Monday, June 28, 2010

G-20 Summit 2010 Toronto: Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, and Young Saudi Delegates

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah leaves Jeddah for Morocco on Saturday on his way to Canada where he is scheduled to attend a G20 conference from June 26 to 27. Arab News

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah is escorted by Chief of Protocol Robert William Peck upon his arrival at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on for the G8 and G20 Summit. (AP) Arab News

King Abdullah is greeted by dignitaries upon arrival at Pearson International Airport in Toronto. (AP) Arab News

Saudi Arabia is one of the G-20 nations, and as such King Abdullah was a delegate to the G-20 Summit in Toronto, along with his Finance Minister and a number of other Saudi dignitaries. The King arrived the day before the Summit after a stay in Morocco. He and his 200 member entourage stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel (partly Saudi owned), in Yorkville (an upscale historic shopping, dining, and residential area of  Toronto) 3km north of the security perimetre for the Summit. The security provisions involved a fleet of Cadillac stretch limousines, and a police escort to and from the Summit site. Also the neighbours across the way were required to show security passes to access the area.

A westward view from the Four Seasons, Yorkville, of the luxurious Prince Arthur Condominiums, whose residents required security cards to access their homes during the King's stay

Lobby looking on to cafe/bar

Lobby Bar

The hotel bistro, the Studio Cafe

At the entrance to the Studio Cafe

Yorkville shops and restaurants

King Abdullah, in fact, represents not only Saudi Arabia, but is the sole representative of the MENA countries (with the possible exception Turkey, which is however considered Eurasian), of the GCC, and OPEC. As a statesman he is up to the task, but perhaps other countries object. Yet, as the world's largest exporter of oil, and the country with the largest reserves, Saudi Arabia should have a place at the G-20 table. The Saudi Finance Minister Dr Ebrahim Al Assaf elaborated to Gulf News:
... Saudi Arabia's membership in the G20 Summit and its participation in discussions pertaining to the financial and economic issues came in recognition of its position as the single largest oil exporter in the world, in addition to being a country with the largest oil reserves and energy production.
"This has enabled the kingdom to be an influential power in the international oil market," he said.
The minister described his country's economy as the largest in the region and said that it had obtained the G20 membership because of its support to international development institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The G-20 in dark blue
European Countries with collective representation by EU Delegate in light blue

One does get the sense that King Abdullah's participation at the G-20 meeting is somewhat upstaged by his own visit to Washington DC to meet with President Obama on Tuesday June 29. Nonetheless, to the extent that the G-20 does represent a meeting of the world's major economies (with a few left out), industrialized and developing--together 85% of global gross national product, 80% of world trade and 2/3 of the world population--the King's participation is important independent of bilateral discussions with the US.

Canadian reporting on the King's presence prior to his arrival focused on the issue of multiple wives, extravagant shopping sprees, and alcohol consumption, with a combination of reproval and wishful thinking for the local, as in Yorkville boutiques and bars, economy. One article helpfully asserted that 30 wives later he truly loves his horses, and despite his great wealth-->$20 billion USD, world's 3rd richest royal (Forbes)--he is "the Middle East’s most popular Muslim leader by a wide margin", as determined by a Pew Research poll (Feb 2010).

Arab reporting focused before and after on issues, highlighting that King Abdullah is representing the Arab and Islamic world at the summit (neglecting the presence of the Muslim majority country Turkey), and will discuss with different leaders specific bi-national issues, as well as a focus on Middle Eastern, Arab, and Islamic concerns, including: Israel-Palestine, the condition of the Palestinians, the dilemma of Iran's nuclear capacity, and the situation in Iraq. He is expected to advocate for peaceful solutions to these problems. He is also expected to draw attention and funding to poorer Arab and Muslim countries in the world. Shared Canadian-Saudi concerns would be strengthening ties, recent increases in the number of Saudi students on scholarship in Canada, certain human rights concerns, and stabilizing world oil prices.

Though not violent, much smaller, and less covered by the press, there was a protest at the Saudi Embassy in Ottawa. The group there had a number of human rights concerns about Saudi: the male guardianship system; "gender apartheid";  the case of Nathalie Morin, a Quebecker married to a Saudi, and whose mother believes she is being held with her children against her will; and the case of the Kohail brothers, Canadian citizens who are charged with killing a student during an altercation at their high school in Saudi Arabia (2007). Mohamed, 22 at the time, has been convicted and sentenced to death by beheading, while  the younger Sultan, 16 at the time, is awaiting the verdict of the adult court.

As well as Saudi participation in the G-20 Summit, Saudi sent a delegate to the G(irls) 20 Summit, and participated in the G20 Young Entrepreneur Summit (YES) on June 20-22, sending delegates courtesy of the Centennial Fund established for that purpose. The G20 YES Summit is an official G20 event that resulted in a communique of how to promote entrepreneurship among young men and women, and a statement about the importance of such development for the economic and cultural benefits of the G20 countries. The communique was passed on to the B20 Summit (Business 20 Summit, June 25-26).

Photo by: dfait.maeci

This Youth/ My Summit was held alongside the G20 Summit, with a focus on leadership development among university level youth. Like the other affiliated G20 Summits this one drew delegates from the countries of the G-20, with each country selecting its own delegates.  The students had a rich program of expert-led discussions and visits to relevant sites in Toronto as well as observing the official G-20 Summit. Their summit started June 25 and they have a closing breakfast June 29. The recruitment process was rigorous, and each delegation was ultimately comprised of  7 current university students ages 18-24 who have shown an active interest in international relations, both political and economic.

Youth Delegation – Saudi Arabia

NameSchool NameHome Town
Calgary UniversityRiyadh Saudi Arabia
Abdulmohsen Almohsen
Carleton UniversityJeddah, KSA
Salwa Mohammed Alahdal
Dalhousie UniversityHalifax
Mohammad Baljon
Memorial UniversitySaudia Arabia
Hussam Kutbi
Waterloo USaudia Arabia
Zaid Alyami
Concordia UniversityMontreal
Turki Alsudairy
Carleton UniversityRiyadh, Saudi Arabia
Reef Al Awwad

After completing this post, I came to think that Saudi participation as a G-20 country is important, not only for the need to represent itself and also MENA, the GCC, and OPEC, but for the opportunities being a G-20 member country provides for broader participation in affiliated summits, and the networks and training that provides. It also gives an opportunity for Saudis to learn more about and from other countries, and vice versa. It can be seen as a foot in the door for other Arab and Muslim countries as well. Perhaps the G-20 will re-expand to its previous G-32, or G-22. As some have advocated, perhaps it should really be a G-164.

What is your impression of the participation of Saudi Arabia, and King Abdullah in the G-20 Summit?
How important is it for Saudi to be among the G-20 countries?
What are the advantages, or not,of Saudi participation in the ancillary summits: the G(irls) 20 Summit, the G20 YES, the Youth/My Summit?
What impacts, if any, can be expected of this participation as delegates at all summits return to Saudi?
Any other comments, thoughts, impressions?

All posts on the G-20 Summit:
The G-20 Meet the GlBTQ
The G(irls) 20 Summit: Part I--Background
The G(irls) 20 Summit: Part II--The Delegates
G-20 Summit 2010 Toronto: Protesters vs Demonstrators vs Rioters; Another Brilliant Harper Idea
G-20 Summit 2010 Toronto: Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, and Young Saudi Delegates
G-20 Summit Toronto 2010: Summarized--Part I Fake Lake and Fiscal Responsibility, Indeed
G-20 Summit Toronto 2010: Summarized--Part II Riots, Amnesty International, and an Unfinished Agenda

ddendum: From the Saudi Embassy in Washington site, a summary of King Abdullah's Speech at the G-20.


Susanne said...

Very interesting post! Is this the first time KSA has represented the MENA region or have other countries been there in the past? (I'm guessing no on the other countries since they are all relatively poor.) It will be interesting to see if the King's attendance has any positive impact on how things are in the region.

Enjoyed the photos and info. Thank you!

Chiara said...

Susanne-Interesting question. If I remember correctly it is not the first time for the KSA, and true the other countries in the region are either too small or too poor to warrant an invitation. Also the KSA has the strongest ties to the USA which must help in procuring "a place at the table". Thanks for your comment, and glad you liked the post!


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