Interview: Saudi Arabia has ‘important role’ to play in Africa, says EU envoy for Ethiopia

Short Url
Updated 06 April 2021

Interview: Saudi Arabia has ‘important role’ to play in Africa, says EU envoy for Ethiopia

  • Pekka Haavisto is visiting Saudi Arabia and UAE en route to Ethiopia on his second mission as EU envoy
  • Finnish diplomat says peace during Ramadan in Yemen was among the issues he discussed with Saudi officials

RIYADH: The EU’s envoy for Ethiopia has emphasized the importance of international cooperation to bring the conflict in the Tigray region to an end.

In a wide-ranging interview with Arab News in Riyadh on Sunday, Pekka Haavisto, Finland’s foreign minister, said it is important that the EU works with Saudi Arabia, given that the Kingdom has “good relations with all parties in the whole of Africa.”

Haavisto also described the latest Saudi proposal for peace in Yemen as “a very positive initiative,” and reiterated his condemnation of deliberate attacks by the Houthis on civilians in Yemen and in Saudi Arabia.

Mandated by the EU High Representative Josep Borrell, Haavisto is visiting the Kingdom and the UAE before traveling to Ethiopia on his second mission as the EU envoy.

“International cooperation in this issue is very important,” he said, citing the risks of another conflict in a region where disputes are already rife, including the Sudan-Ethiopia tensions and disagreements among Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

“The European Union reacted very early on the confrontation in Ethiopia in Tigray and condemned the use of violence,” he said. “It was of course very concerned about the new wave of refugees partly coming to the Sudanese side.”

Haavisto visited refugee camps on the Sudan side in early February, in addition to holding meetings with Ethiopian leaders in December and February. At the time it was not certain that Eritrean troops were involved in the events of Tigray or that militias were causing turmoil.
 

“We have asked the Ethiopian leaders for full humanitarian access to all regions in Tigray, full investigation into human rights violations, dialogue between the parties and a halt to hostilities,” he told Arab News.

“This has been our message also to the neighboring country, Eritrea. We have asked for Eritrean troops to be withdrawn from Tigray.”

According to Haavisto, during their meetings the EU team and Saudi officials compared notes on the situation in the wider region and agreed to keep exchanging views on developments as well as explore future possibilities for closer cooperation.

The EU team also held meetings with officials from Saudi humanitarian agencies, he said. “It is very important that we also have a positive view of the whole of Africa, for the development and assessing of those in need of humanitarian aid,” he said. “We touched on the situation in Somalia, which is also the burning issue as far as African matters are concerned.”

Haavisto sees plenty of possibilities for the Kingdom and the EU to work together. “We have of course been praising the important role of Saudi Arabia earlier on in the peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia and also Saudi Arabia’s constant support to Sudan during its transition process. Saudi Arabia is a country that has good relations with all parties in the whole of Africa, so it’s important that the EU works with Saudi Arabia.”

The discussions in Riyadh explored the possibility of a period of calm in Yemen during Ramadan. Emphasizing that the holy month, only two weeks away, might see more negotiations for peace, Haavisto said: “The Saudi leadership mentioned many times how important it is to have peace in the coming month of Ramadan, and I think everybody is requesting that.

“I think it should be a united common message from the international community to also bring Houthis to the negotiation tables. We shouldn’t accept additional violence, and particularly people should think about the civilians and the fate of the civilians in Yemen.”

On March 7, more than 40 Ethiopian migrants burned to death in a Houthi-run detention center in Yemen. Commenting on the atrocity, Haavisto said: “We have condemned all of the attacks from the Houthis against (Yemeni) civilians and innocent civilians in Saudi Arabia, as well as the spreading of the war to other areas. It is totally unacceptable.

“We are supporting the US envoy Martin Griffiths’ work and his proposal on this issue. We have also noted the very positive initiative from the Saudi Arabia government on (reaching) a peace agreement.

“This is a moment when we should really ask all sides to refrain from any additional violence or any additional bombings, to come to the table to find a negotiated solution. I think this is a war that has been continuing for too long a time.”

On the topic of EU-Saudi relations, Haaavisto said: “First of all, it’s important to mention that the EU, I think, is the second biggest trading partner of Saudi Arabia. So, we have a lot of things in common in the private sector, a lot of common interests to be developed there.




Finnish diplomat Pekka Haavisto is visiting Saudi Arabia and the UAE before traveling to Ethiopia on his second mission as the EU envoy. (Supplied)

“We have been following very closely the (Saudi) Vision 2030 (plan), the reform of Saudi society — particularly regarding the role of women — the issues of human rights, the issues of the reform of labor laws, and so forth, which are positive steps toward the future.”

“We look for more close cooperation on regional issues. We are fully aware of the good initiatives of Saudi Arabia, such as the Red Sea Council, for cooperation on issues concerning the Red Sea. We also took very positive note of the new ‘green’ initiatives of Saudi Arabia.

“We at the European Union are preparing for the coming COP 26 climate conference in Glasgow and fulfilling the climate goals is very important. Also, new environmentally friendly technologies and energy products are something that interest both the EU and Saudi Arabia.”

He described relations between the EU and Saudi Arabia as “very good,” noting that Borrel intends to visit the Kingdom soon. “It is very important that we have these personal linkages between EU institutions and Saudi Arabia,” he said.

The global fight against the coronavirus was another topic addressed by Haavisto, who said it was not enough for individuals to be immunized if their neighbors were not.

“We sometimes use this kind of vaccine solidarity term, that it is not enough that you yourself are vaccinated,” he told Arab News. “You have to also get your neighbor vaccinated, the neighboring countries vaccinated and then finally the whole world vaccinated.”

Haavisto said that the world needs a common information campaign that drives home the importance of vaccination in fighting the pandemic. Additionally, the world cannot afford more new mutations of the coronavirus in countries where the public-health crisis is not under control.

“I have found a similar thinking here in Saudi Arabia that we should work on the conditions, because this is also an economic issue in some ways in the world currently — getting economies back to normalcy once the vaccination is working,” he said.

Explaining that mutations could only be halted once the world was fully vaccinated, he said that both the EU and Saudi Arabia could work together. “Field health diplomacy and health security are where Europe and Saudi Arabia can cooperate,” he said.

Talking about steps to mitigate the impacts of climate change, he said: “Water scarcity is a very, very important issue in this region. I remember several years ago, before the war in Yemen, I visited Sanaa and many people said the city might be one of the first capitals to totally run out of water in this region.

“I think already at that time people spoke about the need for new ways of saving water, and producing drinking water in environmentally friendly ways, using maybe solar and other technologies.”

Twitter: @NoorNugali

Related


Saudi crown prince meets British PM’s envoy to the Gulf region

Updated 19 April 2021

Saudi crown prince meets British PM’s envoy to the Gulf region

JEDDAH: Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman met with the special envoy of the British prime minister for the Gulf Region, Edward Lister, early Monday in Jeddah.

During the meeting, they looked into ways to enhance Saudi-UK bilateral relations and discussed regional and international events of common interest.

The meeting was attended by Prince Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Saudi ambassador to the UK; Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan; Minister of Commerce and Minister of Information-designate Majid Al-Qasabi, as well as the British ambassador to the Kingdom, Neil Crompton.

Related


Who's Who: Abdulrahman bin Mohammed Al-Thehaiban, managing director of Google Cloud for the META region

Updated 19 April 2021

Who's Who: Abdulrahman bin Mohammed Al-Thehaiban, managing director of Google Cloud for the META region

Abdulrahman bin Mohammed Al-Thehaiban is the newly appointed managing director of Google Cloud for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa region (META).

Al-Thehaiban, who received an executive master’s degree in international business in 2004 from the University of Edinburgh, has spent 25 years at Oracle, where he served as senior vice president of technology in the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern and Central Europe regions.

Before joining Oracle in 1996 as Saudi Arabia’s sales manager, Al-Thehaiban owned a leading software solutions consultancy firm specializing in application development for Unix, Informix and Oracle. Within three years of joining Oracle, Al-Thehaiban helped grow the business, making Saudi Arabia a high revenue market for the company.

In September 2010, he was promoted to vice president for the MENA region. In 2016, he became a senior vice president for the Middle East, North-South Africa, Turkey and Central Asia.

Al-Thehaiban, a father of four and an innovation supporter, has played a key role in leading a number of capacity-building initiatives inside and outside Oracle. He also helped Oracle establish a computing center in Saudi Arabia. He has been an executive board member of the Young Arab Leaders and is a member of the Sawa’ed program, which was launched in 2008 by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Foundation to encourage creative projects that support development in the Arab world through technology.

For six successive years beginning in 2015, he was honored by Forbes Middle East magazine for being one of the top executives in the region.


Saudi expats’ Ramadan agony as loved ones pray for end to flight curbs

Updated 18 April 2021

Saudi expats’ Ramadan agony as loved ones pray for end to flight curbs

  • International flights suspended due to coronavirus travel restrictions will resume on May 17, Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation authority GACA said in a circular

RIYADH: While most families look forward to gatherings around the iftar table during the holy month of Ramadan, many expatriates in the Kingdom face an agonizing wait on relatives stranded in their homelands by flight suspensions.
Every Ramadan, with sunset nearing, families sit together during iftar to break their dawn-to-dusk fast, giving everyone a chance to catch up during the month-long festivity culminating in Eid Al-Fitr.
However, many expats are anxiously watching airline schedules as countries ease travel curbs, opening the way for family reunions.
International flights suspended due to coronavirus travel restrictions will resume on May 17, Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation authority GACA said in a circular.
Anwar Pasha Ansari, an Indian expatriate working in Jeddah, told Arab News that his daughter Heba Anwar is stranded in India.
“No father and mother should go through this agony,” he said.
Ansari said that his daughter left Jeddah to appear for her bachelor’s final exam in New Delhi, hoping to rejoin her family to celebrate Eid last year.
“But perhaps destiny was preparing another fate,” he said.
Ansari said that travel bans “brought the curtain down for all parents like us whose children were held up in India.”
He added: “To add insult to injury, all students were asked to vacate their hostel and make their own living arrangements, which was a nightmare for parents working overseas.”

HIGHLIGHT

Every Ramadan, with sunset nearing, families sit together during iftar to break their dawn-to-dusk fast, giving everyone a chance to catch up during the month-long festivity culminating in Eid Al-Fitr.

With no end to travel restrictions in sight, Ansari’s daughter planned to travel to Saudi Arabia via the UAE after spending 14 days in Dubai.
Ansari said that when his daughter arrived in Dubai in January, they were elated at the prospect of reuniting with her.
But with only three days left of her quarantine, a temporary traveling restriction from Dubai to Saudi Arabia came into force and all hope was gone.
“Heba spent a substantial time hoping against hope that flights would be resumed and checking any news pertaining to flight resumption to Saudi Arabia,” said Anwar.
“She was only a couple of hours away from us.”
Finally, after all options were exhausted, Heba was forced to return to India, bravely telling her parents: “Papa and mummy, stay well, this phase will pass, too.”
Ansari’s story will be familiar to thousands separated from their children as the coronavirus pandemic challenges everyone’s patience, endurance and capacity to endure the hardships of separation.
Technology and video apps help, but are not enough to bridge the gap as families face even more time apart.
Raafat Aoun, a Lebanese expat working in the Kingdom, told Arab News: “The closure of flights has affected many expat families. My brother-in-law had to travel to Beirut to attend to an emergency. Now he finds himself in a very difficult situation as he is stuck there, and his wife and four young children are all alone in Jeddah.”
Aoun said that his brother-in-law had been stranded for more than three months.
“I am supporting them and extending them all the help I can. But this festive season is becoming very difficult for me, too. I hope and pray flights resume soon so that my brother-in-law can return to his family.”
Pakistani expatriate Syed Faiz Ahmad said that two of his relatives were stranded after traveling to Pakistan.
“One went to help his ailing father, leaving his family behind in Riyadh. But he got stuck. His wife and two children are all alone here and are desperately waiting for him to return, especially during this month of Ramadan.”


Saudi Housing Ministry signs agreements making it easier for families to own first house

Updated 18 April 2021

Saudi Housing Ministry signs agreements making it easier for families to own first house

RIYADH: The Housing Ministry’s Sakani program signed four agreements with a number of agencies during the Sakani Forum for the first quarter of 2021, held in Riyadh.

The agreements aim to make it easier for Saudi families to own their first house, thus achieving the goals of Vision 2030 by increasing the percentage of home ownership to 70 percent by 2030.

Sakani also honored a number of partners, including financiers, developers and contractors, for their efforts during the last period and their contributions to achieving the program’s goals.

The event was attended by the Housing Minister Majid Al-Hogail.

The agreements, which will be implemented in partnership with the private sector, included providing model engineering designs for the beneficiaries of the self-construction option through the Sakani platform, in partnership with the National Housing Company.

The first agreement was with the Technical Axis Foundation for Architectural Contracting, while the second was with Ahmed bin Abdullah Al-Tuwaijri Architectural Consulting Office, the third with the Asayel Engineering Consulting Office, and the fourth with Ebdaa Group Engineering Consultants.

During the forum, the National Housing Co. and the Saudi Contractors Authority signed an agreement to prepare and license contractors to carry out building and construction works for the beneficiaries of Sakani’s self-construction option.

 

 


Who’s Who: Prince Fahd bin Jalawi bin Abdul Aziz, chairman, Olympic Council of Asia’s education committee

Updated 18 April 2021

Who’s Who: Prince Fahd bin Jalawi bin Abdul Aziz, chairman, Olympic Council of Asia’s education committee

Prince Fahd bin Jalawi bin Abdul Aziz was recently elected as a member of the executive office and chairman of the education committee of the Olympic Council of Asia.

He is also the vice president of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, president of the Saudi Triathlon Federation and chairman of the Saudi Camel Federation,

He has been the president of the West Asian Triathlon Federation since December 2020, when the federation’s general assembly recommended that Prince Fahd head the organization. 

Prince Fahd graduated from Riyadh Schools in 2003 and studied at King Saud University for his bachelor’s degree in law. 

He obtained an MBA in international relations from the University of Wales in 2012, and three years later received an executive master’s degree in sports organization management from Universite Catholique de Louvain in Belgium.

Between 2007 and 2014 he was a legal and international relations adviser at the Ministry of Sport, previously known as the General Presidency of Youth Welfare.

Prince Fahd was the president’s adviser of international relations at the Saudi Sports Authority between 2015 and 2017.

In November 2016 Prince Fahd became the president’s adviser of Olympic committees and federations at the Union of Arab National Olympic Committees, and a member of International Relations Commission at the union. 

He is also a member of the international relations committee at the Association of National Olympic Committees.