed on September 2, 2003, established direct relations between the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and Saudi Arabia’s largest scientific and technical centers; the information and research center at the KSA Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and the KSA Institute of Astronomy and Geophysical Studies. The most active Russian cooperation is coming from the RAS Institute of Astronomy, the RAS Institute of Oriental Studies, and the Institute of Earthquake Prediction Theory and Mathematical Geophysics.
The embassy of Saudi Arabia in Moscow, through the Council of Russian Muftis, provides financial support to develop Muslim religious education for schools in Tatarstan alongside other Russian Federation subjects. In 2004, the first group of Saudi students traveled to Russia to study on a limited basis. Since 2002, Russian hajj missions have provided support to Russian pilgrims. (The Russian Council of Hajj at the Commission on Religious Organizations organizes the missions.)
More than 20,000 pilgrims visit Muslim sanctuaries in Mecca and Medina annually. In June 2008, KSA was visited by a delegation from the Council of Russian Muftis — headed by the council’s leader, Ravil Gainutdin—to take part in an international conference, “Contemporary Global Issues and Problems,” under the King of Saudi Arabia’s patronage. This event anticipated Madrid’s Forum for Inter-Religious Dialogue, part of the Saudi monarch’s initiative on strengthening confidence among world religions.
In May 2009, a delegation from the KSA Ministry of Foreign Affairs took part in a session at the eleventh international Likhachev “Dialogue of Civilizations” in St. Petersburg.
In March 2010, the Russian Ministry of Culture asked Saudi Arabia to participate in a collaborative cultural project for 2011 to 2013. In April 2011, a delegation from the KSA Ministry of Culture traveled to Tatarstan to take part in the opening ceremony of the King Abdallah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud Library at the Russian Islamic University.
From May to September 2011, in the State Hermitage, there was a Saudi archeological exhibition, “Roads of Arabia,” where the unique exhibits included in the list of world UNESCO heritage were displayed; the event was visited by more than 60,000 people.
The list of collegial acts between the two countries is ongoing. Besides, the main events are yet to come.
Materials of the CCI of the RF were used
Russia and Saudi Arabia: 2015
Below is a selection of activities between Russia and KSA from 2015. Mutual delegations and international exchanges exceeded all previous years in frequency and scope.
On February 11 and 12, 2015, there was an official visit from a Gazprom delegation to Riyadh, where negotiations with KSA Minister of Fuel and Mineral Resources Ali Ibrahim Al-Naimi were held. It was this event that anticipated a strategic turning point: the parties reached the decision to renew the work of joint intergovernmental commission on trade, economic, scientific, and technological collaboration that hadn’t worked for five years. On April 28, 2015, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed an order appointing the Russia’s Minister of Energy Alexander Novak as head of the Russian part of the commission.
Then everything happened at once. St. Petersburg became the site for a new, strategic, and groundbreaking conference, the International Economic Forum, which took place in June 2015. Riyadh sent quite an impressive delegation to the northern capital of Russia. Although Alexander Novak announced at a meeting that the next session of the intergovernmental commission had been scheduled for autumn, it was clear that, in St. Petersburg, the work had already begun.
Therefore, in June, the commission had already decided to create a project group to develop plans for joint activity on energy. At the time, as Novak explained, there were no particular projects assigned, but the agreement to create the working group between Russia’s Ministry of Energy and Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Fuel and Mineral Resources included a directive to make progress. At the same time, as RIA Novosti reported, Saudi Arabia’s minister Ali Ibrahim Al-Naimi, said that the country was ready to invest in the Russian energy sector and was expecting “clear offers.” Moreover, the head of the Russian Ministry of Energy intrigued journalists when he discussed the future session of the intergovernmental commission: “Our colleagues from Saudi Arabia have brought a great deal of projects. They have already been presented to our companies. They are related to participation in building and reconstruction of railways and metro building.” In the near future, Saudi Arabia is planning to build subways in four cities.
Also at the St. Petersburg Forum, the head of the Russian part of the intergovernmental commission met with the head of the General Investment Committee of Saudi Arabia, Abd Al-Latyf Al-Usman. As a result, Russia and Saudi Arabia accelerated work on conducting business forums. “We will give investors the opportunity to work in both countries,” Al-Usman reported. Saudis intend to involve Russian investors in such areas of the economy as oil, chemistry, energy service, healthcare, transport, and information technology. And the Kingdom is ready to provide all necessary support.
Also in June, Russia and Saudi Arabia concluded an intergovernmental agreement to collaborate on the peaceful use of atomic energy. As RIA Novosti reported, Sergey Kirienko, head of the Rosatom Corporation, and his colleague Khashim Abdullah Yamani signed the document.
At the same time, the deputy head of Saudi Arabia NF, Admiral Ibrahim Nasir, who went to Russia to participate in the military-technical forum “Army-2015,” declared the Kingdom’s interest in acquiring Russian battleships and other arms and equipment. Simultaneously, KSA Minister of External Affairs Adel al-Jubeir, in exclusive interview to Russia Today, said that Riyadh was ready to purchase Russian arms. He also called the main purpose of the Crown Prince’s visit to Russia an aspiration to strengthen bilateral relations with Moscow.
The Russian Space Agency and the Saudi Arabic Center for Science and Technology (KACST) outlined new proposals for joint ventures in scientific studies and the use of outer space for peaceful purposes. The proposal document was signed by the head of Roskosmos, Igor Komarov, and KACST president, Prince Turki Saud bin Mohammed Al Saud, on June 18, 2015. The partners are planning joint projects in manned and unmanned space programs, cosmonaut preparation, launch capabilities, and the development of navigation satellites and systems.
It is remarkable that Saudi Arabia became the first Arabic country to have a citizen take part in a space project. Back in 1985, KSA was a partner with the United States. Now, a new turning point in space industry is possible. The parties made sure to create a working team with specialists who would work through the details of possible lines of cooperation in the field of space, including the creation of joint scientific and research manufacturing companies.
Now, let us back to Earth. Russia’s Minister of Construction, Housing, and Utilities signed an agreement on joint projects in building, housing, and communal services with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Residential Building. While this venture is still new for the bilateral partners, and the projects must be discussed, the two countries’ partnership in agriculture is already working well.
To continue to develop this cooperation, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich announced to the Russia-24 channel that Russia was ready to increase grain supply to KSA. “If there is a demand, we’ll be ready to increase the supply,” said Dvorkovich. “Of course, we are not going to cross a threshold that jeopardizes our own food safety. If the crops, as we expect, account for up to one hundred million tons, the export of twenty-five to twenty-seven million tons is highly probable. In fact, Saudi Arabia may receive more than it did it before. After all, for our agricultural manufacturers, the Middle East markets are a top priority. We traditionally supply a lot of grain to countries like Egypt, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia. Now it’s clear that, in these countries, the demand is growing, and our exporting potential has grown, too. Therefore, we have the chance to increase supplies to Saudi Arabia and its neighboring countries.”
These plans were confirmed on June 18, 2015, on the margins of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) where the Prince Mohammad bin Salman and President Vladimir Putin led to one more significant undertaking. The Russian Fund of Direct Investments (RFDI) and the Sovereign Fund of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund announced a new partnership. The parties will make mutual investments into attractive projects, including infrastructure and agriculture in Russia. According to the RFDI press service, the effort will cost about $10 billion. Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund investments will become the most significant amount of foreign capital to the Russian Fund.
But the achievements of Russian Fund do not end there. RFDI entered into partnership with another Sovereign Fund of the Kingdom, the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority. The parties will conduct a joint search for new investment opportunities — and there are a lot of them.
It is worth remembering that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund was founded by order of the King in 1991. The essential objective of the fund was to provide financial support to strategic industrial-commercial projects. The Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund has already made investments in a number of strategic fields in the Kingdom’s economy, including oil-processing, oil chemistry, pipeline construction, oil storage, transport operations (including aircraft and marine transport), water desalination, mining operations, and infrastructure, among other strategic projects conducted by private investors.
The following agreements between Russia and Saudi Arabia are valid:
- General agreement between the government of the Russian Federation and the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (November 20, 1994).
- Protocol of bilateral consultations between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (March 29, 1999).
- Memorandum of understanding in the field of sports between the State Committee for Physical Training and Sports of the Russian Federation and the Head Administration for Youth Issues of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (September 2, 2003).
- Convention between the government of the Russian Federation and the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on avoiding double taxation of incomes and capital (February 11, 2007).
- Agreement between the government of the Russian Federation and the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on air communication (February 11, 2007).
- Memorandum of understanding on collaboration in cultural issues between the Federal Agency of Culture and Cinema of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Culture and Information of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (February 11, 2007).
- Memorandum of understanding on collaboration in the field of standartization, metrology, and conformity assessment between Rosstandard and the Organization for Standards of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (July 6, 2011).
Oil — and Beyond
During his speech in May 2015 at the Conference on Climate Change in Paris, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Fuel and Mineral Resources Ali Ibrahim Al-Naimi said something that may one day turn conventional ideas about the energy-supply market on their head.
“Do you mean we should stop using hydrocarbons? Do you want me to come back home and close all the oil wells? Can we allow ourselves to do such things today?” asked the Minister, turning to the audience and then taking a thoughtful pause before continuing. “What will happen to oil prices, if I don’t supply ten million barrels per day to the market?”
There are two conclusions from his speech. The first is that, in the near future, Riyadh (together with OPEC countries) does not intend to change its oil strategy. The price of oil is important to them but not as much as their share of exports on the global market. Russian energy policy stakes out a similar position on oil production and development. The statistics bear this out. The latest report of International Energy Agency showed that the scope of world oil production keeps on growing despite the significant drop in energy-supply prices.
The second conclusion to be drawn from the Saudi Oil Minister’s speech is that, nevertheless, the Kingdom is still considering the prospect of ending oil use, though not before 2040. In Al-Naimi’s opinion, according to Financial Times, the Kingdom will become “a global power in solar and wind energy” and will be able to export not fossil fuel but electric energy. At the same time, the Minister stressed that more than one billion people across the globe have no access to electricity and demand for oil will remain significant in upcoming years.
Moreover, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the largest oil consumer in the Middle East itself. More than 25 percent of oil produced go to the home market; that’s more than ten million barrels per day. In a Citigroup report, prepared in 2012, it was said that, if the home demand for hydrocarbons in Saudi Arabia continues to grow at its current pace, the country could turn from one of the largest exporters into a pure oil importer by 2030.
So the oil question remains. But Russia and Saudi Arabia, as decided in June 2015, are going to create a working group to study the prospect of joint work in the field of energy. As the Russian Minister of Energy Alexander Novak said, Saudi Arabia has shown interest in working on energy projects in Russia, and Moscow has shown interest in working on projects in KSA. “We are aware that our commodity turnover is low, and we are going to develop it,” Novak said. It will be the main focus of the intergovernmental commission’s work.
But investment cooperation between two countries could still be much better. That is, with the exception of the Lukoil project. That contract calls for exploring and developing Saudi hydrocarbon fields for a forty-year period and jointly creating Luksar with national petroleum company of Saudi Arabia, Saudi Aramco. General investments are more than $500 million. According to Lukoil information, the company’s activity in KSA began in March 2004, after they won the competitive contract to explore and develop fields in the Rub Al-Hali Desert, near Al-Havar. Lukoil was the first Russian company to receive access to mining in Saudi Arabia.
In February 2007, the results of the exploratory work were in: Luksar announced the discovery of a hydrocarbon field with more than 100 million tons of standard fuel. Then came news about a gas-condensate field in Mushaib, with extracted supplies of more than 150 million tons of standard fuel.
The Stroytransgaz company completed two projects: it built the Sheiba-Abkeik pipeline, at 217 kilometers in length, and it completed the water-supply system in Shukeik. Plus the equipment for gas fields in Haviya, Usmaniya, Shedgam, was supplied.
Russian companies such as Stroytransgaz, KAMAZ, RZHD, Volzhsky Diesel, Kaspersky Laboratory, Zakneftegazstroy-Prometey, Promstroygrup, Energostroy, Transneftegaz, and Tatneft have a great deal of working experience in Saudi Arabia.
However, it is not enough. Prospects for more bilateral collaboration may be connected to the establishment of contacts with both large and average businesses, including those companies from Russian regions with concentrated Muslim population.
In addition, the Saudi Arabian economy is attractive not only for its oil and gas sector. Saudi authorities have provided the right conditions for diversification, construction development, trade, telecommunications, infrastructure, and the service sector. And Russian business could potentially compete for Saudi services.
So the economy is not only based on oil. As one Arabic proverb puts it: “We are quickly tired of anything we have in abundance.”
A Kingdom Confronting Terrorism
His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was appointed Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz on April 29, 2015. Не is also the Minister of the Interior since 2013.
One summer evening by the Atlantic Ocean, an hour before sunset, a brave, clever-looking man in his early fifties was telling eight of his friends and companions the story of what had happened: “It was like a moment from a dream. I felt as if I were stuck or floating in a vacuum without gravity. I felt no pain; it happened in a split second.”
The man was Saudi Arabia’s Assistant Minister of the Interior, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. He was describing the 2009 explosion that targeted him at his home in east Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The incident took place during the holy month of Ramadan — the month when Muslims try their best to avoid committing any sins. The perpetrator was a Saudi man who hailed from Yemen. Because he ultimately regretted joining Al-Qaeda, after he surrendered — and, of course, after he had strapped a bomb to his own body — he insisted on meeting the bold Prince.
Throughout his thirteen years of service, this incident is considered one of the most dangerous assassination attempts to target the Prince. After the incident, the late King Abdullah’s trust in Prince Mohammed bin Nayef grew; he became the Kingdom’s top security official in charge of terrorism. In 2012, six months after his father, longtime Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdalaziz, passed away, King Abdullah appointed Prince Mohammed bin Nayef the next Interior Minister. Then, when King Salman bin Abdalaziz ascended to the throne, he named Prince Mohammed bin Nayef a Crown Prince — in what has become one of the Kingdom’s greatest success stories in modern history.
Al-Mesbar Studies and Research Center in Dubai will release a new paper in December that addresses the major challenges facing security forces in Saudi Arabia, especially as new strands of terrorists are emerging — terrorists who can no longer be classified among the spectrum of jihadists that sprung up after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. According to a security expert quoted in the study: “Investigating terrorists is like performing in a circus: You’re walking blindfolded on a thin wire between two mountains, all while carrying a wolf in your right hand that is trying to devour the deer in your left hand.”
When Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was put in charge of the counterterrorism unit, he reorganized the country’s security system, placing special emphasis on comprehending religious extremism and how individuals are transformed into killing machines. The biggest challenge facing Saudi Arabia today comes from its young people — those under-18 minors who fall for the Islamic State’s propaganda. The warden of Al-Tarfiya Prison, northwest of Riyadh, says: “We are facing a true challenge. They are children. The ministry has set up a special program for them, and we are currently ramping up entertainment and talent programs to channel their energies into creating a healthier mentality. We cannot just watch our own children turn into mass murderers. Those who have not harmed others are released after submitting to a rehabilitation program and making pledges of nonviolence, but in some cases, they return to us with blood on their hands.”
The Saudi Arabian intelligence community, with more than 55 years of experience, has established a solid record in understanding extremism’s underlining dogmatic ideologies and strategies for incitement.
These days, Saudi officials are deeply concerned about the infiltration and exploitation of Saudi youth by certain factions that aim to portray Saudi Arabia as a state sponsor of terrorism. Even now, Saudi officials have reopened the investigation into the armed cell that occupied the grand mosque in Mecca back in 1979. The details of the case raise questions about the possibility of a Western power playing a role in the incident.
In 1979, Juhaiman Al-Utaibi and his followers first demonstrated the problem of politicized religion when they occupied Mecca. This problem only multiplied over the years as new cases cropped up, such as the Saudi jihadists in Afghanistan who later returned to the Kingdom or the wave of jihadists throughout the 1990s. But after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the subsequent U.S. occupation of Iraq, and the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the problem quadrupled. The chaos that struck the region after 2011, and the emergence of Daesh, only made things worse.
Last August, just kilometers away from Saudi Arabia’s west coast, five senior officials from the Interior Ministry reminisced about the General Directorate of Investigation. The Directorate is somewhat similar to America’s FBI, the agency in charge of counterterrorism in the United States. Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry supervised the Directorate from its establishment in 1960 until 1967, when it became an independent agency.
Back then, the Kingdom faced the threat of nationalism, which became a trend among high school and university students that led to several clashes. This new dogma sweeping the nation was not just an ideology; it was a direct threat to Saudi Arabia throughout the Yemen War and Abd-Alnaser’s direct targeting of the Kingdom. After the 1967 defeat, the trend contracted, and the investigative agency became independent. Then-Interior Minister (and later King) Fahad bin Abd-Alaziz gave the agency its energy and character. He remained a staunch supporter of the Directorate while he was Crown Prince and King.
In 1995, Saudi Arabia witnessed Al-Qaeda’s first terrorist act: a bombing at a U.S. National Guard facility. The attack left three Americans and two Indians dead, with more than sixty others injured. In 1996, another unusual attack occurred in the city of Alkhubbur east of Saudi Arabia. A truck loaded with two tons of TNT killed nineteen Americans and wounded 386, mostly women and children. These incidents proved that extremists were now operating in a confusing environment, one where both homegrown and imported terrorism were a reality.
According to security-stability indicators, ever since Prince Nayef bin Abdalaziz took charge of the Ministry in 1975, Saudi Arabia has done an excellent job of managing these complicated cases. He also passed his expertise onto his son, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who became Assistant Minister of Security Affairs in 1997, when terrorist attacks struck inside the heart of the Kingdom. The Prince dismantled a lot of terror cells during this period. In 2003, 85 terror cells were exposed.
That’s when the Prince decided that the Ministry should be more transparent with Saudi citizens. The agency started to produce more press releases and public statements. But Mohammed bin Nayef himself was a mystery to the Saudi public. He was not a media presence, even when the public began clamoring for information about him. This was especially true after King Fahad honored the Prince with the Cordon of King Faisal after his successful rescue of the passengers of a hijacked Russian plane in Al-Medina in March 2001.
A study from Al-Mesbar explores the pillars of the security strategies founded by Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. The paper details how Mohammed bin Nayef became Assistant for Security Affairs at a very troubling time. Political Islam’s threat had been exposed. For the Prince, a successful security policy is one that can “arrest” the climate that creates terrorists. Thus, the Prince established what is known as the “chair strategy.” This strategy is based on four pillars; if one were to fall, the entire stability of the chair would be affected. The pillars are: prevention (therapy, deterrence), politics, security, and foreign policy. The chair strategy and its four pillars were immediately put to work. For instance, to address the disturbing ideologies promoted by terrorist organizations, Saudi Arabia increased the number of prevention programs it offered though education, media, and religious organizations at both the familial and the societal level.
The nation also began to confront terrorist organizations ideologically — in the areas where they are most active, like cyberspace and social-media websites, which today are the most effective recruiting tools these groups use. This cyber-phenomenon has led to international legislation banning the use of social media — in any language — for terrorist activities, such as incitement, recruitment, propaganda, and threats. Legal sentences for cyber-crimes are proportional to the material and the significance of the terrorist damage committed.
In 2005, Saudi Arabia called for the establishment of the International Center for Counterterrorism, which the Kingdom supported with a $110 million grant. In addition to signing numerous international and regional treaties, Saudi Arabia has also hosted several anti-terrorism conferences, including a summit in Jeddah last May about the Islamic State’s funding sources.
In 2013, a year into Mohammed bin Nayef’s appointment as Interior Minister, the security agencies in the Kingdom had become noticeably more transparent with the media.
Teams from the Interior Ministry’s staff supervise the Minister’s rehabilitation program. The government has established rehabilitation units for all sects of Saudis. The Mohammed bin Nayef Counseling Center sponsors all of these programs.
In 2011, following a period of unrest in the Al-Awamiya region of Al-Qatif, which is mainly inhabited by Saudi Arabian Shia Muslims, the government sought to create some guiding principles that take the sensitivities of different sects into consideration when helping the nation’s youth channel their energies into building up their capabilities and skills.
Since late 2014, the Kingdom has witnessed four bloody attacks against the Shia population. Today, King himself is leading the country in one of the most dangerous challenges it has yet faced. Through speeches and decrees, the King has elevated political discourse and given the media space to explore the roots of Sunni-Shia strife. The language of sectarian incitement is monitored, and any extreme religious discourse that spurs hatred among the sects is immediately countered.
History is full of stories about great leaders who have been subjected to assassination threats and attempts. But history also shows that such leaders — aware that plots are being assembled against them — often emerge stronger. Instead of being concerned about their own personal safety, they feel a renewed sense of integrity about their message and vow to pass it on to anyone willing to carry the torch.
Prince Mohammed bin Nayef is a clear example of this historic trend, and the same applies to states, nations, and societies that are characterized by challenges and survival. Since its founding in 1932, Saudi Arabia has faced numerous struggles and has emerged more solid from each. Today, Saudis are more committed than ever to maintaining the stability of their country and to stopping the spread of terrorist groups and their offshoots.
Prince in Love with History
In 1865, Lewis Pelly (d. 1893), a British resident of Bushahar, had a series of meetings in Riyadh with Imam Faisal bin Turki bin Abdullah, the true founder of the second Saudi Arabian state. The original aim of Pelly’s visit was to explain Britain’s perspective after the Saudis had expressed serious concerns following the division of the Arabian kingdoms east of the peninsula and in Africa. But the British were also worried about news that France was attempting to befriend the Saudis. And so, Ambassador Pelly had come to one inevitable conclusion: He’d have to sit down with one the greatest Arab leaders of the second half of the nineteenth century.
As a result of these meetings, Ambassador Pelly prepared a report to the British monarchy affirming that the Saudis would be the most reliable at enforcing stability and security in the Arabian Peninsula — as opposed to the weakened tribal elements scattered across the banks of the Gulf. Though the Saudis had lost their dominating influence west of the peninsula, Saudi Arabia had expanded rapidly to the east.
Over the course of three consecutive meetings with the imam, Pelly became convinced that the Saudis were the most capable of containing the rebellion and imposing stability in region. Also, he thought the Saudis were politically savvy enough to gain the loyalty of the region’s Bedouin and urban tribes, and to unite them under a strong authority in order to meet various local and regional obligations — especially promises made to superpowers.
In his report, Pelly mentions that during that third and final meeting, he was surprised with the imam’s concern for those living within his realm and the need to settle them down. Pelly also noted the imam’s ambitions to form an alliance that would allow Saudi Arabia to expand in the north and east. Pelly writes that it was not clear whether or not the imam was implying an expansion into Persia. (The idea, however, was soon made manifest as Arabs everywhere witnessed the conquering armies in the north and east.) Pelly also notes that joining Faisal bin Turki in the meetings was the youngest of the imam’s sons, a fourteen-year-old Abd-Alrahman, who would become father of modern Saudi Arabia’s founder Abd-Alaziz bin Abd-Alrahman.
Last March, Saudi Twitter users began drawing comparisons between Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his grandfather, the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, King Abd-Aziz bin Abd-Alrahman. The spontaneous comparisons focused initially on their physical resemblance, but what those more readily apparent traits do not immediately convey are the pair’s similar ambitions: to follow in the footsteps of their forefathers in thought, policy, dreams, and aspirations.
The thirty-year-old Prince spent his childhood and adolescence with his father, the current King, ultimately becoming one of the peninsula’s most knowledgeable men about the House of Saud’s history and about the secrets of the ruling families since the eighteenth century. The young Prince fell in love with the history and spirit that motivated House of Saud to become the strongest family on the peninsula — a family that could rise from the rubble and overcome any shock.
When he was twenty-five, friends of the Prince noticed a shift in his interests and a change in his daily routine. He would spend hours every day immersed in his collection of history books and documents, such as The Introduction by Ibn Khaldun, The Prince by Machiavelli, and Montesquieu’s book on the history of the Romans. Other collections included random studies about the Arab Islamic renaissance. And, as most of his relatives had done before him, the Prince studied the biography of the Prophet Mohammed, which became the foundation of the Prince’s understanding of history and culture — a natural outcome perhaps for the child of a family who sees itself as chosen by God to carry the message of Islam and serve its holy sites in Mecca and Medina. Indeed, all the grandchildren of King Abd-Alaziz learned religious doctrine from a very young age. They also received the same general education that millions of other Saudis do, except that much of the royal family’s basic knowledge is acquired by listening to the oral histories of the senior Sheikhs and by silently watching what happens in public governing councils.
Practical education often came from the everyday life lessons of carrying out administrative posts: meeting the people’s needs, handling tribal feuds, containing rebels, and any other tasks that underscored their loyalty to the nation and its leaders. The young Prince was glued to his father’s side throughout the last half of his father’s nearly six decades as Prince of Riyadh. This very attendance would become a gold mine of experience, providing the political philosophy and raw material for the young Prince’s vision for the country’s future.
In an attempt to quench his neverending thirst for learning, Mohammad bin Salman devoted many hours listening to recorded testimonies of elderly tribal leaders and ruling circles about the events they witnessed before the establishment of the state — more than 3,000 written and oral testimonies document the history of the Kingdom. The Prince has also studied the texts of journals with historical commentaries about the events that took place in this part of the world over 300 years ago. Somewhere between days spent among palm trees, streams, and Najd’s sand dunes, and nights spent immersed in books, an idea occurred to the Prince: How can the Kingdom rejuvenate itself? How can the Kingdom harness the energy of its young people while maintaining its leading role? How can the Kingdom out-do itself? How can it breathe spirit into a broken Arab world?
Last April, the Al-Arabiya channel aired a short video of Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Minister of Defense and deputy Crown Prince, as he spoke with the military leaders in charge of operation Decisive Storm, which was launched at the end of last March to free Yemen from the Houthi coup. The unique TV clip summarizes the Minister’s vision regarding the kinds of alliances Saudi Arabia should seek. He noted that Saudi Arabia as a nation was capable of leading a coalition of up to ten states. Previously, alliances and coalitions had rarely surpassed one or two states. The Prince clearly outlined what can be called a pillar of Saudi politics since 1932: In the inevitable wars Saudi Arabia must fight — whether for strategic interests, the Kingdom’s security, or in aid of its neighbors — they must be fought by building strong and long-lasting alliances.
Back in 1865, in Pelly’s report to the monarchy, the Ambassador notes a well-known Saudi trait: Saudis plan in secrecy before taking action; they use “shock and awe” tactics. Often history repeats itself in a variety of great moments: in 1927, brilliant preparations led to the Hijaz takeover, and in March 2015, a rapid series of meetings and measures led to Operation Decisive Storm, which freed Yemen from the non-government factions that had seized power during a September 2014 coup against the legitimate government.
Prince Mohammad bin Salman, as the head of a large and expanding family, is passionate about an enlightening project to elevate cultural awareness among the monarchy’s young princes, both politically and militarily, with the aim of cementing in them a profound and fundamental understanding of national security and strategic interests that includes sustaining the state, protecting its sovereign borders and style of authority, and maintaining its economic and political independence.
During a time of historic and unprecedented challenges, Mohammad bin Salman is also obsessed with the issues that must be enshrined in Saudi youth, like national doctrines that teach sacrificing personal comforts if the country is threatened, its sovereignty challenged, or its authority questioned over its choices and resolutions. The Prince explains it simply: “It’s like Legos. Sometimes, you have to disassemble the pieces and reassemble them again to obtain a magnificent integrated picture.” The Prince is attempting to turn national doctrines into popular culture — a culture that transcends princes and informs the millions of young Saudi men and women who currently make up nearly 60 percent of the nation.
Road-Show: Investing Capacities of Saudi Arabia
As Oleg Ozerov, the ambassador of the Russian Federation to Saudi Arabia, remarked, from 2005 to 2013 mutual trade between the two nations had increased fivefold, exceeding $1 billion. In total, it is not so much. However, the rates are satisfactory. What’s more, finished products prevail over commodites in the mutual supplies. By Saudi estimations, the potential scope of Russian-Saudi trade is $8 billion to $10 billion.
KSA, based on its economic needs, may have a demand for Russian seawater-desalination technologies (in large volumes), as well as railway, metallurgic, and oil and gas chemical equipment from the Russian Federation, according to the Russian-Saudi Business Council. Exchanges of experience and knowledge in agricultural ground irrigation and in the extension of agricultural areas can also be useful for both parties. In general, Riyadh has extended the landscape of its external economic policy to include Russia.
Stated another way, Russia is among the countries Saudi Arabia sees as a strong investment partner. One way, Riyadh shows its interest is by interacting with Russia on aqua-culture, fishing, and fish processing. This was proclaimed during the negotiations between Russian Ambassador Oleg Ozerov and the officials of KSA’s Agricultural Ministry.
On May 25 to 30, 2015, in the business capital of Saudi Arabia, Jeddah, under the aegis of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, there was a Russian Roadshow. As the organizers of the meeting reported, the main point in the bilateral agenda was to gauge Saudis’ readiness to invest and to involve Russian businesses in KSA infrastructure development. The Kingdom has put up more than $500 billion. Meanwhile, eight industrial cities — as well as recreational zones, industrial zones, seaports, etc. — are being constructed with Saudi Arabia’s huge residential fund. Apart from producing, processing, and transporting oil and gas, perspective directions of collaboration include: railway construction; erection of heat and power plants with desalination equipment; mineral-deposit development, particularly phosphates, iron ore, lead, and zinc; agriculture; water supply and fishing; banking activity; tourism; health care; higher and secondary education; standardization and certification; and scientific and technological collaboration.
Saudi companies are very interested in collaborating with Russian companies on energy, railway construction, animal and fish breeding, veterinary methods, hydro-technical and irrigation construction, drop-irrigation systems maintenance, water-well drilling, health care, higher and secondary education, etc. Military-technical cooperation is also promising.
Saudi businesses also pay attention to the Russian markets. Given the current initiative to support investments into Russian projects, Saudi Roadshow participants considered the following fields most promising: energy, machinery, infrastructure development, oil and gas service, tourism (including religious tourism), halal-industry, interbank collaboration, wood and hardware exports, and cooperation in the field of high-tech and education.
According to information from the director of the Royal Initiative on Foreign Investments in Agriculture, Russia is among the high-priority countries for capital investments. The idea of this initiative is that Saudi investors, both state and private ones, invest in foreign cultivation of wheat, barley, rice, and soy, as well as in fish-processing and animal-breeding. The future supplies to Saudi Arabia will account for at least 50 percent of the product volume coming from Saudi investments.
To develop this initiative, the Russian delegation was invited to see a presentation of agro-industrial-complex projects and allied industries in Saudi Arabia. The estimated total of Saudi investments in 2014 was $5 billion. This program is also dependent on the fact that Saudi Arabia is one of Russia’s largest grain importers. One principle highlighted at the forum: Saudi Arabia is attracted to reasonable prices and high-quality products. But instead of traditional imports, Riyadh decided to import grain and other agricultural products produced in Russia based on long-term Saudi investments.
The objectives are clear; the tasks are defined. In Russia, it is time to say the phrase: “Let’s start working, Comrades!” The partners in Saudi Arabia have the same enthusiasm.
Priority Focus of Trade and Economic Cooperation
Between Russia and Saudi Arabia:
Oil and Gas Industry:
- Mining exploration
- Processing and transportation of hydrocarbons
- Environmental protection
Trade, Economic, and Investment Collaboration:
- Oil-chemical industry
- Collaboration on quality-control in the market supply of products between the two countries to insure sanitary requirements and consumer safety.
Mineral Resources and Metallurgic Industries
Agriculture, Water Supply, Animal-Breeding, Fishing:
- Technologies for water-drilling, well restoration, water desalination, and repeated use of sewage systems
- Conducting research into animal-breeding
- Modern technology and applied studies in agriculture and animal-breeding
- Organization of animal-breeding training and visits from professional delegations
Transport and construction:
- Collaboration in municipal-economy services
- TEA (technical and economical assessment) development for building sea-transport machines
- Appointing high-skilled specialists, including seagoing personnel, to man the sea-transport and to provide assistance in their maintenance
- Special training of seagoing personnel for Saudi shipping companies in Russian sea academies and training centers
Cooperation in the Tourism (including Religious Tourism)
Scientific and Technological Research
Use of Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes
Collaboration in Higher and Vocational Education:
- Visit-exchanges between officials responsible for higher education, establishing cooperation between teaching personnel in fields of mutual interest
- Collaboration in different scientific areas as a whole and in applied areas, in particular, between the two countries’ institutions of higher education and research centers
- Exchange of information on standards for higher-education diplomas
- Information exchanges and participation in workshops, meetings, and conferences on scientific subjects in Russia and Saudi Arabia
- Exchanges of scientific periodicals, academic articles, and research results
- Exchange programs for bachelor’s degree students and high school students in medicine, health care, and other specializations.
Cooperation in Health Care (in particular, Radiation Protection)
Collaboration in Sports
Reference: According to information from the Russian-Saudi Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economy, Scientific and Technical Cooperation
Kingdom of high culture
Russia isn’t the only country that celebrates Teacher’s Day every autumn. According to Arab News, last October Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education announced an award for the Kingdom’s most distinguished teachers for their diligence and hard work. The awards are generous: luxury cars and checks from 10,000 to 120,000 Saudi riyals (about $2,500 and $32,000 thousand, respectively). Among the applicants are school teachers, tutors, and headmasters, as well as the best students. “This confirms responsible attitude of the Ministry to education in general. These awards should become a great incentive for people working in this area,” says one authoritative source.
Saudi businesses also intend to contribute to the expansion of a liberal arts education system. “We are ready to invest in opening Russian schools in our country,” said Usama Al-Kudri, a member of Saudi Arabia’s government Advisory Council, at the international exhibition Innoprom, which took place in Ekaterinburg last summer. “Currently, Russian schools in the countries of the Arabic world can be counted on your fingers. This direction must be developed,” said Al-Kudri, according to the TASS Agency. In his opinion, opening Russian schools may help to attract Russian investors to the Middle East and Africa, as well as establish collaboration in the field of education between Russia and countries of the Arabic world.
It’s a pragmatic approach, right? The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia uses this strategy for everything, including culture, science, education, art, and even sports development.
Hi-Tech and Cultural Identity
As the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia said the Kingdom, from the very moment of its foundation, was determined to acquire the latest in scientific findings and technologies across fields, while at the same time keeping its commitment to Islam and Arabic cultural identity. The country does a great job using the Arabic language in modern mass media, which does not prevent achievements or scientific progress from developing. In his message to the second International Symposium on Computer Technologies and Arabic Language, which took place in Riyadh at the end of 2009, the King said: “We understand that language is not only a repository of nations’ cultural memory, but it also must serve for the welfare of spreading modern science, extending its vocabulary, perfecting, developing, thinking, and comprising new concepts. However, today, there is an opportunity to take advantage of computer technologies to enhance the Arabic language.” The King highly touted an initiative to develop Arabic content for the Internet, indicating that projects in this field strengthen the role of the Kingdom in keeping its Arabic and Islamic identity, on the one hand, while contributing to progress on computer technologies, which spread scientific knowledge in the Arabic community, on the other hand.
Saudi Arabia is the spiritual center of Islam. At the same time, the Kingdom keeps up to date in the high-tech age.
There are but a few examples below. At the end of 2009, rusarabbc.com announced the opening of the Geometric Modeling and Scientific Visualization Research Center. The center is the largest research 3D complex in the region and is based at the University of Science and Technology of King Abdallah. The project was designed by Arabic specialists, jointly with specialists from the University of California in San-Diego. Simultaneously, Saudi Arabia opened its first university where men and women study together. More than 3,000 high-ranking guests visited the opening of the University of Science and Technology, including the presidents of Sudan and Turkey, the King of Jordan, and other Middle East leaders.
The first in the Middle East Three-Step Electronic School was opened in Mecca. The school was named after its founder and sponsor, businessman Abdurakhman Fakikh. According to emirates.su, the modern complex is fully equipped with computers and classrooms for studying design, computer science, photography, car repair, gymnasiums, stadiums, etc. The student campus is located “in the garden with fountains.”
At the same time, from 2000 to 2010, the country’s authorities decided to put aside $400 billion for innovation. Islam has never been against science and progress, and Muslim culture has made a significant contribution to the development of all mankind.
Foreign partners were not kept waiting for long. Synopsys, the world leader in software development, IP for design, and production of semiconducting goods, and the City of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia (KACST) didn’t hesitate to sign a memorandum of understanding to create a center of nanotechnology design at KACST. The aim of this collaboration is to support the development of nanotechnology ecosystems in Saudi Arabia.
The B.I. Stepanov Institute of Physics at the National Science Academy of Belorussia signed contracts with the Nanotechnology Center of King Abdulaziz. The goal is to develop several modern laser equipment models for their colleagues in Saudi Arabia — such as sophisticated tweezers or laser pincers designed for manipulating microscopic objects via laser light. These devices are highly relevant to microbiology, physics, chemistry, genetics, and cytology. They are also considered to be among the most innovative tools for capturing and relocating live cells, DNA molecules, and chromosomes.
The list of Saudi Arabia’s achievements in education, as well as the list of contracts and agreements with foreign partners in high-tech, goes on. Probably, Ukraine is the only country Saudi Arabia can’t get along with. As Riyadh newspaper reported (it was quoted at the ria.ruwebsite), the Kingdom refused to recognize the diplomas of Ukrainian medical-education institutions. According to Riyadh, the order of the council at Saudi Arabia’s Healthсare Ministry declares that doctors with Ukrainian diplomas may only practice medicine in the Kingdom if they have attended special extension courses. But this is only the exception that confirms the rule: Saudi Arabia respects quality. Also: Saudi Arabia’s healthcare system is free. The government invests more than 8 percent of the national budget into healthcare. And medical service in the Kingdom has achieved an extremely high level over the last decade.
Art of Living
Let’s get back to the culture, in its traditional sense.
Experts admit that classical literary traditions have not been developed in the country in comparison with Mediterranean Arabic countries. The best-known Saudi writers are late-nineteenth-century historians; the most renowned is Othman ibn Bishr. But the lack of literary classics is filled by the deep-rooted traditions of verbal poetry and prose, which date back to pre-Islamic times.
The country has a developed system of literary clubs and libraries. Saudi literature presents a wide range of ancient and modern poetry works (odes, satire, and lyric poetry with religious and social themes), prose, and journalism. Creative festivals are also held throughout the country. The National Festival of Cultural Heritage in Jenadriyah, which is north of Riyadh, gathers local and foreign academics in the humanities and includes representatives from all regions of the country to discuss all genres: fine art, folk dance, painting, literature, poetry. (Famous camel-racing is also held there!)
If you look up “music of Saudi Arabia” on the Internet, the huge number of links to Saudi musicians might surprise you. (On a related note, the cellular telephone network in Saudi Arabia has been available since 1981; the Internet, from the late 1990s. Mobile telecommunication runs flawlessly.) Among the world’s most famous musical artists is the first pop star of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Majeed Abdullah, as well as oud master Abadi al Johar. Egyptian pop music is also popular in the country.
A ritual folk dance of Saudi Arabia is Ardha. This dance — with a sword — originates from ancient Bedouins. Drummers beat out rhythms and poets chant recitations, while people with naked swords dance shoulder to shoulder. Experts believe that al-sihba (folk music of the Hijaz) has its roots in Arabic Andalusia, a region in medieval Spain. In Mecca, Medina, and Jeddah, dancing is accompanied by al-mizmar, a local variety of the hoboy.
Photography is welcome in Saudi Arabia.
Artists spread their creativity on architectural ornaments, like friezes and mosaics, which include traditional forms of Islamic art. But this is not all. “Saudi artists want to express their minds,” says artist Ahmed Mater. “I think the world should listen to them.” His works and works of twenty-one other Saudi artists (nine of whom were women) were presented in Al Furusia Marina in Jeddah at an exhibition called “We Need to Talk.” The exhibition according to the organizers, the Edge of Arabia Fund, was an independent art initiative and became the most significant collection of the contemporary art of Saudi Arabia ever shown in Jeddah. The exposition was divided into three parts: past, present, and future. Forty-three works, including videos, sculptures, and installations, were displayed. Topics of each artwork included questions about humanity’s oil dependence and the potential threat of societal destruction with an economy based on oil extraction. “There are not so many people who knew that in Saudi Arabia there is a contemporary art,” said the organizers of the exhibition. Edge of Arabia opened its first exhibition in London in 2008, and since then, it has organized displays in Riyadh, Berlin, Istanbul, Dubai, and Venice.
The seriousness of religious architecture is countered by a rich civil architecture. There is an ongoing major construction of palaces, public buildings, and private homes in cities throughout Saudi Arabia; most of them harmoniously combine modern ideas with traditional design.
Faster than the wind
Like other Arabian countries, Saudi Arabia is a huge fan of sports. The main sports are football (soccer) and, of course, horse racing. Originally, horse-racing took place on the northeastern outskirts of Riyadh. Competitions were held for purebred Arabian horses owned by the King, and the jockeys were his sons; many of whom later started horse-breeding themselves. The first racetrack was built in 1965, when the official races were held. Now the racetrack, named in honor of King Abdulaziz, has undergone several renovations. The main racetrack is twenty-four meters wide and 2,000 meters long. Races in all major international distances can be held there. The stands can accommodate 3,500 spectators and are close to clubhouses with restaurants, tennis courts, swimming pools, and playgrounds.
The second major racetrack is in Taifa, in the western part of the country, where, due to the favorable climate, the races are held in the summer when it gets too hot in Riyadh.
The racetrack in Riyadh is an integral part of the National Equestrian Club, which, among other things, is authorized to oversee the registration of all Saudi Arabian horses and imported horses. Races are held on weekends and are very popular among residents and visitors to Riyadh.
The main horse-racing event of the sporting calendar is the Royal Cup, which precedes the World Cup in Dubai. The names of Saudi Royal Cup members are well known at the international arena. The prize for the race is 400,000 Saudi riyals, or slightly more than $100,000. Typically, during the racing day, there are about ten races, and the prize money ranges from 54 million to 90 million riyals ($14,000 to $24,000). Young people in Saudi Arabia enjoy sports. Each year, dozens of international equestrian competitions are held in Saudi Arabia.
As of 2015, four of Saudi Arabia’s architectural and historical monuments belong to the global UNESCO heritage program.
1. Madain-Salikh (Hegra, Al-Hijr) — a complex of archeological objects in Hidjaz in the northwest of Saudi Arabia (El-Madina). There are 111 rock-burial sites (first-century B.C. to first-century A.D.) and also the system of hydro-technical construction, related to the ancient Nabatian city of Hegra, the center of caravan trade. In 106 A.D., in Hegra, about fifty petrogliphic inscriptions were discovered. The people of Saudi Arabia associate the words carved into the cliffs with the fifteenth Sura of the Koran.
2. Ed-Deriya is a city in Saudi Arabia on the western outskirts of Riyadh. It is known for being the birthplace of Saudi Arabia’s ruling dynasty. From 1744 to 1818, Ed-Diriya was the first capital of Saudi Arabia.
3. Jeddah is a city in the western part of Saudi Arabia. It is the second-largest city in the country and the Kingdom’s economic capital. The name of the city sounds similar to the Arabic word for “grandmother,” and, as some experts state, it is probably connected to legends about Eve. Eve’s grave is one of Jeddah’s landmarks.
4. Cliff paintings in Hail region of Saudi Arabia.
Two Holy Mosque
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques is the title of the King of Saudi Arabia.
The Two Holy Mosques are the sacred mosques of Masjid al-Haram (the Grand Mosque) in Mecca and Masjid-an-Nabavi (the Prophet’s Mosque) in Medina.
The Grand Mosque of Al-Haram is the main and largest mosque in the world. There is the main sanctuary of Islam Kaaba in its internal yard. During Hajj, pilgrims from all over the world visit.
Masjid-an-Nabavi (the Prophet’s Mosque) is located in Medina and is the second sanctuary of Islam after the Grand Mosque in Mecca.