The Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations, His Excellency Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, spoke at a luncheon held in his honor after the UB Commencement, which included more than 1,300 students, on Saturday, May 7.
The Ambassador came to honor the 27 Saudi students graduating including Mr. Abdullah Alghunaim, a Saudi diplomat, who works together with the Ambassador in the Saudi Mission. Mr. Alghunaim was completing his Master of Arts in Global Development and Peace.
Ambassador Al-Mouallimi was inducted as an Honorary Fellow of the College of Public and International Affairs (CPIA) on the occasion of his speech.
His Excellency Abdallah al-Mouallimi has served as the Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations Mission since June 2011. Prior to that he served as the Saudi Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Union. He previously served as the Mayor of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second largest city, between 2001 and 2005, among numerous other leadership positions in the Government and the private sector.
Mr. Al-Mouallimi was a member of the Shoura Council (Parliament) from 1997 to 2001, and sat on the boards of several Government organizations, including the General Organization for Military Industries. His private-sector service included chairing the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and the Egyptian Finance Company.
Founder of the Dubai-based investment firm Dar al-Mouallimi Consulting Company and HBG Holdings, Mr. Al-Mouallimi has a master’s degree in management from Stanford University and a bachelor’s in chemical engineering from Oregon State University. He is married and has four children and three grandchildren.
Text of the Ambassador’s Speech
Mr. President, Mr. Provost,
Distinguished Members of the Board of Trustees, Distinguished Faculty,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is indeed a great honor for me to stand in front of you to celebrate a day of learning, a day of achievement. I am particularly privileged to have been designated as Honorary Fellow of the University of Bridgeport’s College of Public and International Affairs. Those of you who understand Arabic would know that my last name is related to the noble profession of teaching. My family counts among its members more than four hundred recognized authors over the past one thousand years. For me, this is a source of pride, but more importantly a call for humility, as it sets a high standard to be followed.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I was asked to address you on a topic of my choosing. This was a challenging task as the field of choices is wide indeed, ranging from my own experience as a young student starting my college education in the United States a few decades ago, to the current situation in the Middle East, and the world at large. I decided to focus on the topic of what does it mean to be an ambassador, and what does it mean to be an ambassador of Saudi Arabia.
The Holy Quran says: “0 mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! The noblest of you is the best in conduct.” Chapter 49, verse 13, translated by Pickthall.
This verse is the motto of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia. This verse reaffirms the principles of equality of mankind irrespective of gender, race, tribe, or even religion, and sets the yardstick of goodness as being “the best in conduct.” God created diversity and asked us to “know” one another. For me, this is the function and meaning of being an ambassador. It is the mission of knowing others and making one-self or nation known to others.
Knowing involves learning, understanding, and communicating. It involves dialogue, debate, and compromise. It involves the intellectual, philosophical, and yes spiritual engagement with others and reaching out for common grounds and shared values. Being an ambassador is not about scoring points, winning arguments, or finding tricky language to insert in resolutions or statements.
While this may be satisfying from time to time, it does not rise to the true standard and substance of “knowing one-another.” Being an ambassador is a process of building bridges, shedding light, creating empathy, establishing channels of communication and interaction, searching not only for coexistence but partnership, promoting not only peace but harmony. To me, this is what it means to be an ambassador, a unique and ancient profession that is even more relevant and crucial in today’s world.
What does it mean to be an Ambassador for Saudi Arabia? Well, all of the above, plus. In representing Saudi Arabia, I feel that I stand on a wavy playing field. On the one hand Saudi Arabia is universally recognized for its leading role in the Arab and Islamic Worlds, and for its economic prowess. But Saudi Arabia is also often misunderstood, especially here in the United States. Caricatures of oil, tents, and camels abound in Hollywood and beyond. Our human rights record and lack of Western-style democratic institution is often sighted, and occasionally misrepresented. On some of these issues, I concede that we are still work-in progress. But let me remind you that modern Saudi Arabia is only eighty-four years old. If we looked at the USA at age 84, we would have found a country that legalized slavery, denied women the right to vote, and treated the native population in less magnanimous ways. I do not suggest that we use that image as our reference point, but simply to recognize that in a span of two generations,
Saudi Arabia has been able to develop a comprehensive infrastructure to support economic growth and investment, free public education and healthcare system for all citizens, and an extensive social services program. Today, in a turbulent region, Saudi Arabia is a beacon for stability, an oasis of prosperity, and a cohesive harmonious society that strives for peaceful evolutionary progress on all fronts. Representing Saudi Arabia sometimes feels like an uphill battle, but it is a battle worth engaging in, and an honor of which my family and I will always be proud.
Finally, a word about Abdullah Al-Ghonaim. I have known Abdullah for almost eight years. He worked with me in Brussels when I represented my country as Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg, and the European Union. He was later appointed to the Saudi Mission to the United Nations in New York. I have always found him to have what I call “quiet strength,” a sense of determination, commitment and hard work that emanates from a self-motivated desire to do well for himself, his family and his country. Recently, Abdullah was promoted to head of economic team and played an important role in the development and adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030, recently approved by the world’s heads of state.
Abdullah, congratulations! I am delighted to take part in your graduation from this prestigious institution, and I wish you the best of luck in serving your country, and humanity at large.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.