Bosniaks.Net: Your Excellency, please allow me to thank you in the name of the editorial staff and the readers of Bosnjaci.net for taking valuable time to conduct this interview.
Your homeland, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is at the very top of proven friends of Bosnia and Herzegovina. That friendship and trust was especially confirmed at a time when BiH and its citizens needed it the most, during the time of agression and genocide from 1992 â€“ 1995. For that, we are truly grateful and will forever remember the goodness of the Saudi Arabian kingdom and the Arab people. I would like to start by asking you to share with us some information about your country, specifically how and why did it become a kingdom and get to be known as Saudi Arabia.
Ambassador ALTHAKAFI: First I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to communicate with your readers. As for your question how and why my country became a kingdom and got to be known as Saudi Arabia we have to go back to the year 1901 when the late King Abdul-Aziz bin Abdul-Rahman began his efforts to unify the state founded by his forefathers in the eighteenth century. The citizens of the Arabian Peninsula responded quickly as his message was to unify the country on the basis of Islamic faith. The people were eager to have a strong state which would restore security and stability to the country instead of conflicts and fighting among the tribes, towns and villages. It did not take long before King Abdul-Aziz succeeded in his mission. In less than three decades he was able to annex most parts of the Arabian Peninsula and establish what were known as the Kingdom of Hejaz, the Sultanate of Najd and their extensions. In September 1932, responding to the will of his people, he declared the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In this respect I would like to draw the attention to the fact that the Arabian Peninsula throughout the Islamic history had always been ruled from outside its territory until the first and afterwards the second and then the third Saudi state which is the present Saudi state came into being.
Bosniaks.Net: For the sake of friendship and education of our readers, can you share with us the secrets of your countryâ€™s success, the beautiful things about your country that we may not find in the media or contemporary literatureâ€¦?
Ambassador ALTHAKAFI: Success is a gift of the Almighty Allah. Since the rise of the Kingdom the Saudi leadership has been putting efforts for its development in all fields. We should not forget that when the modern Kingdom was founded the country was in a state of material and economic backwardness. There was no regular education nor infrastructure. Most of the people were nomadic Bedouins (wandering nomads) or villagers living on agriculture. The essential reason for the stability in the Kingdom other than the material advancement and capacity building that we witness today, is love of the Saudi people to their leadership. It is a leadership that comes from the people; the Saudi family has emerged from the people and is chosen by the people and has been enjoying their support through the last three centuries, as it knows and understands what the people want and because it rules the country in conformity with the Islamic law â€“ the Sharia. The constitution of the Kingdom is the holy Koran and the proper Sunna ( tradition ) of the Prophet Mohamed. On the other hand the state has adopted the modern administrative and regulatory systems of running affairs in the country on one basic condition that they do not contradict the Islamic law. The Saudi leadership does understand the necessity of reform and development; but it carries out that gradually in tune with the nature of the conservative Muslim Saudi society which is keen to see that any modernization is in conformity with the Islamic law.
Bosniaks.Net: Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam, and when we think of Saudi Arabia we think of the two holiest sites in Islam: Makkah and Madinah. What does it mean for you, both from religious, political and diplomatic perspective to be the home to Islamâ€™s holiest sites where millions of Muslims gather each year to perform the Hajj and Umrah?
Ambassador ALTHAKAFI: It is known that the title of the King of Saudi Arabia is the ” Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques ” in the true sense of that. The Kingdom calls those who come for the Hajj and the Umra ( minor Hajj ) the guests of the Most Gracious ( Allah ) and guests of the Kingdom. The Saudi officials always announce that those who come for the Hajj and Umra are guests of the Kingdom as well in the true sense of the word and the duties of the host it claims towards the guest. Pertained to this it is known that the Saudi state mobilizes its potentials during the Hajj season and the rush peak of the Umra to provide the best accommodation for the Hajj and Umra seekers. The King himself and the ministers and high officials as well move their offices to the revered Mecca and the city of Jeddah in the Hajj and Umra seasons to be close to the Hajj and Umra seekers to superintend the organization ( of the Hajj and Umra ) and the accommodation of pilgrims.It is worth mentioning that the Kingdom also provides the Hajj and Umra services without any charge, including free Hajj and Umra visas; no taxes or fees whatsoever are collected. The Kingdom, considering the yearly increasing number of the Hajj and Umra seekers due to the natural growth of the Muslim population, every year carries out new projects to increase the capacity of the holy sites at Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa as well as the sites of the Tow Holy Mosques to receive the ever increasing numbers of pilgrims from year to year. In recent years fireproof camps have been erected at Mina; last year the project of the multi-floor stoning satan on Al-Jamart bridge which claimed many billion US dollars was accomplished. This year the modern electric train between the holy sites has been put in operation. Last Ramadan month King Abdullah launched the gigantic and historic project to expand the premises of the Holy Mosque in the revered Mecca which will make its area about one and a half as big as it is now. Among many finished projects are the roads and tunnels that connect the holy sites. It worth mentioning that the Saudi state carried out earlier the projects of expanding the premises of the Two Holy Mosques; for example, when the Saudi state took control of Hejaz the area of the Holy Mosque in Mecca could not exceed some 32 thousand square meters; but it is now even before finishing the fore-mentioned new project of expansion is ten times as big. It means that during eighty years of Saudi rule the area of the Holy Mosque has expanded many more times than it did during more than a thousand three hundred and fifty years of the Islamic states that had controlled this part of the world earlier.
Bosniaks.Net: The largest part of Saudi Arabia is dominated by the Arabian Desert, so it is logical to ask how do the friendly people of your country prosper from an economic and trade perspective..?
Ambassador ALTHAKAFI: The Almighty Allah blessed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with huge reserves of oil and natural gas which rendered it the biggest oil-exporting country in the world. At the same time the Kingdom utilizes the abundant oil incomings in the economic development and capacity building. Let us take some examples here; we have more than eighty thousand students abroad and hundred of thousands of students in more than twenty five public universities in the Kingdom that include hundreds of faculties; the Kingdom has made the best of the relative advantage of the cheap energy to establish a modern petrochemical industry which made the Kingdom one of the greatest exporting countries of petrochemicals in the world.
Bosniaks.Net: What is the general standard of living of the citizens of Saudi Arabia?
Ambassador ALTHAKAFI: The Saudi state made use of the abundant oil income to establish funds to support the advancement of the living standard, such as the fund for real estate development which offers soft loans to the citizens to build modern homes; lots are also distributed to the citizens to erect their homes. Another fund is set up to give loans and aids to the farmers to establish modern farms. On the other hand the state allocates building sites for the investors in industry and grants them feasible credits through the Saudi Fund for Industrial Development. Needy families and individuals get enough subsidies to insure them a decent life. Even the university student gets a bursary up to 265 US dollars in spite of free education at all levels. Free health-care is guaranteed for all citizens. These are only some facts about the general standard of living in the Kingdom keeping back many details that provide a decent and comfortable life to the Saudi citizens, thanks to Allah.
Bosniaks.Net: What countries does Saudi Arabia maintain closest and friendliest relations with?
Ambassador ALTHAKAFI: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia always endeavors to maintain friendly relations with all the countries of the world; but it is well known that Saudi Arabia is an Arab and Islamic state. Proceeding from this, the Kingdom spares no effort for the Arab unity. Saudi Arabia was among the founding states of the Arab League and was the driving force to establish the Organization of Islamic Conference ( OIC ) which is now called the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. It founded together with the gulf countries the Gulf Cooperation Council in 1981. The Kingdom strives to make the coordination between the Arab and Islamic countries go further than political cooperation and reach a complete economic cooperation and integration. Within the Arab League the Kingdom seeks together with the other member- states to set up a common market. Within the Organization of Islamic Cooperation the Kingdom takes to increase the coordination between the member-states of the Organization and to encourage the trade exchange among them. The Kingdom also hosted the extraordinary Islamic Summit In the revered Mecca in 2005, which adopted the ten-year plan for the advancement of the Organization. In all the cases the Kingdom was always at the forefront in supporting the programs of cooperation between the two organizations. To put this policy into practice the Kingdom provided 24% of the capital of the Islamic Bank for Development i.e. about twenty seven billion US dollars. The bank offers aids to the most needy Islamic countries.
Bosniaks.Net: How are your countries relations with other countries in the Middle East?
Ambassador ALTHAKAFI: The Kingdom is keen to maintain good neighborhood with the countries of the region and non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries. Historically it is known that the Kingdom only supported the friendly and neighboring countries that needed economic support channeled through the Saudi Fund for Development and other Arab and Islamic Funds to all of which the Kingdom contributes greatly. The Kingdom also maintains positive cooperation with the countries of the region. The political initiatives of the Kingdom to end the international conflicts as well as the Middle East clashes and disputes are Known to all. Certainly all of us remember Al-Taif conference in 1989 which gathered the Lebanese warring sides where Al-Taif accord was concluded putting an end to the civil war in Lebanon. Among the most outstanding initiatives is the Saudi peace plan to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict which was presented by Prince Abdullah ( later King Abdullah ) at the Arab Summit in 2002 and was adopted as the Arab peace plan which was also adopted by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and recognized by the International Quartet as a basis for solving the Palestinian problem.
Bosniaks.Net: The United States of America have been involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last decade. How would you describe the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States?
Ambassador ALTHAKAFI: Historically the Kingdom kept strong relations with the United States before and after the Second World War. The economic cooperation between the two countries is excellent. Successive American administrations have been lauding the positive role of the Kingdom to bring stability to the Middle East region. When the problem of terrorism emerged and began to aggravate after the September 2001 attacks, the American administration commended the efforts of the Kingdom to combat terrorism considering that both countries are faced with the same peril. The Kingdom utilizes the Saudi-American relations in the service of the Arab causes, especially the righteous Palestinian cause and the right of the Palestinian people to their independent state.
Bosniaks.Net: The Republic of Turkey has enjoyed great economic success with new type of examplary political leadership over the last decade. How would you describe your country’s relations with Turkey?
Ambassador ALTHAKAFI: The Saudi-Turkish relations are excellent and are developing on the bilateral level. The coordination between the two countries runs on the highest level between the leaderships of the two countries. On the collective or multilateral level the Kingdom takes part together with the member- states of the Arab League in the Arab-Turkish forum which held its last session in November 2011 in the Kingdom of Morocco.
Bosniaks.Net: What about the diplomatic and economic relationship with western and eastern Europe?
Ambassador ALTHAKAFI: The Kingdom and the Arab countries of the Gulf region seek to establish some sort of institutional relationship between the Gulf Cooperation Council and the European Union on the economic level; the two parties are still negotiating on the matter. On the bilateral level the Kingdom has excellent political and economic relations with the European countries.
Bosniaks.Net: What countries in the Balkans do you consider the most important in maintaining and developing a close relationship?
Ambassador ALTHAKAFI: All the Balkan countries are important to us,with special relationship with bosnia and herzgovina. The stability in the world is an important issue not only to the Kingdom but to all the peace-loving countries as well. That is why the Kingdom has always been taking the stand in support of the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Saudi Arabia together with the countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation supports the mission of the International High Representative, as well as the international efforts to insure the stability and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Bosniaks.Net: At the beginning of this interview, we mentioned Saudi Arabiaâ€™s vital role in helping the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina to complete annihilation during the 4 years that our country was being â€œheld in a concentration campâ€ completely isolated from rest of Europe and the World. After the war, you were among the first to help with the reconstruction of our homeland. We did not forget that period even though it is already behind us. With the economic development still lagging behind the rest of the regiÃ³n and Europe, how much is the leadership of your country still interested and ready to invest into the economic development of Bosnia and Herzegovina?
Ambassador ALTHAKAFI: The Kingdom contributes through the Saudi Fund for Development in supporting the projects of infrastructure in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition to the earlier support during the war through the Saudi high commicion which spent hundred of millions of US dollars in relief projects including foods and medicine , fuel , refugee camps ect. and since the end of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the nineties of last century, the support to these projects increased during the last three years. In 2009 the Saudi Fund for Development granted a feasible loan of twenty million US dollars to finance the completion of building and equipping four hospitals in Bosnia and Herzegovina; one of them is the modern cardiac unit at the University Hospital in Sarajevo which is already open â€“ thanks to Allah. In 2010 the Kingdom granted another feasible loan to build the bypass around the town of Zenica. In the summer of 2011 the Kingdom announced the intention of the Saudi Fund for Development to finance projects of building and equipping homes in various parts of Bosnia for the displaced persons victims of the war in Bosnia, regardless of their ethnicity. The Saudi fund will allocate eighteen million US dollars for these projects. The Kingdom and Bosnia are also working to conclude an agreement to avoid the double taxation which â€“ with the help of Allah- will lead to the increase of investments in both countries. This agreement was initialed last October. Preliminary talks between the two countries are already on to encourage and protect the investments.
Bosniaks.Net: Your Excellency is on a diplomatic mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. What does it mean to be a diplomat in a country that has recently suffered through the war of agression and genocide and where good inter-ethnic relations leave a lot to be desired?
Ambassador ALTHAKAFI: The war was devastating with its heavy human and material losses as well as its aftermath. On the other hand the existence of one integrated Bosnia and Herzegovina is a great achievement, even though it is hard to forget all those tragic events; but with good intentions, willingness and determination of the Bosnian peoples to work together the country will be put on the track and move towards rebuilding and coexistence. The Kingdom is eager to see that and is ready to support it.
Bosniaks.Net: Recent attack on the American embassy in Sarajevo were described as a terrorist act in the media. How would you as a diplomat categorize this event?
Ambassador ALTHAKAFI: It is a stupid terrorist act that can achieve nothing as well as it is insulting to the Muslims. I called the American Ambassador in Sarajevo and expressed my regret and my solidarity with him.
What specific actions has Saudi Arabia taken to combat extremism and promotion of a more moderate direction in the interpretation of Islam and its doctrine. Can you give some concrete examples?
Ambassador ALTHAKAFI: In the Kingdom we are proud of following a moderate Islamic course that calls for the respect of the human life and rejection of violence and exclusion of the others. The initiatives of King Abdullah for dialogue between the followers of different faiths was received with respect and appreciation from the other countries and the United Nations. Owing to what we have suffered from the Islamic extremism the Kingdom was persistent to combat the penance ” Takfir ” syndrome ideologically and by security measures. A symposium chaired by His Royal Highness Prince Naif bin Abdul-Aziz was recently held in Medina: it was devoted to combat the “Takfir” phenomenon. On the other hand the Kingdom follows a course of ideological dialogue and encouragement of ideological revision with the adherents of the “Takfir” ideology. This task is entrusted to the Prince Mohamed bin Naif center and it was a success recognized by all friends of the Kingdom.
Bosniaks.Net: Many islamophobic media in BiH and the region were racing to launch defamatory statements against Islam and Muslims from Bosnia to Saudia Arabia, accusing your country of spreading so called Wahabism, and the same media made references to existence of so called Arab, Turkish, European, and Bosnian versions of Islam? What can you tell us regarding these slanderous accusations?
Ambassador ALTHAKAFI: I shall not answer the question whether there are several versions of Islam such as Turkish, European â€¦etc. because I am not a specialist in this field. As for the allegations of the media in Bosnia and Herzegovina about a support to the so-called Wahabism, it is an accusation from which we suffer in different parts of the world. It is an attempt to drag the Kingdom into the problems of other countries. My answer is: has any of the security services in Bosnia and Herzegovina referred anywhere to the existence of any relation between the extremists in this country and the Kingdom? Is it possible that the Kingdom, in spite of all this political and economic support to Bosnia and Herzegovina, gives any support to terrorist groups? I put these questions to the normal and unbiased people.
Bosniaks.Net: In conclusion, what final message do you have for our readers?
Ambassador ALTHAKAFI: My message to your readers is that the Kingdom and Bosnia and Herzegovina are friendly and peace-loving countries, that the Kingdom will continue to give political and economic support to Bosnia and Herzegovina and will continue to support the stability and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, considering that the coexistence between the various religions and nationalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina was a unique experience which proved that Islam is a tolerant faith and accepts the others and because the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina is important to the whole world.