In commemoration of their national day, Pakistanis join with Saudis in reflecting on their historic relations

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Main picture: Faisal Mosque, Islamabad, Pakistan, named after the Saudi King Faisal; left, Pakistanis fast at Riyadh’s Imam Turki bin Abdullah Mosque. (Getty Images/ Reuters)
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Faisal Mosque, Islamabad, Pakistan. (Supplied)
Updated 23 March 2019

In commemoration of their national day, Pakistanis join with Saudis in reflecting on their historic relations

  • “Saudi Arabia sees Pakistan as a country with major geographical advantages, and by investing heavily in Pakistan it has further entrenched itself strategically,” said Farooqui
  • Riyadh enjoys a spiritual power as the home to Islam’s two holiest places, and Pakistan is one of the largest Muslim nations, a military power

DUBAI: Thirty-five-year-old Mushtaq Ahmed prepares a sweet rice dish called kheer in his camp on March 23 every year.
He then goes around his compound distributing it to his coworkers. That is how he has been celebrating Pakistan Day in Jeddah for more than eight years now.
“I live and work in Jeddah as an electrician. Every year on March 23 I used to miss Pakistan Day festivities in my home town,” said Ahmed, who asked not to use his real name.
When the feeling became acute, he called up his mother and asked her for the recipe of this dish.
“I decided to treat all my friends and colleagues regardless of their nationality. This is my way of celebrating my home country in an adopted country,” said Ahmed who comes from a village near Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.
What he misses most, however, is going for Friday prayers at the Shah Faisal Mosque in Islamabad.
“That mosque is the pride of Pakistan. It was named after the late Saudi King Faisal, who loved our country,” he explained.
“I have been visiting this mosque since I was a teenager. I often prayed to Allah to get me a job in Saudi Arabia so that I can take care of my family members financially,” said Ahmed.
Working in Saudi Arabia has been a dream come true for him. “Earning a living for your family is the ultimate objective for any Pakistani here, whether it is an illiterate worker like me or a Western-educated CEO,” he said.
Ahmed is one of the 2.7 million Pakistanis who live in Saudi Arabia. In his own way, Ahmed maintains the relationship between the two countries.
He is not alone — Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are indeed connected in many ways. So to mark Pakistan Day, Arab News gathered views of experts in both the countries and asked them what the two countries mean to each other.
“Some of Pakistan’s celebrities — model-actor Fawad Khan, politician Marvi Memon and former prime minister Shaukat Aziz — have connections with Saudi Arabia, ” said Ahmed Quraishi, an Islamabad-based journalist and senior research fellow at Project for Pakistan in the 21st Century. Fawad Khan spent his childhood in Riyadh, while Marvi Memon’s father and Shaukat Aziz both worked in KSA.
Success stories of Pakistanis and Saudis connected through marriage could itself be the subject of a book as millions in Pakistan are linked to life in the Kingdom.
For Quraishi, Faisalabad (the Pakistani city named after King Faisal) is a permanent reminder of the connection, as is the Faisal Mosque.
He said that for Pakistan, Riyadh represents a force for positive change, the market economy, and peace in the Middle East.
“Riyadh is bringing in a lot of positivity to the region by promoting religious moderation, region-wide conflict resolution, and encouraging younger generations in the region to become active participants in the global economy.”
Senator Lt. Gen. Abdul Qayum was based in Saudi Arabia alongside 20,000 Pakistani army troops in 1985-87.
“I was a senior officer and as a lieutenant colonel in Khamees Mashaaikh I headed a 1,000-strong force that included pilots, engineers, artillery and defense units,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Qayum remembered those two years as among the best of his career and his personal life. “Since then, like millions of other Pakistanis, Saudi Arabia has been my second home.”
Qayum, who now heads Pakistan’s Senate Standing Committee on Defense Production, quoted Pew research to say that the most positive perception in the world of Saudi Arabia is in Pakistan. He said that faith is the main reason that connects both the countries very strongly.
“Millions of Pakistanis visit Makkah and Madinah for Hajj and Umrah. Our Hajj quota is the second largest in the world,” he said.
Qayum noted that millions of Pakistanis living in the Kingdom further the strong connection that exists between the two countries.
“These expatriates, whether blue-collar or white-collar, send millions worth of remittances to our country, which gives strength to our economy. And it is not just about the nation’s economy, this money also tremendously improves their personal financial conditions,” said Qayum.
It is because of income earned in Saudi Arabia that they have been able to provide quality living to their families.
Pakistan recorded a 12.2 percent increase in the inflow of remittances in the first seven months of the current fiscal year, according to official data released by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).
Saudi Arabia continues to be the largest source of remittances to Pakistan, the SBP report released on Monday said, with $2.97 billion recorded during the seven months of the current fiscal year.
Quraishi chooses to look at it from the prism of peace and security, and it works both ways.
“For Riyadh, Pakistan is an anchor for peace and stability in a region extending from West Asia to South Asia and Afghanistan,” Quraishi said.
On the other hand, according to Quraishi, the largest Pakistani diaspora resides in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region, and Islamabad has important political, economic and strategic interests tied up to this region.
“The stability and security of the Arabian Sea and Arabian Gulf and the GCC states is an intrinsic Pakistani interest,” he noted.
Omar Farooqui, a Jeddah-based Saudi educator and entrepreneur, believes that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are two forever-intertwined countries. He has his own reasons to draw that analogy.
“Saudi Arabia sees Pakistan as a country with major geographical advantages, and by investing heavily in Pakistan it has further entrenched itself strategically,” said Farooqui.
“For Saudi Arabia, having a strong, prosperous and thriving Pakistan is good for business and stability in the Muslim world and beyond,” said Farooqui, whose father migrated from Pakistan to Jeddah during the 1960s.
“From the oil boom of the 1960s, during the leadership of King Faisal, up to today under the leadership of King Salman and HRH Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has always come to the aid of Pakistan during difficult economic times,” he said.
On the other hand, Pakistan has always provided Saudi Arabia with both tactical military services and a huge labor force for the Kingdom’s real estate and construction projects.
Omar also has numerous Pakistani friends in Saudi Arabia who have been living in the country for decades.
“They live a fabulous lifestyle and would never want to change it for any place on earth. For them, Saudi Arabia is a second home due to the fact that the treatment they get from their gracious hosts is incredibly generous,” he added.
Quraishi said that beyond people and economy the relationship is also about strategic partnership, and Riyadh and Islamabad have key roles to play to end the spread of extremism and extremist violence.
“Riyadh enjoys a spiritual power as the home to Islam’s two holiest places, and Pakistan is one of the largest Muslim nations, a military power, and a country with a long experience in countering the destructive role of groups that espouse extremism and militancy,” he said.
This is why both countries are cooperating with 38 other nations from the Muslim world in a joint effort under the banner of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC).
“The objective is to curb and to end the malign influence of extremist, sectarian and violent groups that hurt the interests of Muslim peoples everywhere, and unite all Muslims in all of their schools of thought in a spirit of tolerance and acceptance,” said Quraishi.
He explained that both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are forward-looking progressive nations that draw support and inspiration from each other and have the best interests of Muslim countries, the region, and the global community at heart.
“This is a significantly important relationship and one that many are watching closely.”

China's Xi to visit Saudi Arabia, attend Chinese-Saudi summit

Updated 06 December 2022

China's Xi to visit Saudi Arabia, attend Chinese-Saudi summit

  • Summit will be chaired by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman
  • Will focus on relations between GCC and Arab states and People's Republic of China

King Salman invited President of China Xi Jinping for an official visit to attend the Saudi-Chinese summit held in Saudi Arabia from Dec. 7 to 9, state news agency SPA reported on Tuesday.

The summit will be chaired by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. It will look at relations between the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Arab states with the People's Republic of China,

Discussions are expected to focus on strengthening joint cooperation in economy and development.

Crown Prince announces Sindalah, NEOM’s first luxury island development

Updated 06 December 2022

Crown Prince announces Sindalah, NEOM’s first luxury island development

  • Extending over 840,000 square meters, Sindalah is expected to create 3,500 jobs for tourism, leisure services
  • The island will act as main gateway to the Red Sea and is expected to start welcoming guests from early 2024

RIYADH: NEOM’s first luxury island destination Sindalah will play host to superyachts and top-end apartments, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman revealed as he announced the latest project set to boost Saudi Arabia’s tourism industry.

Extending over an area of approximately 840,000sq. m., Sindalah is one of a group of islands that will be developed in the giga-project, and is expected to create 3,500 jobs for the tourism sector and hospitality and leisure services.

The island will act as a main gateway to the Red Sea, offering bespoke nautical experiences and is expected to start welcoming guests from early 2024, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

The Crown Prince said: “This is another significant moment for NEOM and a major step in the Kingdom realizing its tourism ambitions under Vision 2030. 

“Sindalah will be NEOM’s first luxury island and yacht club destination in the Red Sea, providing a scenic gateway to the Red Sea that will become the region’s most exciting and attractive tourism location. 

“It will be a destination where travelers can experience the true beauty of NEOM and Saudi Arabia, above and below the water, making Sindalah the future of luxury travel.”

Speaking to Arab News, Chris Newman, executive director of hotel development at NEOM, set out the range of events and activites that the island will see once it has opened.

"Sindalah expects to host sophisticated cultural events, grand sporting spectacles and glamorous social celebrations throughout the year," he said, adding "There will be a year-round calendar of imaginative experiences, curated across various seasons."

These will include a social season from December to February which will offer guests access to exclusive music concerts, art and culture events, hosted in inspiring creative venues.

The 'Glamour season' will run from March to May, and then from October and November, and will coinciding with the peak yachting event season. gGuests will enjoy exclusive access to concerts, fashion and culinary festivals as part of the glamour season.

The active season from June to September will offer guests a range of family-friendly beach and recreational activities.

"Sindalah is one of many islands in NEOM. There are additional islands in development, and we will make the announcements in due course as more information becomes available," Newman added/

Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the chairman of NEOM’s Board of Directors, said the launch of Sindalah is a major step in realizing the Kingdom’s tourism ambitions, in line with the goals outlined in Vision 2030.

Sindalah will have an 86-berth marina, as well as hosting 413 ultra-premium hotel rooms, in addition to 333 top-end serviced apartments. 

Other attractions in Sindalah include a luxe beach club, yacht club and 38 unique culinary offerings that will provide an incomparable experience in the Red Sea.

Sindalah is also expected to become a popular golfing destination by offering enthusiasts the opportunity to experience a world-class 6,474-yard (5,920 meters) par 70 course. With its 18 tees, the Sindalah golf course will deliver two unique nine-hole experiences.

NEOM, the $500 billion smart city, is one of the most important projects supporting Saudi Arabia’s national tourism strategy, as the Kingdom steadily diversifies its economy which was heavily dependent on oil for decades. 

In November, speaking at the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit, Nadhmi Al-Nasr, CEO of NEOM said that the hanging stadiums in the smart city will make tourists reimagine and visualize the future. 

“In The Line, we want people to come and see how sports stadiums are built, and where they are built. The sports stadiums in NEOM are 300 meter high, loose and hanging in the air,” said Al-Nasr.

He also added that OXAGON, the industrial city in NEOM also has all the potential to become a world-class tourist destination, where visitors can come and see how the future will be.

“It is in OXAGON where all industries will be, and it is the port of NEOM. Yet, we would like to see tourists spending a day or two in OXAGON. They will see the future of industries in OXAGON. Everything in NEOM is built for the future era. We want them to come and see how future sea ports will operate,” he added.

US director Oliver Stone explores Saudi film scene at Red Sea International Film Festival

Updated 04 December 2022

US director Oliver Stone explores Saudi film scene at Red Sea International Film Festival

  • Oliver Stone’s latest documentary 'Nuclear' is screening at the festival on Sunday
  • The 'Scarface' director, RSIFF jury president earlier took to stage at opening ceremony

JEDDAH: Lauded US director Oliver Stone took part in a roundtable discussion at the ongoing Red Sea International Film Festival in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.  

When asked by Arab News if he would consider filming in Saudi Arabia, he said: “My time is limited, I’m 76 years old. What do you want me to do, come down here and learn a whole different culture? No, I don’t think that’s possible. I have one project in mind, which I can’t tell you because nobody knows about it and if I can get that done, I would be very happy.” 

“The Middle East has tremendous potential, economically too. People are putting money here, no question,” he added.  

When commenting on film’s ability to act as a cultural bridge, he said “I imagine cinema has played a huge role, but on the other hand cinema is also very violent and revenge-motivated — those stories always seem to work — so you could say that’s not a good example for the world… so it’s double-edged, it depends on the movie.” 

Stone’s latest documentary “Nuclear” is screening at the festival on Sunday.  

Prior to his private discussion, the “Scarface” director and RSIFF jury president took to the stage at the opening ceremony of the festival on Thursday to share his views on Saudi Arabia.  

Stone said the country is “much misunderstood in the present world – people who have judged too harshly should come and visit to see for themselves.” He also noted “changes” and “reforms” taking place in the Kingdom, which he said make it worth a visit.  

Commenting on the 15-strong competition slate, the Oscar-winning director said: “These films stick to very basic ideas of survival, migration, suffering. There’s a real spirit here, which is growing,” according to Variety.  

The event will continue until Dec. 10 under the slogan “Film is Everything.”  

The festival is set to showcase 131 feature films and shorts from 61 countries, in 41 languages, made by established and emerging talents. Seven feature films and 24 shorts from Saudi Arabia will also be shown. 

At Riyadh Forum, thinkers say space may be ‘home’ sooner than we think

Updated 03 December 2022

At Riyadh Forum, thinkers say space may be ‘home’ sooner than we think

  • With participation from over 19 countries, the platform targets wide audience from various backgrounds
  • This year’s conference is building off the success of last year’s event which discussed unpredictability

RIYADH: The second edition of the Riyadh Philosophy Conference launched on Thursday as international and local specialists gathered to discuss topics under the theme “Knowledge and Exploration: Space, Time and Humanity.”

Organized by Saudi Arabia’s Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission, the three-day event kicked off with welcome remarks by Saudi critic, thinker and translator Saad bin Abdulrahman Albazie, who was introduced by the CEO of the commission, Mohammed Alwan.

With participation from over 19 countries, the global platform targets a wide audience from various academic and professional backgrounds.

“We are heading toward endless informational and explorational horizons, toward space, time and humanity, and settling into our human fate, moral values and scientific criteria of the universe,” Albazie said.

“We will create a philosophical space out of our physical space, and propose new concepts in an undiscovered field in the spirit of entrepreneurial research that has been touched upon by this conference’s esteemed guests.”

While taking a trip to space is, undoubtedly, a dream for many, it may well be a place we call “home” much sooner than we think.

A keynote speech by Mishaal Ashemimry, moderated by Prof. Nicolas de Warren of Penn State University, examined the futuristic concept of humanity becoming an interplanetary species.

Discussing humanity’s options if Earth is no longer accommodating or habitable, Ashemimry, special adviser to the CEO at the Saudi Space Commission, said: “We must prepare for our future because no one knows. Yes, we can monitor all these items that are orbiting Earth, but there are so many that we don’t know about.

“I’m not suggesting that this is the only way. I am suggesting that we need to hedge our bets, invest in all the technologies necessary and all the possible solutions to prevent this existential problem — whether it’s going to Mars or preparing to go to Mars, or whether it’s intercepting that asteroid, and having mechanisms to detect it sooner and enable us to have enough time.”

The conversation around space continued with Abdullah Al-Ghathami, professor of criticism and theory at King Saud University, delivering a keynote speech under the title “Humanity in Space: Glory or Power.”

Leading thinkers took part in panel discussions, including “Inquiry Techniques in the Classroom” by General Manager of the Baseera Institute Dalia Toonsi, and “Chaos and Logos” with physicist Reem Taibah and Saudi Space Commission adviser Haithem Al-Twaijry.

This year’s conference is building off the success of last year’s event, which discussed unpredictability.

The forum aims to open up the once-taboo study of philosophy in the region by involving contemporary philosophers, scientists, writers and intellectuals from all over the world.

Discussions in the coming days will focus on the status of contemporary science, the complexities of space diplomacy and climate change, justice and ethics in exploration, and the dilemmas of artificial intelligence.

Saudi Arabia and Zanzibar have many development priorities in common, President Hussein Ali Mwinyi tells Arab News

Updated 04 December 2022

Saudi Arabia and Zanzibar have many development priorities in common, President Hussein Ali Mwinyi tells Arab News

  • Both nations have commonalities in tourism and economic diversification, says leader of Tanzanian province
  • Mwinyi says sustainability, heritage, renewable energy and agriculture are areas of potential cooperation

MAKKAH: Saudi Arabia and Zanzibar have many priorities in common concerning economic diversification and investment in tourism, renewable energy, and agriculture, according to Hussein Ali Mwinyi, president of the semi-autonomous Tanzanian province, off the coast of East Africa.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News in Makkah on Wednesday, where he performed Umrah during a visit to the Kingdom, Mwinyi said Saudi Arabia and Zanzibar share a number of concerns over sustainable tourism and the promotion of heritage sites.

“In Zanzibar, we have two main types of tourism,” said Mwinyi. “We have beach tourism, because it’s an island with sandy beaches. But we also have old towns, such as Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Those are commonalities where we can learn from each other. 

“But we also have differences. For example, I’m told the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a good number of tourists coming for sports tourism, like Formula One and such. So those are things that we can learn from the experience here.” 

The tropical archipelago in the Indian Ocean is a veritable crossroads of cultural influence, where Africa meets Arabic history and Indian flavors; the fabled “spice islands” synonymous with abundant production of cloves, nutmeg, pepper and cinnamon. 

 Rama, a kite surfing teacher, surfs in Paje beach, Zanzibar. During high season, Zanzibar’s beaches attract thousands of people for kite surfing, economically benefitting local businesses. (AFP)

Zanzibar united with Tanganyika in 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanzania, but has a culture, heritage and geography distinct from the mainland. It is also pursuing a strategy of economic diversification that takes into account its geographical advantages and multicultural strengths.

Zanzibar’s economy has traditionally been underwritten by tourism. Visitors from colder countries are drawn to its year-round tropical climate, stunning white-sand beaches, and many cultural and heritage sites. 

The tourism industry directly employs around 60,000 people and contributes almost $900 million to Zanzibar’s gross domestic product each year.

However, like many nations and regions reliant on tourist traffic, Zanzibar’s economy has suffered as a result of lockdowns, closures and travel bans during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has underscored the necessity of rebuilding the tourism industry while diversifying the economy across other, more shock-resistant industries.

“The mainstay of the economy of Zanzibar depends very much on tourism,” said Mwinyi, who attended the 22nd World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit in Riyadh this week. “Tourism is contributing to about 30 percent of our GDP.

“We are looking forward to growing the sector following the pandemic and luckily the numbers are coming back. We are almost back to pre-pandemic numbers and we are hoping to have more visitors than we used to have before the pandemic.” 

A tourist dives at Matemwe’s reef. Zanzibar's clear waters and lively reefs attract scuba diving tourists from all over the world. (AFP)

Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector is likewise enjoying a post-pandemic boom. The Kingdom’s investments in leisure and hospitality have created thousands of jobs, setting it on course to emerge as a global destination welcoming 100 million visitors per year by 2030.

Data published by the Saudi Tourism Authority shows that the Kingdom had already received 62 million tourist visitors by late August this year, placing it well on course to meet or even surpass its target by the end of the decade. 

Heritage tourism forms a major part of the Kingdom’s strategy. The Diriyah Gate Development Authority’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace developments were officially unveiled on Monday at a gala event during the WTTC Global Summit.

Zanzibar is also promoting its heritage sites. Stone Town, its administrative capital, features distinctive architecture, much of it dating back to the 19th century, reflecting native Swahili culture and a unique mixture of Arab, Persian, Indian and European influences. For this reason, the town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.

However, COVID-19 is not the only threat facing the tourism industry. Climate change is causing sea levels to rise, increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, and damaging valuable land and ocean habitats, especially in low-lying island regions. 

During the UN Climate Change Conference — COP27 — held in Egypt’s coastal resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh last month, delegates from climate-vulnerable nations called on the international community to do more to help them mitigate the effects of global warming. 

Dago Roots (R) performs a set with other artists at the International African music festival “Sauti za Busara” at the Old Fort in Stone town. (AFP)

Several governments, including Zanzibar’s, have recognized the urgent need to make their economies more sustainable, resilient and diverse, and to accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources. 

“Luckily, we haven’t been affected so much when it comes to climate change, but we are mitigating the effects by specific policies that were put in place,” said Mwinyi. 

“For example, the tourism we are talking about in Zanzibar is high-value, low-volume tourism. So we want quality tourism, few numbers but high quality, as opposed to mass tourism, which is devastating to the environment. 

“And we also have put down policies to mitigate the effects of climate change, including the use of renewable energy, the recycling of solid waste and such measures. So, in effect, we are hoping to make sure that we are not affected as other island nations have been affected by climate change.”

To avoid potential economic setbacks in the long run, Zanzibar is looking beyond tourism as a primary source of revenue, by embracing agriculture and the “blue” economy, which sustainably utilizes maritime and marine resources.

This includes the establishment of new fisheries, the development of seaports for travel and trade, off-shore renewable energy, seabed aquaculture, and other extractive activities, all under the umbrella of the Zanzibar Development Vision 2050.

Through its Blue Economy Policy, Zanzibar’s government has focused on strengthening the aquaculture sector with investments in seaweed farming, which offers local women economic empowerment and farming communities sustainable livelihoods.

Hussein Ali Mwinyi with Arab News’ Rawan Radwan. (AN photo/Maher Mirza)

“Since Zanzibar is made up of islands, we have to utilize ocean resources for economic development, but in a sustainable way,” said Mwinyi.

“So other than tourism, we are looking into fisheries. It’s an important industry for us — not only fishing but also fish farm aquaculture. We are looking at other sectors like seaweed farming. But we are also developing infrastructure like seaports so that we can have more maritime trade and transportation.”

After meeting with business leaders in Riyadh, Mwinyi is more confident than ever that Tanzania and the province of Zanzibar can enjoy reciprocal trade and cooperation in a wide range of industries.

“Tanzania and Saudi Arabia have had longstanding diplomatic relations. We have embassies on both sides. And now we are trying to strengthen that by encouraging investment from the Saudi side into Tanzania by sending some products from Tanzania to Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“I had a good conversation with the Federation of Saudi Chambers, where members discussed a lot about food security. And as you know, Tanzania is a huge country, we have almost 1 million sq km of fertile land. 

“So, we are an agricultural nation. We can send in a lot of agricultural produce to Saudi Arabia, and we can also send livestock to Saudi Arabia. And it has started actually. We are hoping to increase that. 

A spice tour guide holds a a Ylang-ylang flower on a spice farm outside Stone Town. (AFP)

“On the other hand, Saudi Arabia can send Tanzania products from the hydrocarbon industry, from plastics and fertilizers, including oil and gas itself. So there’s a lot of room for cooperation and strengthening our economy. 

“But on the investment side, I know there’s a lot of Saudi business people who would like to come and invest in tourism in Zanzibar, but also fisheries and livestock keeping. So, we had a good discussion. And I’m sure the cooperation will be further strengthened.”

Mwinyi believes Saudi expertise and interest in Zanzibar as an investment destination will benefit its environmental agenda and bodes well for future cooperation. 

“There was a lot of interest to come and invest in Zanzibar in areas where they have already invested here and which have shown success. One of them is renewable energy. We are an island so we need to have renewable energy. And it has been done here to great success,” he said. 

“Businessmen here are willing to come and share experiences with us and invest in Zanzibar, but that is only one sector. We spoke about a lot more sectors and I think we have huge potential for cooperation in different sectors.”