The Society has maintained a good level of activity during the past year. The evening talks continued to be popular with members with subjects that aroused particular interest, and indeed broke some new ground for the Society’s programme. Professor Bruce Ingham gave a fascinating talk on the various tribes of Arabia, their origins and territories; Peter Upton shared his passion for the Arab horse; and in April there was a most successful evening when a group of young Saudis, studying at universities here, gave their warm impressions of how they found life in Britain, a meeting which also brought among us several of their colleagues studying in this country. It has, as you know, been an aim of our Society in recent years to encourage Saudi students to take part in our activities.
To round off the series we are fortunate to have Daniel Kawczynski MP, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group to Saudi Arabia, to speak to us at the AGM about the growing links between Westminster and the Majlis as Shura in Riyadh. As in the past summaries of talks are carried on our informative website. We have also been able to participate in the activities of our fellow societies. Regrettably a follow-up tour to various places in the Kingdom which we had hoped would take place last winter had to be cancelled for lack of participants. The first tour organised by the Society the previous year went off very well, and we hope that its success can be repeated. Certainly the Kingdom continues to be a popular destination for business visitors from Britain.
A programme of interesting talks is now being prepared for the forthcoming year. We also hope to participate at some point in the bilateral programme for art education which is taking shape under royal auspices through the Painting and Patronage Project. It may be possible for the Society to sponsor one of the British students involved in the scheme.
The award in February of the annual Al Rawabi Group prizes for individuals who have made a notable contribution to Saudi-British relations attracted much popularity with the awards going to Robert Lacey, in recognition of his role as the leading British writer on the Kingdom and its society, and Dr. Venetia Porter of the British Museum for her work on exhibitions devoted to the culture and history of Arabia. The presentations were made by Mr. Abdul Aziz Al Turki, the generous sponsor of the project, and were followed by a buffet dinner. Once again may I invite members to think about suitable candidates for the next round of awards, and to pass their ideas to the Hon. Secretary.
The Society continues to find itself in good financial shape. A number of economies in administration which have been put into effect in the past couple of years are producing economies and greater efficiency in administration. We particularly welcome Ali Abbas Syed, who has stepped forward to succeed Michael Brigden in the Treasurer’s seat. The Hon Secretary will be putting to the AGM proposals for elections to your Committee. I am most grateful to all those who give their time to this activity, including the valuable part played by members of the Saudi embassy. It is particularly welcome and helpful to have with us on the Committee other Saudis now working in London. Membership numbers continue at around 200. We welcome new members. May I also express our thanks to His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed bin Nawaf, the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia, for his support, and also to the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce and its Chief Executive, Dr. Afnan Al Shu’aiby for the provision of their excellent facilities for our events.
Finally I should let you know that, after fifteen very enjoyable and stimulating years as Chairman of the Society, I shall be stepping down this summer. I am delighted to say that Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, who as you know had a most successful tour as ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2003-7, has agreed to take over the chair. I can think of no one better qualified and I am sure that you will welcome his appointment.