Since our virtual AGM last September, the Society has continued to operate in a virtual world. Ongoing COVID restrictions have prevented us holding any in person meetings. Nonetheless with the efforts of our dedicated group of Trustees we have managed to host a series of online events which have been well attended by the Society’s members and guests.
Once again we were unable to host our Annual Dinner combined with the Rawabi Holding Awards. We hope we will be able to hold these events in the coming year, subject to any ongoing COVID restrictions and the continued generosity of Sheikh Abdulaziz al Turki and Rawabi Holding Group.
We were able to hold our annual Ghazi al Gosaibi Memorial lecture (virtually) on 3 December and we are grateful to Baria Alamuddin, a prominent Middle East journalist and close friend of Ghazi and his family, for a moving and personal account of the man, the reformer and his ideals. After many years of lectures on a wide range of subjects it was good to be reminded why we hold an annual lecture to honour such a giant in the Saudi British firmament.
In the course of 2021 the Society was pleased to host a series of talks on cultural, political and economic matters pertaining to Saudi Arabia and the wider region.
In January David Rundell, a former US diplomat who has served almost a decade in Saudi Arabia, gave a fascinating talk on Saudi Arabia, drawing on his book “Vision and Mirage: Saudi Arabia at the Crossroads” which I reviewed for the Society.
In March we were treated to a lecture on the “The Curious History of Written Arabic” by Dr Michael Macdonald, a Fellow of the British Academy and Honorary Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford. Michael has worked for the 45 years on the languages, scripts, inscriptions and rock-art of Arabia. It was certainly a revelation to me how late written Arabic appeared and the influences of earlier civilisations on its development.
In April we were delighted to welcome Matthew Traynor, a transport economist and planner who has spent seven years in Riyadh working as a senior consultant on the Riyadh Transit Network. He gave a fascinating talk on the planning, design and construction of the Riyadh Transit Network. This $30 billion project, the biggest of its kind in the world, involved the construction of six metro lines, 176 kilometres of track with 85 stations as well as an integrated three tier bus network in the space of 5 years.
In June John McAslan, a leading international architect gave a lecture on “Nejd Architecture; a Living Tradition”. We were treated to some real insights into how the traditions of the Nejd are being preserved in modern buildings in Saudi Arabia today.
In addition to these events hosted by the Society, Edward Ogilvie, our Hon. Secretary, kept in touch with like-minded groups and was able to ensure access for members to a number of online talks/lectures given on subjects likely to be of interest.
Najah Al-Otaibi who joined as a Trustee at last year’s AGM has brought a new energy to the Society’s online presence by ensuring that our Twitter account is populated by tweets on various aspects of Saudi culture. This has resulted in an increase in followers which we hope to translate into new members.
Wareed Alenaini also joined as a Trustee and we are benefitting from the contributions she brings to the Society, particularly as a young entrepreneur in the medical science field.
I would like to thank David Lloyd and David Hatcher who stood down as Trustees during 2020 for their contributions to the work of the Society. I would also like to thank Will Crawford who stood down as a Trustee this year for his contributions and wish him well as he tends to his duties as a young father.
We were pleased to welcome the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies as a new Gold Sponsor for the SBS. We already enjoyed close collaboration with the KFCRIS through Mark Thompson, one of our Trustees but their decision to become a Gold Sponsor is most welcome and will help the Society host more events in the future.
We also finally launched the Society’s new website enabling us to provide more information and features including the ability for members to join and pay online.
I want to take this opportunity to thanks the Trustees for their continued support and all the hard work they put into keeping the Society active and relevant. Sadly we will lose the services of Edward Ogilvie our Hon. Secretary who is stepping down at the AGM. I want to thank Edward for all his hard work over the past two years in difficult circumstances and wish him all the best. I am also pleased to announce that Peter Harrigan, a longstanding Trustee, has agreed to step in as Hon. Secretary subject to confirmation at the AGM.
Sir William Patey