KSA, Germany long-standing partners in changing times
Saudi Arabia and Germany have built a “special strong relationship” which undoubtedly proves that the cooperation between the two countries are vital not only to manage day-to-day business, economy, political relations or security issues, but also to build a new regional and global order with peace and security.
Central to that strong bond is the cordial and ever-stronger Saudi-German relationship as the two nations have been steadfast allies for several years, precisely since 1929.
“As a leading player in a key region, Saudi Arabia is an important partner for Germany, and as G20 members, close coordination between our two countries is becoming ever more important,” said German Ambassador Boris Ruge, who has a long and illustrious experience in public life.
Ruge was speaking on the occasion of Janadriyah festival, in which Germany is the guest of honor this year. On behalf of Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is participating in the festival.
Ruge, at the very outset, thanked Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, government and people of Saudi Arabia for choosing Germany as the guest country at Janadriyah festival.
A huge ‘German Pavilion’ at the festival ground features innovative German technology, science, culture and lifestyle besides the progressively growing relations between the two countries.
Referring to the growing bilateral ties, Ambassador Ruge said, “We have had several visits by top German officials and members of the German Bundestag during the recent past. We are also witnessing more exchange in terms of people-to-people contacts as Germany is becoming one of the favorite destinations among Saudi citizens for tourism, medical treatment, language training, higher education, and business.”
He said the economic relations between Saudi Arabia and Germany are strong. German companies built the Hejaz railways in the early 20th century. “Since then, they have been present at every step in the development of the modern economy of Saudi Arabia and the expansion of its infrastructure,” he noted. “Today, they participate in the creation of a modern public transport system for Riyadh as well as in the diversification of the Saudi petrochemical industry,” he said.
“I would also like to mention the excellent cultural week in Berlin, which the Saudi Embassy organized in September 2014, and I was delighted that Saudi artists participated in the Berlin Art Week just a few weeks ago,” said Michael Ohnmacht, deputy chief of the mission at German embassy, while welcoming journalists for a pre-festival tour of the German pavilion at Janadriyah on Tuesday.
Referring to the spectacular German pavilion, he said: “It is like visiting Germany in Saudi Arabia.”
Ohnmacht said that there are several German companies, including Detecon Al-Saudia Co. (Detasad) and Thyssenkrupp, in Saudi Arabia. The diplomat said that any visitor to German pavilion at Janadriyah can discover the culture, traditions and technology of Germany. He pointed out that “the two countries have had strong relations.” A virtual book with a touch screen at the pavilion will show the first treaty between Germany and Najd in 1929, he said.
Ohnmacht said that the bilateral trade balance stood at an impressive 11 billion euros in 2014 and has been constantly growing. Crude oil from the Kingdom and other Saudi exports reach Germany not only through the direct route but also to a much larger extent through other European ports, which means that the Saudi exports are much higher than those published in the trade balance. Moreover, the exchange of the traditional range of goods — mechanical engineering and chemical products against crude oil and petrochemical products — continues to play an important role.
Today, Saudi Arabia lays much emphasis on the creation of a manufacturing industry based on locally available raw materials such as crude oil, gas and aluminum. Germany figures among the top investors in the strict sense, as defined by Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA). More and more German companies decide to establish a manufacturing base in the Kingdom (foreign direct investment). Alone or together with a Saudi partner, the German companies transfer technical know-how to the country, create high-quality jobs and qualify a new local workforce.
As far as diversity is concerned, Germany has become more diverse culturally and in terms of religion, because of the immigration by people from predominantly Muslim countries. Today, approximately four million Muslims live in that country. Almost half of these already hold German citizenship. In the last decade, there has been tremendous progress as regards the integration of Muslims into German society and German state institutions. A key institution in achieving this has been the German Islam Conference (DIK), started in 2006.
It is considered to be the most important forum between the German state and Muslims living in Germany. The aim of DIK has been, and continues to be, to further communication and cooperation between the various levels of government and Muslims living in Germany. Strengthening common ground, overcoming differences, promoting participation, based on the principles of the German constitution, are some of its goals.
Muslim associations in Germany include the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), Islamic Council for the Federal Republic of Germany (IRD), Association of Islamic Cultural Centers (VIKZ), Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), and Alevi community in Germany (AABF). All these associations have been working closely with the German public and private sectors, eventually exemplifying how unity prevails in diversity.
On the technical cooperation front, Germany and Saudi Arabia have forged closer ties. The German GIZ (formerly known as GTZ) is Germany’s main body of technical cooperation. During the last session of the German-Saudi Joint economic Commission in Riyadh in March last year, the intensification of technical cooperation in various fields has been agreed upon. The GIZ is active in this field at the College of Excellence in Ar’Rass, the College of Technology in Yanbu as well as at the German University College Riyadh (former Technical Trainers College) where future college teachers are being trained.
Germany is looking forward to enter into a fruitful dialogue with the Kingdom about what Saudi needs are and how Germany can contribute to their achievements further. All these initiatives are further backed by intensive people-to-people contacts witnessed by the two countries over the years. To this end, Ohnmacht noted that the German diplomatic missions in Riyadh and Jeddah issued about 75,000 visas to Saudis last year.
It is important to mention that tourists from the Kingdom are visiting Germany in growing numbers. Last year, there were 1.9 million overnight stays in Germany by tourists from GCC countries.