Saudi Arabia, Syria in talks to resume consular services — Saudi foreign ministry

This picture taken on January 11, 2020 shows a general view of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AFP/File)
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Updated 24 March 2023

Saudi Arabia, Syria in talks to resume consular services — Saudi foreign ministry

  • Move comes after Saudi Arabia and Iran decided earlier this month to resume diplomatic relations
  • Last month Riyadh said consensus was growing among Arab nations that Syrian isolation was “not workable”

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and Syria are in talks to resume consular services between the two countries, Al-Ekhbariya TV said on Thursday.

“Within the framework of the Kingdom’s keenness to facilitate the provision of necessary consular services between the two nations, discussions are underway with officials in Syria to resume consular services,” the TV channel reported, citing a Saudi foreign ministry official.

The report added that the statement from the foreign ministry’s source was in response to international media reports from earlier on Thursday.

The move comes after Saudi Arabia and Iran decided earlier this month to resume diplomatic relations and reopen embassies in both countries, following a China-brokered deal.

In a phone call on Wednesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan spoke with his Iranian counterpart, Hussein Amir Abdollahian, about holding a bilateral meeting in the near future.

On February 19, Prince Faisal said consensus among Arab countries was growing that Syrian isolation was “not workable”, adding that dialogue with Damascus was needed “at some point” at least with regards to the “humanitarian angle.”

He also said on March 8 engagement with Syria might eventually lead to its return to the Arab League, but that at the time, it was “too early to discuss.”


Kenyan defense minister meets Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition chief

Updated 31 May 2023

Kenyan defense minister meets Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition chief

RIYADH: Secretary-General of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition Maj. Gen. Mohammed bin Saeed Al-Moghedi met Kenyan Defense Minister Aden Bare Duale in Nairobi on Wednesday to discuss counterterrorism and violent extremism-related issues.

During his meeting with Al-Moghedi, the Kenyan minister praised the coalition’s framework – for military, counterterrorism, anti-terrorism financing, as well as intellectual and media matters – as a strategic pillar in fighting terrorism and violent extremism.

He added that terrorism has its roots in intellectual and ideological orientations, which constitute the basis of the extremist approach.

“Working on preparing the mindset and integrating it within the proper framework constitutes one of the proactive action pillars aimed to repress and contain extremist thinking,” Duale said.

Al-Moghedi said that strategic initiatives by the coalition in its counterterrorism efforts have taken into consideration the hierarchy of terrorist tendencies.

The secretary-general also spoke about social media and communication platforms, and their role in influencing users. He also discussed countering illegal terror financing through military support and assistance services.

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Who’s Who: Hussain AbdRab Al-Nabi, vice president at SAP South Europe, Middle East and Africa

Updated 31 May 2023

Who’s Who: Hussain AbdRab Al-Nabi, vice president at SAP South Europe, Middle East and Africa

Hussain AbdRab Al-Nabi is an innovation and strategy marketing leader and expert who has worked in both marketing and finance fields. He is vice president and head of marketing strategy at SAP South Europe, Middle East and Africa.

He has contributed significantly to SAP throughout his more than decade-long experience with the company.

As VP, his responsibilities include developing and implementing cohesive marketing strategies for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and managing relationships with regional and global stakeholders across all departments.

AbdRab Al-Nabi is also executive marketing director at SAP for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. His responsibilities cover seven countries and more than 13 major cities.

Before that, he worked as head of marketing transformation at SAP, where he led a team for restructuring the scope of marketing within the targeted countries.

In 2016, he was appointed marketing director for the newly segmented market unit of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen, and as a financial services marketing program head for the MENA region. During that time, AbdRab Al-Nabi developed marketing programs for the financial services industry.

Previously at SAP, he was assigned as marketing lead for the public services and energy, and natural resources industries, and he worked closely with industry principles to drive a focused marketing plan.

He first joined SAP in 2011 as a country marketing manager, handling the marketing and demand generation initiatives in Saudi Arabian operations.

In 2008, AbdRab Al-Nabi worked at Zain Group as a segment manager of corporate marketing and acting head of business marketing.

Before that, he was a relationship manager in the commercial markets division at SAMBA Financial Group.

AbdRab Al-Nabi started his career in 2001 as a credit and marketing senior officer at ORIX Leasing company, and later worked as a financial controller at Arab National Bank.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals. AbdRab Al-Nabi completed the Esade executive leadership program and the Misk leaders program last year. He has also obtained certifications from the Association of International Product Marketing and Management.

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Saudi citizen’s kidnapping adds new chapter to Lebanon’s chronicle of crime and impunity

Updated 31 May 2023

Saudi citizen’s kidnapping adds new chapter to Lebanon’s chronicle of crime and impunity

  • Despite Mashari Al-Mutairi’s record-fast rescue, incident revives memories of abductions, hijackings, and armed robberies
  • Saudi Arabia is committed to having Lebanon back in the Arab fold, says Saudi researcher Salman Al-Ansari

JEDDAH: Despite the record-fast rescue by Lebanese security services on Tuesday of a kidnapped Saudi citizen, the incident comes as yet another reminder of the many heists, abductions and hijackings that have plagued the Arab country since the 1970s.

Mashari Al-Mutairi, an employee of Saudi Arabia’s Saudia airlines who lived in the Beirut suburb of Aramoun, was abducted at about 3 a.m. on Sunday. The Lebanese Army’s intelligence directorate found and freed him after a security operation on the border with Syria.

He was received at the Saudi Embassy in Beirut by Ambassador Walid Bukhari, who said in a statement: “The released Saudi citizen is in good health, and we thank the army and internal security forces. The security efforts confirm the Lebanese authorities’ keenness to secure tourism security.”

News of Al-Mutairi’s abduction will have come as little surprise to millions of Lebanese who have endured decades of similar disappearances, hostage situations and armed robberies — crimes that are again on the rise as the nation grapples with chronic economic woes.

Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid bin Abdullah Bukhari, right, and Lebanon’s caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi attend a press conference at Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. (Reuters)

In the first 10 months of 2021, the number of car thefts rose by 212 percent, robberies by 266 percent and murders by 101 percent compared to the same period of 2019, according to figures from International Information, an independent consultancy based in Beirut.

Ever since the 1975-90 civil war, Lebanon has been a transit, source and destination country for arms trafficking. These same networks are today used to move stolen goods, control the black market and facilitate the burgeoning drugs trade — many of them controlled by the armed Shiite group Hezbollah, which continues to dominate Lebanese public life.

“Any country that has a non-state actor within it is considered a ‘failed state,’” Salman Al-Ansari, a Saudi political researcher, told Arab News. “Lebanon has never been this dominated by a militia that works for an outside power.

“The crime, drug smuggling, economic collapse, currency decline are only symptoms of the actual root problem, which is the lack of national sovereignty. There is no point in rectifying the symptoms as long as the actual root problem exists. It’s like hoping to treat a serious illness with a painkiller.

“Lebanon should change course and realize that their future is very dark if they allow a non-state actor to dictate its trajectory.”

Events in Lebanon today have echoes of the bad old days of the 1980s, when kidnappings, torture, murder and drug trafficking reached endemic proportions against the backdrop of the civil war, which devastated the country.

Back then, Westerners were common targets. In 1982, pro-Iran extremists kidnapped Davis S. Dodge, then president of American University in Beirut, from the university campus. He was flown to a prison near Tehran and held until his release a year later.

In 1984, Dodge’s successor as president of the AUB, Dr. Malcolm Kerr, was shot dead by two gunmen outside his office. The Islamic Jihad Organization claimed responsibility for the killing, citing the US military presence in Lebanon as its motive.

The same year, William Francis Buckley, a CIA operative working at the US Embassy in Beirut, was kidnapped by Hezbollah and later murdered. One of the reasons for his abduction was thought to be the upcoming trial of 17 Iran-backed militants in Kuwait.

Several times during this period, whole planeloads of people were taken hostage. In 1984, a Kuwait Airways flight from Kuwait City to Karachi, Pakistan, was hijacked by four Lebanese and diverted to Tehran.

Due to unmet demands, the hijackers shot and killed American passengers Charles Hegna and William Stanford, both of whom were officials from the US Agency for International Development, before dumping their bodies on the tarmac.

Less than a year later, on June 14, 1985, TWA Flight 847 was hijacked soon after taking off from Athens. For three days, the plane went to and from Algiers and Beirut. US Navy diver Robert Stethem was murdered aboard the flight.

Dozens of passengers were held hostage over the next two weeks until they were finally released by their captors after some of their demands were met. The hijackers had demanded the release of 700 Shiite Muslims from Israeli custody.

Western analysts accused Hezbollah of hijacking the plane, a claim the group rejected.

In 1987, British humanitarian and hostage negotiator Terry Waite traveled to Beirut to negotiate with the IJO, which had taken several hostages. However, he was himself abducted by the group and remained in captivity for 1,763 days — the first four years of which he spent in solitary confinement.

A year later, Col. William Higgins, a US marine serving with the UN forces in South Lebanon, was kidnapped and murdered by a Hezbollah-aligned splinter group of the Al-Amal movement, “Believers Resistance.”

 Malcolm Kerr, President of the American University of Beirut, who was shot and killed by gunmen as he arrived at his office on campus. (AUB)

Although Lebanon is no longer in the grip of outright civil war, the financial crisis which began in 2019, combined with the political class’s failure to establish a new government, have created an environment of growing lawlessness and desperation.

Indeed, there are indications that the kidnapping of Al-Mutairi could have been orchestrated by a criminal organization with a hand in the production and trade of the amphetamine Captagon, which blights the entire region.

Lebanese news station MTV reported in recent days that a drug dealer known as Abu Salle, who is described as one of the region’s most prominent cartel bosses, was behind Al-Mutairi’s kidnapping.

The Lebanese Army raid of a Captagon factory in connection with the kidnapping lends weight to this theory.

Criminal networks move stolen goods, control the black market and facilitate the burgeoning drugs trade in Lebanon — many of them controlled by Hezbollah. (AFP)

Although Lebanese officials were quick to condemn the kidnapping, there are concerns the incident could hamper efforts to normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, which have long been strained by the influence of Hezbollah.

However, Al-Ansari is confident the kidnapping will not obstruct progress on normalization.

“This could be considered a small obstacle in the way, but at the end of the day, Saudi Arabia is committed to having Lebanon back to the Arab fold in a way that it can have its own sovereignty away from Iranian hegemony,” he said.

In March, Saudi Arabia and Iran restored diplomatic relations under a Chinese-mediated deal. How this new arrangement will impact the activities of Iran’s proxy forces throughout the region, however, remains ill-defined.

TWA Boeing 727 captain John L. Testrake from Richmond, Missouri, emerges from the cockpit of his hijacked airliner 19 June 1985 at Beirut airport to talk to newsmen. (Getty Images/AFP)

“It is still unclear what the Chinese mediation between Saudi Arabia and Iran will result in with regard to the Lebanese file,” Al-Ansari said. “It will de-escalate the tension, but it will not solve the problem overnight.”

Although Lebanon is a long way from reaching stability, Al-Ansari believes Saudi Arabia “will work hard with the highest level of government in Lebanon to find a way to have political and economic reforms, combat corruption and drug smuggling, and have the right kind of governance.”

International observers warned of a potential power vacuum after long-time president Michel Aoun left power in October. To this day, Lebanon’s parliament has yet to elect a new president, prolonging the nation’s political paralysis.

“The Saudi ambassador to Beirut has been vocal and supportive in finding a solution to the power vacuum and pushing for reforms and appointing a government, because at the end of the day, Saudi Arabia can’t provide anything if there is no actual solidified government in Beirut,” Al-Ansari said.

“Saudi Arabia doesn’t want anything from Lebanon except for it to be politically stable and prosperous. It will take a long time to accomplish these goals, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the Lebanese to decide their future, and the Saudis will be helping them with whatever they can.”

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Sudan crisis sparks EU fears of ‘spillover’ to other nations

Updated 30 May 2023

Sudan crisis sparks EU fears of ‘spillover’ to other nations

  • The risk of having an arc of instability between the Sahel and the Red Sea is serious, says Annette Weber

RIYADH: The EU envoy to the Horn of Africa has hailed Saudi-US efforts to end the violence in Sudan but warned that the ongoing fighting continues to threaten regional stability.

In an interview with Arab News on Monday Annette Weber, the EU Special Representative, said that the risk of a “spillover” of violence was clear. 

Weber arrived in Riyadh on Saturday to discuss the Sudan crisis with officials from the Foreign Ministry and representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

“The focus was on Sudan and the current engagement of Saudi Arabia and the US in Jeddah with the two generals,” Weber said in reference to preliminary talks between the rival Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. 

She said that a solution would not be found without the Saudi and US efforts to get them talking.

“The focus was really on the question, ‘how can we get to a comprehensive agreement?’ A peace agreement. There’s clear support from the EU member states for this engagement and for these negotiations.”

While she acknowledged that gaining a permanent ceasefire might be considered “far-fetched” at this point, she hoped at least for a cessation of hostilities in order to allow aid shipments to Khartoum and beyond.

“We all made it very clear that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the US are doing this first step. The ‘pre-negotiation’ as they call it, for a ceasefire, opening a window for humanitarian (aid),” she said.

However, she warned that the violence could easily spread across the Horn of Africa without a firmer agreement in place.

“We need to contain the conflict in Sudan. I think this is very clear and I think … the faster they can agree in Jeddah to have at least a ceasefire or cessation of hostility, the less likely the spillover is going to be,” she said.

“But the risk of spillover is clear. We’ve seen people crossing ... We’ve seen the risk of the conflict crossing into Chad, into South Sudan.

“We see a lot of refugees crossing into Egypt and into neighboring countries. The region is very volatile. The risk of having an arc of instability between the Sahel and the Red Sea is serious. 

“And for us as the EU, of course, it's our neighbor. It's our neighborhood. So to contain the conflict and to end the conflict is imperative.”

A solution would not be found without the Saudi and US efforts to get them talking.

Annette Weber

According to the UN, nearly 1.4 million Sudanese have fled their homes since fighting began on April 15. Of those, 330,000 have crossed over to a neighboring country. To this day, Saudi Arabia has helped more 8,200 people from more than 100 nationalities leave Sudan on evacuation flights.

Saudi Arabia and the US urged the warring sides to work toward a ceasefire and welcomed the start of pre-negotiation talks in Jeddah on May 6.

Both sides agreed to a temporary ceasefire on May 20. However, the deal fell apart almost immediately as fighting continued in Khartoum and beyond. Saudi Arabia and the US said both sides had a hand in its breakdown.

The EU representative said that the efforts to support Sudan’s neighboring countries were “ongoing.”

“We are very much engaged in Chad and South Sudan. It’s an ongoing effort. The EU has one of the biggest donors and humanitarian efforts in Sudan now and before the war,” she said. “So we will continue on this. That’s very clear.”

During her visit to the Kingdom, Weber also met the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council Jasem Albudaiwi to discuss regional cooperation and security.

“It is necessary for all of us: The EU, Saudi Arabia, UN, and everyone, to cooperate and coordinate the relief efforts and the humanitarian efforts,” she said, adding that the GCC was an “important counterpart” in the region. 

“I think we are aligned in the situation in Sudan,” she added.

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First group of 773 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims reaches Makkah from Madinah

Updated 30 May 2023

First group of 773 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims reaches Makkah from Madinah

  • Saudi Arabia this year restored Pakistan’s pre-pandemic Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims

ISLAMABAD: The first group of 773 Pakistani pilgrims has reached Makkah from Madinah ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Ministry said on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia this year restored Pakistan’s pre-pandemic Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims. Around 80,000 Pakistani pilgrims are performing the pilgrimage this year under the government scheme, while more than 91,000 will use private tour operators.

Hajj flights from the country commenced on May 21 and the final flight departs for Saudi Arabia on June 21.

The ministry said: “DG Hajj Mission in Makkah Abdul Wahab Soomro welcomed the pilgrims, who were served dates, coffee and juice in the traditional manner on their arrival at Makkah.”

Accommodation arrangements for pilgrims have been made in the Azizia and Bitha Quraish areas of Makkah. 

Director of Hajj Makkah Faheem Afridi said that a special bus service would be available to take pilgrims from Azizia to Haram.

A statement read: “All the Pakistani Hajj pilgrims are well catered for, and will be provided three meals including breakfast in Makkah.

“The health of pilgrims will be taken care of. To meet the complete nutritional needs of the pilgrims, fruits are being served in the afternoon and sweets in the night.” 

The ministry said all Hajj pilgrims who landed in Madinah would reach Makkah after eight days.

For the Hajj pilgrimage, pilgrims perform the welcome tawaf after entering Makkah, circling the Kaaba seven times in a counterclockwise direction, starting at the Black Stone. They then head to the hills of Safa and Marwa, where they perform saee, which is the act of going back and forth between the two hills seven times.  

Pilgrims then travel to Mina where they will stay and fill their day and evening with prayers and supplications, resting and consuming water ahead of their long journey.  

On the second day of Hajj, pilgrims travel to Mount Arafat, 20 kilometers away. The day is devoted to prayer and supplications as they observe duhr (noon) combined with asr (afternoon) prayers until sunset.

The Day of Arafat is considered the most critical day for pilgrims and the millions not performing. It is the day that “atones for the sins of the preceding and coming (Muslim) year” and is the best day for worship and supplication in the year.  

Pilgrims descend Mount Arafat after sunset and make their way to Muzdalifah for isha (night) prayers. They collect pebbles no larger than the size of a fingertip ahead of the stoning ritual the next day, and rest until midnight or dawn, when they will make the long journey back to Mina for the final steps of Hajj, the stoning ritual at Jamarat Al-Aqabah.  

On the third day of Hajj, Eid Al-Adha, pilgrims stone the Jamarat Al-Aqabah, or the big pillar, a location where the Prophet Ibrahim threw seven pebbles at the devil. After doing so, pilgrims change from their Ihram, sacrificial animals are slaughtered, and men shave their heads while women cut a fingertip’s length of hair to commemorate the end of the Hajj pilgrimage.  

For three days, known as Ayyam Al-Tashreeq, pilgrims stay in Mina and perform the stoning of the other two pillars, Al-Jamarah Al-Wusta and Al-Jamarah Al-Sughra.