January 2019 Chairman’s Message

Dear ABGR Colleagues,

As we welcome the new year, signs of economic growth and dynamism abound, along with lingering ambiguities and challenges.  The Public Investment Fund is focusing resources and energy on the new economic cities of Neom, Red Sea Development Company, Qiddiya and Amaala, all staffing up and working energetically towards ambitious goals and deadlines.  Plans for hosting the G20 in May are well along, and the Kingdom participated in a major way at the recent Davos Conference.  The National Industrial Development and Logistics Program (NIDLP), a major Vision 2030 initiative, targets $500 billion of investment and 1.6 million jobs, under an ambitious industrial program launched at a Riyadh conference on Monday, January 28.

Congratulations to our capable and supportive Chargé d’Affaires Chris Henzel for his confirmation by the U.S. Senate as our next Ambassador to Yemen, a post that he will assume in the coming months.  Given their heightened interest in the region each Senate Foreign Relations Committee member interviewed him personally, which based on his convincing performance helped secure his confirmation.  Chris has been a consistent and reliable friend and partner for the American expatriate community, we are reassured that the challenging Yemen role will rest in such experienced hands, and we wish him Godspeed in this challenging new role.

Our relationship with the Embassy has never been stronger, thanks in no small measure to the enthusiasm and participation in our events by Nassir Abbasi, Branda VanHorn and Olga Ford of the Commercial Section and Ed Sagurton, Darren Perdue and Brian Barone of the Economic Section, all regular participants at our Board, Membership and Committee meetings.

Since my last report, we have hosted the following events.

January 16, Defense & Security Committee.  We hosted former National Security Advisor, Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Jones for a roundtable presentation and discussion, focusing on new defense and critical infrastructure technology and security.

January 20-14, 40th Anniversary Celebration.  Our 40th Anniversary celebrations, including the visits of our special guests Fran Mead and Jan Baldwin, important American community leaders from earlier years, were a resounding success; celebratory events culminated in a dinner social at the Arizona Compound, featuring reminiscences from our guests, and videos from the 60’s showing a very different landscape and cityscape. View photos from the celebration here.

January 27, General Membership.  We hosted Nasreen Al-Issa, founder of the first all-female Saudi law firm, and creator of the Know Your Rights app designed to educate Saudi women on their civil rights.  Nasreen represents a new generation of Saudi women, ambitious to serve their nation, and committed to find their rightful place in a society and economy in great keen need of their participation and talents.

January 30, Embassy Roundtable.  In partnership with the New Zealand, India and Ireland Embassies, we hosted our inaugural Embassy Roundtable vent at the New Zealand Embassy.  Our panel discussion, which I moderated before a mixed audience of 70 Saudis and expatriates, featured New Zealand Ambassador James Munro, India Ambassador Ahmad Javed and Ireland Ambassador Gerald McCoy.  Each panelist discussed economic transformation experiences in his country, including lessons and outcomes which may or may not be relevant for Saudi Arabia and other countries engaged in similar reform programs.  We are hoping to organize similar events in cooperation with other embassies in the coming months, and would welcome suggestions on possible themes; ideas currently under consideration include women’s rights, economic trading blocks and status of ethnic and other minorities.  Please let me know if you would like to be added to the invitation list for this series, at johnsonch51.com.

Please reserve dates for the following upcoming events.

  • General Membership, February 4.  Leading American attorneys John Quinn and Peter Calamari, will speak on the extraterritorial reach of U.S. law, in a program entitled “How Long is the Long Arm of the Law?”
  • Social Networking Dinner, February 12.  Al-Jawhara Compound has once again graciously agreed to host us for a dinner; please mark your calendars, and stand by for confirmation.
  • Finance Committee, February 14.  Abdulhadi Shahadah of Gulf Investment Bank will lead a discussion on private equity investment; please contact Alan Lowe at alanhlowe@hotmail.com if you are interested in attending.
  • Middle East Council of American Chambers of Commerce Annual Doorknock, March 24-29.  We will join fellow AmChams from Jeddah, Eastern Province, Kuwait, Bahrain, Doha and Dubai in promoting American business interests in Washington, focusing on trade liberalization, competitiveness, competitive tax policies and U.S. geopolitical interests in the region. We expect a very different climate on Capitol Hill from last May’s event, amidst a continuing critical need for U.S. leadership in the region.
  • Annual ABGR-AMEX Golf Tournament, March 28 – 29.  Tom Merkel, Tarik Solomon and their colleagues on our Golf Committee are working hard to ensure that our annual Golf Tournament surpasses all records in participation and general enjoyment for all.
  • Meet your Embassy. We are working with our friends at the Embassy to organize roundtable discussions with leaders of its various sections.

We are grateful for the loyalty and enthusiasm of our members, and look forward to a strong and vibrant program in what promises to be an active and eventful season.

Sincerely,

Christopher H. Johnson

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About the Author
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Chris Johnson

Active in the Kingdom since 1978, Chris Johnson is the founding partner of Johnson & Pump/Al-Sharif Law Office, based in Riyadh. chris@alshariflaw.com +966-11-462-5925