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December 6, 2011

Atlanta and Saudi-US Business Forum

We should talk to the American youth in high schools and colleges in small towns

By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

Atlanta is one of the most interesting cities in the US. I have visited Atlanta many times. The most important two visits were in 1996, for the Summer Olympics, and the other in 1994 for the Super Bowl. This year I really wanted to be in Atlanta from Dec. 5 to 7.  During those 3 days in Atlanta, there will be a very important gathering for Saudi and American businessmen and women to review business opportunities.

When the dates of the forum were announced, I really wanted to be there. But, at the end I knew, this forum is not for me. I am not a politician, neither a businessman. I can hardly know how to manage my retirement paycheck, let alone manage a business. So, what will the Saudis take with them to Atlanta?  To answer the question, we have to go back many years.

The average Saudi or American does not have a full picture of how deep and strategic the alliance between Saudi Arabia and America is. It was founded a long time before the historic meeting between the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud and President Franklin Roosevelt, which took place on Feb.14, 1945.  The most interesting aspect of Saudi-American relations is, that it was initiated by young American geologists in the early 1930s who thought, maybe Saudi Arabia has a small amount of oil. In fact, they didn't find a small amount of oil, they found a lot of it... Barrels of it.

It was in 1938 when oil well No. 7 was discovered. And the well is still going strong. The news reached King Abdul Aziz, and after that, a cable was sent from Dhahran to San Francisco asking about when will the company send oil experts and their families to Dhahran. In the 1950s, there were more American babies born in Dhahran hospital than Saudis. And that was the beginning of Saudi Aramco. In my humble opinion, I think Saudi-American relations is the best thing that ever happened to the American taxpayer.

It is even better than the Boston Tea Party. But, the sad thing is, the average American doesn't know this. And to this day, I think it is our fault that we failed to let the average American know about the brighter sides of Saudi Arabia.  Saudi officials always meet and talk with the men and women in Washington. And yes, they should, but it is also important that Saudi officials talk to the American youth in high schools and colleges in small towns. These young men and women are the future of the United States; therefore, it is a very important public relations issue. When Saudi businessmen or women go to America to close a deal, it is easy to build a business deal. But, building a healthy relationship between the Saudi and American people is not a task that you can do by signing a business agreement.

Saudi-American relations deserve more attention and more publicity.  These relations cannot be achieved by politicians and business people alone. The Atlanta business forum is very important, but what are more important are the open channels of discussion that could change a lot of stereotyping information about Saudi Arabia and its people.  These forums should be followed by minor gathering between Saudi officials and groups of students who want to ask questions about events in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East and the Saudi point of view of the world.  Therefore, we Saudis have to be more open with the world, and give them information about Saudi Arabia, so they can understand us more, and not misinformation from Fox News. We have to be able to answer with transparency questions about our education system, social life, women's status and our religion. And, finally, I hope some of the Saudi business delegates would bring me back some peaches from the state of Georgia.

 Abdulateef Al-Mulhim is a retire commodore of Royal Saudi Navy.