HE Al Saleh presented his credentials to President Tony Tan on 1st June 2017 at the Istana.
ND: Excellency, welcome to Singapore. It is our privilege and honour to have you here. You have recently presented your credentials as ambassador, to President Tan. Please share something of your background before coming to Singapore.
HE: Thank you for inviting me. I joined the Kingdom’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1993 as a diplomatic attaché. I was posted to the Saudi Arabia embassy in Washington DC for seven years before going on to Cairo for five years. I then went back to Saudi Arabia and continued my work at the Ministry for another seven years before I was sent here as ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
ND: What are your plans during your tenure here? And what would you like Singapore to know about Saudi Arabia?
HE: We hope to develop relations between Saudi Arabia and Singapore in all aspects of engagement; the relationship has mostly been on an economic basis. There are other areas we can work together such as healthcare, education, technology, tourism etc. Also we would like to raise the relationship between the two countries to a much higher level.
ND: What can we expect in terms of bilateral visits in the coming months?
HE: This year is our 40th anniversary for diplomatic ties and we plan for many high official visits between Saudi Arabia and Singapore, which in itself is indicative of the importance of the relationship between our two countries. We hope these high level visits can take place sometime in the next two to three months. This will, of course, depend on their availability but visits by high officials from both countries are very much on the cards this year.
ND: The Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in Singapore has been operational for many years now and there are many Saudi students who have come here and done very well in their studies. What are the new developments at the Cultural Mission this year?
HE: The Saudi Arabia Cultural Mission here is doing a very good job for Saudi students who have come here to Singapore and they also include trainees who come here to upgrade themselves. The Mission gives them advice and liaises with the colleges and universities here and assesses which programmes are suitable for Saudis coming here to study. Also, there are many courses here for teachers as well, not just students. Singapore has a high quality education system so it is good to have these courses in sync with an agency in Singapore. The Mission also plays a role in supporting the students to settle in here as well as promote Singapore universities to Saudi students back home.
ND: In terms of travel to Saudi Arabia, apart from the Haj and Umrah, will you also be encouraging Singaporeans to visit Saudi Arabia?
HE: Thank you for asking this question, because usually people mainly think travel to Saudi Arabia only in terms of Haj and Umrah. Actually, tourism is one aspect covered in our national programme Saudi Vision 2030 and there are provisions for tourists to visit Saudi Arabia for tourism, as well as for study and training in fields that we have facilities… So, eventually we will have visitors from other countries visiting the Kingdom for reasons other than Haj and Umrah.
ND: Are there any challenges in reaching out and communicating with Singaporeans?
HE: I feel Singaporeans in general are very easy-going and you can communicate with them any time, through conferences, meetings, access is also good for Singapore government officials; I have had opportunity to also mix with Muslims on occasions such as breakfasts during Ramadan, after congregational prayers at mosques etc. Singapore has so many activities that in one week alone you can meet many officials many times, not just once in a while.
ND: Since you arrived, how do you like Singapore so far?
HE: It’s great how it has achieved so much in such a short time. You can be proud of the accomplishments of the country, the people, the heritage and the culture.
ND: I think many people here especially Muslims are very warm towards anything from Saudi Arabia as the country is also the seat of Islam. The Saudi Arabian Embassy itself hosted its annual iftar event recently at the Shangri-La Hotel. How was the experience for you hosting it for the first time? And do you have any message for this Ramadan??
HE: I have seen for myself how Muslims appreciate greatly this connection of Saudi Arabia with Islam. During the Ramadan period, I have attended many iftars and visited many mosques and seen how strong the faith is here. I saw fellow Muslims sharing iftar, praying and being very close to each other, so this gives us, as Muslims and as a Saudi a feeling of great pride and gratitude to God.
I was very pleased that many who we invited were able to come for our Iftar. They included community leaders from other faiths and we are honoured by the presence of all those who attended. We are also happy that you Nomita was able to attend and we here at the embassy would also like to thank you for all the hard work you and Sun Media have put in publishing Saudi Arabia Gateway to the Middle East for the past 10 years.