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An Excellent Adventure on Saudi Soil

Members and guests of the Wharton Club of DC, together with
the DC Penn and Harvard Business School Clubs
had stimulating evening at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia

By Harvey Kipper 

On August 6, 2008, members of a diverse group representing the DC Wharton, University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard Business School Clubs of DC, and others gathered in the Embassy of Saudi Arabia at the invitation of the Wharton Club of DC. We were in store for a memorable evening.

I arrived a few minutes before the designated time of 6:30 pm and was impressed to find Saudi officials already discussing with the early birds the numerous exhibits and photos on display in the spacious lobby. I appreciated the clear explanations concerning the intricate models of Mecca and Medina, the photos lining the walls, and the history of Saudi Arabia.

At the University of Pennsylvania, my studies included classical (Koranic) Arabic and Middle Eastern politics and economics. I always value the opportunity to be further enlightened and was certainly not disappointed. Soon the President of the Wharton Club, Mr. Alan Schlaifer, welcomed the audience and introduced the speaker, Mr. Nail Al-Jubeir, Director of Communications at the embassy. Alan is a delightful Master of Ceremonies with a superb sense of humor. He left us smiling, well-prepared for what was to follow.

Nail Al-Jubeir was informative and hilarious, quite a winning formula for the chief public information official. I was thoroughly entertained by his speech and the follow-on Q&A. I must admit that I was initially disappointed when I heard that Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir, Nail Al-Jubair's brother and the previous Director of Communications, would not appear as advertised, but I cannot imagine that he would have contributed more.

Nail Al-Jabeir informed us, tongue in cheek, that it was not easy being ordered around by his younger brother. However, he has the last word when they visit their mother for brunch and he reports on his alleged mistreatment. As I told Mr. Al-Jubeir afterwards, a rewarding career in stand-up comedy could probably be his if he ever left government service.

On a more serious note, Mr. Al-Jubeir discussed the history of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States. He relayed a very interesting anecdote. Before King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, would consider establishing close ties with the United States he requested an answer to two questions: Did the United States believe in God and did it have any territorial designs on the Middle East?

Reassured by the responses to the questions, yes to the first and no to the second, Saudi Arabia became a close American ally. That closeness has endured through both good and difficult times though its nature has changed. Previously Saudi Arabia unstintingly followed U.S. requests. For example, Saudi Arabia was asked by the Reagan Administration to sell arms to the Nicaraguan Contras though it had no vital interests in Central America; Mr. Al-Jubeir revealed that Saudi Arabia was designated as "country number two" during the Congressional hearings that followed. According to Mr. Al-Jubeir the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States has matured. It is now one of partners who regularly consult with and treat each other as equals.

Of particular interest to me was Nail Al Jubeir's statement that Saudi Arabia is open to visitors. Though this applies mainly to those involved in business ventures, the country is moving to allow tourists, and is already available to individuals interested in archaeology. That was music to my ears as I have a strong interest in ancient history and archaeological sites. Nail Al Jubeir's performance also impressed other members of the audience. Michele Crumes, Monique Lass, Joan Lindo, and Bill Reeves all indicated how pleased they were with his presentation.

The evening included a fine film about the culture, economy, geography, and history of Saudi Arabia. I was impressed by its natural beauty and surprised to learn that the southwestern region has mountains as high as 10,000 feet and is quite verdant, with a relatively cool climate. This area is the bread basket of Saudi Arabia and attracts many visitors to resorts in the summer months.

As Carol Whitney later stated so succinctly, Saudi Arabia is an exotic place. She knows well, having lived and travelled there. Moreover, she wrote for "Saudi Arabia," a magazine once published by the Office of information (when it was headed by the current Ambassador, His Excellency Adel Al-Jubeir, as alluded to previously) about that nation entering the tourist industry. The publication featured fascinating sites to see and experience on a visit to Saudi Arabia. Carol had worked for none other than Nail Al-Jubeir, at that time an editor of "Saudi Arabia".

The embassy visit afforded her an opportunity to talk not only to Nail Al-Jubeir but to one of the staffers, Tariq, who Carol had met previously at a similar Wharton Club event years ago. He updated her on embassy personnel as well as on the changes in the places she and her husband once lived in Saudi Arabia.

Another highlight of the evening was a "fashion show". Brave members of the audience, four women and two men, volunteered to go backstage on an unspecified mission. When they returned they were clothed in traditional Saudi garb. Two of the women wore the flowing, colorful native costumes of eastern Saudi Arabia, an extremely hot and arid area. The sleeves of their dresses were wide, to allow the circulation of cooling air. Two were outfitted in the more tight-fitting dresses of the mountainous southwest.

Each man wore an attractive robe (thobe in Arabic), and the headdress known as the keffiyah or kaffiyah. Katie Prada commented perceptively that examining customs and traditions through the various pieces of clothing brought Saudi culture and history to life for her. In Mary Reeves' opinion, the Saudis have the potential to become fashion leaders.

Later that evening, the embassy provided a sumptuous and delicious buffet. As the approximately 100 guests ate, conversed, and mingled, I congratulated myself on having the good sense to attend my second Wharton Club event at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia. The Wharton Club of DC, particularly its president Alan Schlaifer and long-time Club consultant, Anne P. Orleans, are to be complimented on organizing such an outstanding event. Kudos to the Embassy of Saudi Arabia for its graciousness and hospitality. As an outpost of Saudi Arabia in the United States, the embassy wholeheartedly carried out that nation's tradition of warmth and generosity towards its guests.

Copyright 2008, Harvey Kipper. All Rights Reserved.

[Note from Club: Because of the positive reaction to this educational briefing and reception and that members had to be turned away when we reached capacity, it is possible that the Wharton Club will be able to have another reception at this Embassy. Stay tuned.]

About the Author

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Harvey Kipper is a member of the Wharton Club of DC, the University of Pennsylvania Alumni Club of Washington, DC, and American Mensa, Ltd. Harvey's interests include archaeology, foreign affairs, languages, and travel. His personal e-mail address is balomix@yahoo.com, and his home phone number is (703) 920-4097.