14 May 2021
Cyprus and Saudi Arabia have always enjoyed close and positive relations but the two countries are growing closer, following the creation of the Cyprus-Saudi Business Association and, more recently, the inclusion of Saudi Arabia in the low-risk category that will allow travellers from the Kingdom to visit Cyprus without the need to quarantine. In an exclusive interview with GOLD, the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Cyprus, Khaled Alsharif, talks about bilateral relations, his country’s Vision 2030 reform programme and its plans to combat the climate crisis, and reveals the very special personal memories that are inextricably linked to three of his previous foreign postings.
By Marianna Nicolaou | Photo by TASPHO
How would you describe Cypriot society and your life here? What do you like the most about living in Cyprus?
Khaled Alsharif: Cyprus is a beautiful island that offers a high quality of life and has a fascinating history and heritage. My family and I are greatly enjoying our time here and I must say that we find a lot of similarities with Saudi Arabia, such as the hospitable people, the scenic landscape and the delicious food, to name just a few of them.
Why did you choose to follow a diplomatic career?
K.A.: I grew up as a diplomat’s son and, as the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! I appreciated the chance to expand my horizons through travel to explore and learn about various cultures, and this has been a major part of my personal growth.
You have served in various embassies around the world, including those of the USA, Norway, Italy among others. Which posting has been your favourite so far, and why?
K.A.: I consider myself lucky to have served in all those countries. Each one is unique and has a special place in my heart. Let me tell you why: I got married during my time in the United States, my youngest daughter was born during my tenure in Italy, and Norway was my maiden appointment as Head of Mission. So it’s difficult to single out just one, as I have memories from all that I will cherish forever. I know that this may sound like a ‘diplomatic answer’ but this is how I feel!
What do you hope to achieve with the creation of the Cyprus-Saudi Business Association? How will it affect bilateral trade between the two countries?
K.A.: The Cyprus–Saudi Business Association has been founded to enhance efforts aimed at further strengthening business relations by operating as a bridge between our countries. It’s an official platform that mutually benefits economic and trade relations. We are currently developing a corresponding association in Saudi Arabia to further enhance our business bonds.
Saudi Arabia’s economic base continues to be dominated by oil. How do you expect this to develop as the movement towards green economies grows on a global scale?
K.A.: The Saudi government has an ambitious plan to steer the Kingdom away from its dependence on oil. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman recently announced the Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative, which are programmes that aim to reduce carbon emissions by 60% and to plant 50 billion trees in the region. The Kingdom fully recognizes its share of responsibility in advancing efforts against the climate crisis by leading the world’s largest afforestation project. Having been a leader in the energy markets during the oil and gas era, the Kingdom aims to become a global leader in forging a greener world, which is a strategic target of Saudi’s Vision 2030.
Tell us a bit more about Vision 2030. What are the main pillars of this ambitious project and what are its sociopolitical effects expected to be?
K.A.: Vision 2030 is a social and economic strategic reform project developed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to diversify the nation’s economy and to stimulate numerous changes to its social and economic sectors, including healthcare. It is built on three pillars – a vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation. A vibrant society is vital to achieving the Vision and establishing a strong foundation for economic prosperity. The Kingdom’s goal is to create a society in which every citizen enjoys a happy, fulfilling lifestyle, complemented by a standard of living which provides a safe and secure environment for families, and access to world class healthcare and education. Secondly, a thriving economy provides opportunities for all, by building an education system aligned with market needs to offer young people the skills for the jobs of the future, and creating economic opportunities for entrepreneurs and small enterprises as well as large corporations. Lastly, an ambitious nation applies efficiency and responsibility at all levels in order to deliver the Vision successfully.
How can Cyprus become an attractive business/investment hub for Saudi Arabian businesses and organisations?
K.A.: Cyprus has a key geographical location in the region. It is the closest EU country to Saudi Arabia and an attractive destination for Foreign Direct Investment, as well as an ideal destination for businesses to establish their European and international headquarters. The creation of the Cyprus-Saudi Business Association is the first step in this direction.
With Saudi Arabia ranked among the lowest-risk countries as regards COVID-19, travellers from the Kingdom to Cyprus will not have to quarantine on arrival. Do you think this will be reflected in tourist arrivals?
K.A.: We are pleased to know that Saudi Arabia has been placed in the green category and this will have a very positive impact on tourism and bilateral relations between the two countries. In November 2019, we introduced the e-visa programme, enabling visitors from Cyprus to apply online or obtain their visa upon arrival in Saudi Arabia.
How do you expect the global economy to look in 2030?
K.A.: I am optimistic that the world will overcome this pandemic and emerge from it with new plans and strategies to help deal with future crises, whether health-related or economic/financial. Planning and cooperation among countries and creating synergies within global organisations and societies will be more significant in facing any future challenges to global economic growth. The silver lining of this pandemic is the fact that we have a precedent for approaching such global issues more effectively and in a timely manner. The whole world is now taking more serious and decisive steps towards a greener future to discover new ways to grow the global economy in ways we haven’t explored before.