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Sir Derek Plumbly

Chair’s Annual Report 2017–18

AGM 21st June 2018

The 2018 AGM was held on 21st June at the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, 43 Upper Grosvenor Street, London W1K 2NJ. 

Society activities have again centred on the delivery of a programme of talks relevant to its mandate of promoting understanding of Saudi Arabia and its culture and history: each talk was followed by a modest reception designed to enable members to engage with the speakers. Events during the year included two organised by the new Culture Sub-Committee, chaired by Caroline Montagu, foreshadowed in last year’s report. 

On 20th July 2017, after the last AGM, Tarek Alireza gave a talk to members entitled “The Postal History of Saudi Arabia”, which described how postal services in Arabia developed from the earliest times through to the first decade of the Saudi Kingdom in the 1930s. The talk was accompanied by a film made by Tarek, an award-winning philatelist who is currently writing a book on the subject. 

On 20th September HM Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Simon Collis, gave a stimulating talk to the Society focussed on Saudi-British relations and recent developments in the Kingdom and the region. 

On 31st October the Culture Programme was launched with a well-attended presentation at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts on the revival and expansion of traditional arts and crafts in the Kingdom. The speakers were Dr. Khalid Azzam, the Director of the PSTA; Zein Zedan, a student there formerly with Art Jameel in Jeddah ; and Dr. Thalia Kennedy, Middle East Director at the Turquoise Mountain Foundation. 

Sadly the Ghazi al Gosaibi Memorial Lecture, scheduled to be delivered on 17th November by HRH Princess Reema bint Bandar, Deputy President of the Saudi Sports Authority, on change and female inclusion in the Kingdom, had to be cancelled due to last minute official commitments involving HRH in the Kingdom. Hopefully Princess Reema will meet with the Society in the future. The annual programme of Gosaibi Memorial Lectures will resume in 2018. 

The Society’s Annual Dinner combined with the presentation of the Rawabi Holding awards was held on 24th January, thanks once again to the great generosity of Sheikh Abdulaziz al Turki. Awards were given to Dr. Farhan Nizami CBE, Founder Director of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, and Dr. Abdulaziz al Sager, Founder of the Gulf Research Centre and the Gulf research meetings held annually at Cambridge University, both of whom spoke eloquently about their work. 

On 22nd February Hisham Fageeh and Fatima al Benawi, the stars of the romantic comedy Barakah Meets Barakah, only the second full-length feature film to be made in Saudi Arabia, spoke to a packed audience of members and their guests at the Institute of Contemporary Arts on “Saudi Cinema Today”. Their remarks, which were accompanied by clips of their work, were wide-ranging and warmly received. The event was attended by the Minister of State at the FCO, The Right Honourable Alistair Burt MP, who also spoke briefly about the creativity apparent in the Kingdom and the strength of Saudi-British relations. The event was organised by Caroline Montagu with support from Kate Marris and Karen Worcester, the Hon. Treasurer, and funding from the British Council and FCO. 

On behalf of the Society I welcomed the official visit of HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to UK from 7th to 9th March, and I and my two immediate predecessors in the Chair gave broadcast interviews. Ionis Thompson circulated to members the invitation from the General Culture Authority to the excellent Saudi Cultural Days event held during the visit. 

On 4th April Dr. Mark Thompson, Assistant Professor at the King Fahad Univeristy of Petroleum and Mineral Resources and Committee member, moderated a panel discussion with 4 young Saudi academics nearing completion of their PhD studies in British universities. The event was entitled “Kingdom in Transition: the Perspective and Aspirations of Young Saudis”. The participants , Wareed Alenani, Sara Al Thari, Awn Al Ghamdi and Abdullah Sabba, gave thoughtful and encouraging insights against the backdrop of Vision 2030 and the rapid change taking place in the Kingdom. 

Summaries of some of the talks mentioned above are available on the Society’s website, All the work of the Society is done on a voluntary basis by members of the Committee, a particularly heavy burden falls on the Hon. Secretary, Ionis Thompson, and the Hon. Treasurer, Karen Worcester. I would like to pay particular tribute to their contribution over the year. Ionis will be standing down as Secretary in the autumn; she has held the post with extraordinary dedication and distinction since 2004. Karen has joined us recently but has worked immensely hard to strengthen our finances and update our accounts and – with Kate Marris – to ensure that subscriptions and event notifications are handled electronically. 

The year since the last AGM has seen almost twice the number of events as the preceding one. The Committee are working on a programme for the autumn. We are also preparing to replace our existing website with a new interactive one. All of this costs money which is why, like similar societies, we now charge for members and their guests at some, though not all, of our functions and are also looking actively to attract sponsorship. 

Derek Plumbly 
June 2018

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