In 2005 when SUSRIS first talked with distinguished businessman and then-Chairman of the Committee for International Trade, Khaled Al-Seif he was leading the largest ever Saudi trade mission to cities across the United States. He talked about the beginning of a period of significant economic expansion in Saudi Arabia, “What has been happening there is quite exciting. Saudi Arabia is seeing another boom in the making, an economic boom which, in my opinion, will be wider and deeper than the boom in the 70′s.” At that point there were $600 billion worth of investment projects on the table in the Kingdom. Three years later in an exclusive interview at the Arab-Economic Forum in Washington Al-Seif told SUSRIS that number had topped $1 trillion:
“I’m happy to report to you that what I was forecasting several years ago is taking place now. We are living in the midst of this major boom. It is not only the result of oil prices and increased oil production but as I said before it is the result of the economic reforms already underway. With regard to oil revenues, as you know, Saudi Arabia is producing nearly its maximum capability to keep the price of oil as stable as possible. Oil production has doubled in just seven or eight years ago. So that is clearly having an effect on Saudi Arabia’s economic situation. However, the economic reforms that we discussed last time have really started to take hold and we’re seeing the results of some of those reforms.”
Last month on the sidelines of the very successful US-Saudi Business Opportunity Forum in Atlanta Engineer Khaled Al-Seif talked with SUSRIS about the current state of the trade, investment and partnership openings for Americans working with Saudis. The exclusive interview also covered his insightful perspective on the scope and pace of changes being experienced in the Kingdom, especially social reform in the area of women’s empowerment. In this two-part interview SUSRIS is pleased to share Al-Seif’s views on these developments and more.
Engineer Khaled Al-Seif is President and CEO of El Seif Group of Companies, a top 25 business in Saudi Arabia, and a firm responsible for many of the most spectacular construction projects in the Middle East including the landmark Kingdom Tower in Riyadh. In addition to his broad business portfolio Al-Seif works through numerous organizations to develop business connections with the United States and other countries and building international bridges of understanding and friendship between Saudi Arabia and the world.
Change and Reform: A Conversation with Khaled Al-Seif
[SUSRIS] Thank you for joining us today at the 2nd US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum. Before we get into the world of business and what’s happening at this important conference, let’s talk about this year of change and challenge for the Kingdom. Tell us what you see as key developments in Saudi Arabia and in the region.
[Eng. Khaled Al-Seif] Thank you for a chance to talk about what has been happening in Saudi Arabia. The year 2011 will be remembered for something that has been very exciting in the Kingdom, and that is progress in the empowerment of women. King Abdullah has been behind major reforms in this area for some time and this year he further opened up the opportunity for women to participate more in public life.
A very important step for many Saudis is bringing women into the decision-making processes. In September King Abdullah announced women will participate in the next round of Municipal Council elections and will be appointed to the Majlis Ash-Shura, the Consultative Council, which is our parliament. These are major developments and they are starting from the top. As you know he had already appointed a women as Deputy Minister of Education for women’s education, with ministerial authority, and women have risen to other leadership positions such as on boards of chambers of commerce.
[SUSRIS] How are these developments being received in Saudi society?
[Al-Seif] What is happening is that changes are propagating very quickly within society as a whole but in particular in the business arena where the employment opportunities are opening. These changes are encouraging to many Saudis, especially to women who see their future opportunities expanding – in both the public and private sectors.
So, I would say people are very excited about advances in women’s empowerment issues. There have been problems with the lack of open job opportunities for women which results in an employment imbalance. Fortunately there are many well-qualified women ready for new opportunities. Women graduates are coming into the marketplace from universities, coming from inside the Kingdom and coming home from study abroad. There is a fantastic program for our youth to study overseas, the King Abdullah Scholarship Program. Tens of thousands of Saudis are enrolled in universities in North America, Europe and Asia. There are 50,000 Saudis studying in American universities alone and one-third of them are young women.
[SUSRIS] The recent news about that level of Saudi women participating in the Scholarship Program was somewhat surprising and developments on women’s issues like that don’t seem to be very well appreciated.
[Al-Seif] Well, a lot of the media attention on women in Saudi Arabia highlights what lies on the road ahead and not very much on what has been achieved. But Saudis are more concerned and pleased with the positive changes – to see these changes opening doors – and less concerned with external publicity.
Princess Nora University, a women’s institution, should be mentioned here. It was designed and built in two years, the shortest execution period for any university of comparable size in the world. It is a tremendous campus that is starting with an initial capacity of 40,000 and will expand to accommodate 70,000 young Saudi college students. It’s a huge university done to the highest standards possible, in all areas. The University includes a broad spectrum of specialties: education, business administration, medical education, arts and sciences, and so forth. Developments such as these – advances in a country where these things didn’t exist a generation ago – these are the changes that are very exciting.
All of these advancements are major steps in Saudi society because they also affect the prosperity of the country. Business people are very aware of these changes, have been tracking them. It is encouraging that Saudi women are studying very advanced sciences and very advanced technical subjects in addition to a host of other specialties that will be extremely helpful to boost the economy. More opportunities open for women translates into more purchasing power for the household and more effect on the economy as a whole. The economic circle is widened as a result of women’s empowerment.
So business people and others are looking at these developments with a lot of optimism and a large number of Saudi Arabian companies have started new programs for bringing women into their workplaces. This is very important.
[SUSRIS] Political developments, like women voting in Municipal Council elections and serving in the Shura Council along with increased emphasis on women’s education and business opportunities – how do these all fit together in plans for reform?
[Al-Seif] They are clearly interwoven. Actually what you see now are the fruits of decisions started six, seven years ago, perhaps more than that, even ten years ago. But don’t forget that the issue here is not the decisions of the King. The issue here is the society. Saudi Arabia is a very conservative society. There has been a lot of opposition over these subjects and you know it takes time until the society reaches a stage where such reforms can be undertaken.
What King Abdullah has done, which was extremely wise, was that he encouraged local debate. He started with what was called the National Dialogue, and he let the various factions within the society talk, to shine light on these subjects – women’s empowerment and other important areas. When they talk – and it may have started out with negative reactions – but the more people talked about these subjects, the more information they got, the less fears they had of change. They were more comfortable with it.
ABOUT KHALED AL SEIF
Khaled Musaed Al Seif is a businessman and a leading member of the business community in Saudi Arabia who manages one of the largest business groups in the Kingdom. He is active in various committees and councils dealing with the promotion of international trade and bridging relations with the West.
Mr. Al Seif previously served as Chairman of the Saudi Committee for International Trade (CIT) at the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry. He has officiated as Co-Chairman of the Saudi-British Joint Business Council since 2007; Member of the Board of U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council since 2006, Member of the Advisory Board for Economic Affairs at the Saudi Supreme Economic Council since 2005, Board member of Royal Philanthropic Society for Science (Prince Sultan University) since 1999; Board Member of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, London, UK since February 1996; on the Board of Directors of Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (1993-2001 and 2004-2008); and President and CEO of El Seif Group of Companies, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia since 1975.
As the President and CEO of El Seif Group of Companies, Mr. Al Seif is the Chairman of the following Saudi and International companies: El Seif Commercial Investment Company Ltd; Musaed Al Seif & Sons Company; International Management Development Company; Dana Investment and Development Company; El Seif Engineering Contracting Company, and Marina Towers S.A.L.; and El Seif Holding Company in Lebanon. He is Also a Board Member of some other domestic and international companies which include but not limited to: Saudi Medicare Company; National Power Company; Modern Arab Construction Company: Arabian Medicare Company; Universal Advanced Systems Company; and El Seif Development Company.
Mr. Al Seif holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the American University in Beirut.
- Saudi Arabia: Women Can Vote, Starting in 2015 - PBS NewsHour – Sep 26, 2011
- King Abdullah Orders Social Benefits Package – SUSRIS – Feb 23, 2011
- Gulf States Seek Stability, Not Status Quo – Koch – SUSRIS – Dec 4, 2011
- Jobs for Women – Arab News Editorial – SUSRIS – Dec 9, 2010
- Institutionalizing Empowerment: A Women’s Ministry?
- Women’s Rights Gain Focus in Saudi Arabia – Alshayeb – SUSRIS – May 27, 2010
- Saudi King appoints first woman to council – CNN – Feb 14, 2009
- American Businesses and Saudi Opportunities: A Conversation with Khaled Al-Seif – SUSRIS – Sep 4, 2008
- A Man With A Mission: Khaled Al Seif Talks About US-Saudi Business Relations – SUSRIS Exclusive Interview – May 23, 2005
- “Women in Leadership Forum” Calls for Action – SUSRIS – Dec 9, 2010
- Jobs for Women – Arab News Editorial – SUSRIS – Dec 9, 2010
- Saudi Arabia: Participation of Women in National Development – American Bedu – Dec 10, 2010
- Woman empowerment stressed – Arab News – Dec 1, 2010
- Women’s leadership forum kicks off – Saudi Gazette
- Interfaith Dialogue Shared in Chicago – Fatany – SUSRIS – May 16, 2010
- New Media in the Gulf – SUSRIS – Dec 9, 2010
- Women’s Rights Gain Focus in Saudi Arabia – Alshayeb – SUSRIS – May 27, 2010
- Boosting Small and Medium Enterprises in Saudi Arabia – SUSRIS – Dec 4, 2010
- Has 9/11 Changed Saudi Arabia for the Better? – Robert Lacey – SUSRIS – Sep 12, 2010
- Saudi Women to Stand Against Breast Cancer – SUSRIS – Aug 23, 2010
- Saudi Domestic and Regional Policies – Gause – SUSRIS – Jun 22, 2010
- Higher Education Opportunities for Women – SUSRIS – Mar 12, 2010
- King Abdullah: An Outstretched Hand – Sobhani Book – SUSRIS – Mar 6, 2010
- Saudi College Women Build Social Entrepreneurship Skills – SUSRIS – Jul 22, 2009
- U.S.-Saudi Women’s Forum on Social Entrepreneurship Summer Symposium Opens – SUSRIS – Jul 14, 2010
- Saudi Arabia Shuffles Government Posts – SUSRIS – Feb 14, 2009
- Rights Commission Opens Women’s Branch – SUSRIS – Sep 5, 2008
- Women’s Political Participation in the Gulf – SUSRIS – Apr 14, 2008
- Abdullah Pardons ‘Qatif Girl’ – SUSRIS – Dec 18, 2007
- A Slap in the Face of Justice – SUSRIS – Nov 21, 2007
- For Cloaked Saudi Women, Color Is the New Black – SUSRIS – May 30, 2007
- Government Jobs for Saudi Women – SUSRIS – May 29, 2007
- Saudi Businesswomen Seek Greater Participation – Mar 21, 2007
- Challenges and Opportunities: Saudi Arabia in the 21st Century – SUSRIS – Jan 23, 2007
- On Relations and Reforms: A Conversation with Usamah al-Kurdi – SUSRIS – May 30, 2006
- Young and Restless – Afshin Molavi – SUSRIS – May 17, 2006
- The Time is Now in Saudi Arabia – Part 2 – SUSRIS – Apr 27, 2006
- The Time is Now in Saudi Arabia – Part 1 – SUSRIS – Apr 26, 2006
- Saudi Professional Women Advancing – SUSRIS – Dec 28, 2005
- Women Create History in JCCI Poll – SUSRIS – Dec 1, 2005
- U.S. critics miss the real Saudi Arabia – SUSRIS – Nov 30, 2005
- On Relations and Reforms: A Conversation with Usamah al Kurdi – SUSRIS – Sep 30, 2005
- Building Bridges: A Conversation with Princess Loulwa Al-Faisal – SUSRIS – Jun 2, 2005
- Saudi Women Moving Up in Business Remarks by Princess Lolowah Al-Faisal – SUSRIS – May 18, 2005
- Women of the Holy Kingdom By Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy – SUSRIS – Apr 4, 2005
- Saudi Municipal Elections – Round Two – SUSRIS – Mar 3, 2005
- Reforms and Relations: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Discusses Developments in the Kingdom – SUSRIS – Feb 24, 2005
- Women’s Employment Initiative – SUSRIS – Jan 27, 2005
- Saudi Women and the Jeddah Economic Forum – SUSRIS – Feb 12, 2004
- “A Saudi Vision For Growth” Women Make Their Mark at Jeddah Economic Forum – Lubna Olayan’s Keynote Address -SUSRIS – Jan 21, 2004
- Al-Ikhbariya Makes Waves – SUSRIS – Jan 15, 2004
- On A Dagger’s Edge — Saudi Women, Long Silent, Gain a Quiet Voice [Part 4 in a Series] – SUSRIS – Jan 14, 2004
- Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia – SUSRIS – Jun 19, 2003