How would you appreciate the bilateral relations between Romania and Saudi Arabia?
The bilateral relations between Romania and Saudi Arabia are on a good path. The political relations have reached a very satisfying level, the exchange visits and meetings between our officials have increased, here I would like to mention this summer meeting of H.E. Titus Corlatean, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Romania and H.R.H Saud Al Faisal. The meeting was a success, both sides agreed that the political cooperation has been fruitful especially in the past years but underlined that other fields need to be improved. The cultural bilateral relations should be supported by cooperation programs between universities, research centers and cultural institutions of the two countries. Also the economic cooperation needs a boost, even if the commercial exchanges between the two countries reached 385.62 million dollars in 2012, there is potential for much more than that. We want to encourage Romanian businessmen to invest into the Saudi market, as much as we want Saudi businessmen to be encouraged to invest into the Romanian market. The two countries should sign partnerships for different sectors such as research, infrastructure, agriculture, IT, energetic and even tourism.
You have recently declared that Saudi Arabia has important opportunities for the Romanian businesspeople in Romania which want to develop projects in the Gulf-based state, especially in the construction segment. What are the most recent developments in this area?
The construction segment is constantly developing in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom’s Cabinet compile and approve, every few years, a series of projects, we find ourselves today within the 9th Development Plan approved for the years 2010-2014. I just want to name some of these projects:
King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh will house a large community of professionals working within the financial sector and related industries, hosting the head quarters of the Capital Market Authority, the Stock Exchange, banks, financial institutions and other service providers such as accountants, auditors, lawyers, analysts, rating agencies, consultants, and IT providers. Consisting of 34 towers in an area of 1.6 million square meters, offering more than 3 million square meters of space for various uses, 62,000 parking spaces and accommodation for 12,000 residents. When it will be completed the center will be the first of its kind in the Middle East in terms of size, organization, technical standards and equipment to keep up with the largest international centers.
Another important project is the construction of the subway system in Riyadh which is one of the biggest projects of its kind set to reach 23 billion dollars cost. The subway system will have six metro lines, both overground and underground and will cover a total of 176 km and it is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2019.
King Abdullah International gardens will be one of the three biggest botanical gardens in the world, stretching over 2 million square meters that will include gardens with flowers with particular scientific, cultural and environmental features, desert, water, ice, aquariums, children parks, waterfalls, sections with butterflies, birds, reptiles and will provide all the possible services one may need: restaurants, markets, theaters, meeting halls and many other.
Kingdom Tower will be the world’s tallest building. The construction started this year in April, it is located in Jeddah, and is estimated to be ready in 2019. The tower will be at least 1000 meters height its 50 hectares plot, which will include other buildings which will sum up around 320 000 m2 floor area.
What are the areas Saudi investors are foremost attracted by?
It is known that the Saudi investors are most interested in agriculture, it is one of the most important priorities that Saudi Arabia has. Saudi investors are also attracted by the IT industry and the energetic one.
Considering the agricultural potential of Romania and taking into account the fact that starting next year, Romania will allow the sale of its land to non-residents, is there interest from Saudi businesspeople to buy land in Romania?
Saudi businessmen are more interested to take in lease the lands than to actually buy it. They are looking for thousands of acres to cultivate not small pieces of land here and there and in order for them to fructify as much as possible these lands they need a good infrastructure to access them.
What is the economic situation in Saudi Arabia like, currently and how did Saudi Arabia manage to see a growth of over 7% last year?
It is known that Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest producer and oil exporter, and that its economy is mainly based on petroleum, but things are starting to change. Saudi Arabia is encouraging the growth of the private sector in order to diversify its economy, today it produces and exports a variety of industrial goods all over the globe, at the same time officials are focused on employing its large youth population, spending great amounts of money on job training and education.
Saudi Arabia has always been preoccupied by its future, so officials always think of long term development plans in order to improve the counties’ economy and the citizens’ life. The ninth plan (2010-2014) aimed to increase real GDP by 15% over 5 years and calls for substantial government investment in human resource development, in order to decrease Saudi unemployment from 9.6% to 5.5%. Maybe this is why while the world was in economic crisis Saudi Arabia managed to register growth: 5.1% (2010), 7.1 % (2011) and 6% (2012).
What can you tell us about the KAICIID Dialogue Centre? What are its objectives as an independent, autonomous, international organization, free of political or economic influence?
King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, came up with a historic initiative to bring together followers of various religions and cultures to understand each other properly and remove their misgivings. King Abdullah first discussed this idea with Pope Benedict XVI during a visit to Vatican in November 2007. In order to get things working, the King convened a meeting of more than 500 Muslim scholars from around the world for the International Islamic Conference for Dialogue which took place in Makah, in June 2008. Within the conference he highlighted the importance of dialogue and emphasized on the idea that ignorance and misunderstanding among followers of various religions often become the breeding ground for extremist and anti-religious groups. His vision was to bring people together, instead of allowing these threats to divide them.
This Conference was followed by the World Conference for Dialogue in Madrid, which was hosted by King Abdullah and King Juan Carlos I, and brought together 300 delegates from around the world. This 3 days conference highlighted the importance of interfaith dialogue among world leaders. After followed, in November 2008, the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Interfaith Dialogue which took place in New York. A two-day meeting hosted by the General Assembly, that reviewed the process initiated at the Conference from Madrid, and promoted the idea inter-religious and interfaith dialogue.
In order to be practical, it was decided to give life to this idea of interfaith dialogue, and this is how King Abdullah International Centre for Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna was founded in October 2011. Founders of this Center are King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who had this wonderful initiative, and King Juan Carlos I of Spain. It is the first, unique, non-governmental, non-profit world-wide organization that focuses on facilitating intercultural and inter-religious dialogue as a human strategic gathering for cooperation, partnership, communication and cultural-religious exchange that aims to bring people together and make them understand each other. It is building itself on the principles of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights with an accent on “human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion”.
The centre is governed by a Board of Directors consisting of 12 members from religious of the world. This is how the Center makes sure it will remain objective. There is a minimum number of members: one member from Judaism, 3 members from Christianity, 3 members from Islam, one from Hinduism and one member from Buddhism. The members are elected by the Council of Parties taking into account their personal merits, experience and objectives.
Today, the Centre actively creates opportunities for the world’s religions and cultures to work together, through a varied range of channels, including dialogue conferences and public health programs. KAICIID carries out activities under the oversight of a multi-religious board of directors and support from the governments of Saudi Arabia, Spain and Austria, each of the three countries has representation on the Centre’s Council of Parties.
How is the national day of Saudi Arabia celebrated in your country?
On 23rd September the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia celebrates and commemorates the unification of the Kingdom by His Majesty King Abdul Aziz Al Saud. It’s a day of pride for all Saudis, His Majesty King Abdul Aziz Al Saud united a fragile country and built on it turning it into one of the fastest growing economies in the world. People celebrate indoors and outside, the young ones drive around the streets, flying the Saudi flag and singing. Houses and public places are decorated with tons of flags, the green flag that symbolizes growth, new life and peace with the white Arabic testimony written on it of the Muslim faith which says “. There is no god but God, and Mohammed is His messenger”. Special events are held all over the country especially in Riyadh, events that focus to underline the beautiful traditions of Saudi Arabia through music, dancing, food and clothing.
What do you like most in Romania and what do you think it lacks?
Romania is really a beautiful country, a green country with wonderful landscapes, mountains, sea side, the Danube Delta, nature here gets to you. I also like very much the people, the Romanian citizens who are very friendly, very welcoming, ready to joke even when they are in need, they quite resemble us, they love to talk about politics and football. I like very much the picturesque of the small towns and villages where people keep very much alive the rich traditions and folklore, they are hospitable and ready to share stories of their village with travelers passing-by.
In my opinion first thing that I can think of is the lack of a proper infrastructure. Infrastructure is very important for the development of a country, Romania comparing to other European countries remained behind. Romania has so much potential that needs to be valorized.