I write as I get back from Jeddah, for my second bilateral visit to Saudi Arabia: I spent two days in political meetings and had a great rendez-vous with a group of women working in politics, in business and in the media. Just days before the beginning of Ramadan – when millions of worshippers will gather to the nearby city of Mecca – I had a long conversation with the Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al Jubeir. We agreed on the need to reinforce our bilateral cooperation on the economy, to work together against terrorism and on some of the current crises in the area, particularly on Syria, Yemen and Libya. We also decided to keep an open channel for dialogue on some of the issue the European Union cares the most about, including human rights, anti-radicalisation policies, the promotion of rights and opportunities for women. (Here is my press conference with al Jubeir).
Yesterday I also had the opportunity to see Abdullatif al Zayani, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which had gathered in Jeddah. Next July Brussels will host the EU/GCC Ministerial meeting, and we are already at work to strengthen our economic and political cooperation, particularly on all regional crises.
During all my official visits I always try to meet representatives of the civil society, and I did the same in Saudi Arabia. These are precious exchanges to understand each country’s reality – and to look beyond stereotypes. This is what happened today during a meeting at Jeddah’s Chamber of Commerce, with Vice-president Lama Suleiman. She is the first woman to be appointed to that post. With her were women lawyers and journalists, women who work in politics and in the civil society. These are women who fight for their rights, as in all countries in the world. These are women who are not subjugated at all – in fact, they are proud of what they have achieved with so much effort. These women can only be the drivers of change inside our societies, in Arabia just like anywhere else.